Bubbling Forth: Why Chester County's J. Maki Winery and Its Champagne Caused an International Stir

Ten years ago, the prestigious European wine competition, the Vinalies Internationales, put a tiny local vineyard—then known as French Creek Ridge Winery—on the map. And, there, it has stayed.

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J. Maki Winery owners Jim Haldy and Janet Maki in their vineyard. (Photo by Jared Castaldi)It’s late March, and on a morning left sugar-frosted by a predawn dusting of snow, the vines at J. Maki Winery are bare. Mother Nature’s little late-season joke has some shaking their heads over when spring might actually arrive. But around here, thoughts turn to optimism for the bounty to come.

The namesake of the award-winning winery is already out among the vines, bracing herself against the chill that lingers in the naturally terraced valley near Elverson in northern Chester County.

After a winter spent digging through inches of snow to prune the delicate and persnickety vines, the frosty ground comes as almost a respite countryside for Janet Maki. Now, she’s free to roam the 18,000 vines—from the chardonnay high on the hill to the rows of pinot noir, cabernet franc, merlot, viognier, petit verdot and sirah elsewhere on the property—with only mud and the cold as her obstacles.

These hills, gently descending from one of the highest elevations in the surrounding countryside, have provided the optimum conditions for growing the chardonnay grapes that render what’s regarded as some of the best champagne produced anywhere.

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