When most people think about wineries in the United States, either California or the Finger Lakes in New York probably come to mind first. Pennsylvania is not normally thought of as a state that produces wines.
But that’s changing. The state’s long agricultural history and moderate climate has cultivated a growing wine industry, and wineries have blossomed in the last 30 years.
In Central Pennsylvania, the Susquehanna Heartland Wine Trail highlights a dozen of these wineries, including Brookmere Winery, Mount Nittany Winery, Seven Mountains Wine Cellars, and Happy Valley Winery.
According to the Pennsylvania Wine Association, the state ranks seventh nationally in wine production and fourth in the amount of grapes grown. Since the 1980s, the number of wineries in Pennsylvania has increased from 27 to 123. In that same period, gallons of wine produced has quadruped from 250,000 to almost 1 million annually.
Town & Gown visited five wineries in Central Pennsylvania who are producing a number of award-winning wines.
Happy Valley Vineyard and Winery
576 South Foxpointe Drive, State College
Scheduled to open to the public in October, Happy Valley Vineyard and Winery is a farm-based winery growing nine acres of French-American hybrid grapes that were selected for wine quality and winter hardiness. Owners Elwin Stewart and his wife, Barbara Christ, bought the property in 1994 and have been growing and selling grapes commercially since 1999.
Up until 2010, Stewart, who has a background in biology, chemistry, and a PhD in plant pathology, sold his grapes to local wineries, including Mount Nittany Winery and Seven Mountains Wine Cellars.
A unique aspect of the winery is Stewart’s attempt to be as “green” as possible. “We produce 80 percent of the power for this facility with solar panels, and the building itself is insulated, so it is cost effective to both heat and cool,” he explains.
“The farm has been around since the 1800s, so to adhere to the farm feel, our 1,200-square-foot tasting and retail sales building, which will be built by October, will feature a timber frame to match the rest of the age of this place.”
His passion for winemaking started at a young age when he spent summers in Riverside, California, picking table grapes to earn money for school clothes.
“When I was a graduate student at Oregon State, I started making berry and fruit wines because blackberries, plums, and apples were wild, abundant, and free for picking,” he says.
Happy Valley Winery’s 17 different wines are currently available for sale at the North Atherton Farmers’ Market in the Home Depot parking lot on Saturdays. Specializing in dry whites, the best selling ones include Geisenheim Riesling, Cayuga White, and Pinot Grigio, all of which pair well with seafood.
Other popular wines include Fox Point, a semi-sweet blush; Appalachia Red, which has aromas of concord grapes and blackberries; and the Happy Valley Red with aromas of cherry and spice.
Bee Kind Winery
525 Carbon Mine Road, Clearfield
Nestled along the banks of the Susquehanna River and along the Rails-to-Trails path, one of Central PA’s newest wineries, Bee Kind Winery, is already making its mark on the local wine scene. Brothers Joe and Jeremy Kendrick, along with their entire family, opened the winery in November.
“Joe is the winemaker and he has been in the industry for 15 years before our family decided to start our own,” explains Jeremy Kendrick.
The name Bee Kind pays respect to the honeybees that help Mother Nature with pollination and also is a play on words to remind people to be kind and friendly.
“When people come to our winery, we want them to feel welcomed and not to be nervous because they may not know the lingo,” Jeremy says. “It’s a family business and we are here to help you find a wine that you like to drink.”
There are 17 different wines available at the winery for tasting, and the most popular is the Rails to Trails Red, a semi-sweet East Coast blend of red and white grapes. Other best sellers include the Bee Berry Blue, a 100-percent blueberry dessert wine sweetened with Pennsylvania honey; and the Pink Catawba that has notes of green apple and pink grapefruit.
Jeremy offers a few wine-pairing recommendations for your next family barbeque.
“For a grilled medium-rare steak, try our Steely Run Red, which is a full bodied dry red wine that is a blend of Merlot, Petit Verdot, and Marechal Foch,” he says. “The Bee Fruity is a perfect addition when cooking pulled pork or chicken. The Pink Catawba has a nice acid structure and goes well with salmon or any other types of fish.”
Mount Nittany Winery
300 Houser Road, Centre Hall
Located on the southern slopes of Mount Nittany above the historic village of Linden Hall, Mount Nittany Winery offers breathtaking views and a truly unique wine-tasting experience.
The winery opened in 1990 by proprietors Joe and Betty Carroll, who were amateur winemakers for 20 years before purchasing the 65-acre property in 1983. Today, a variety of grapes, including Seyval Blanc, Cayuga, Chardonnay, and Riesling are still grown on five acres of the property.
“There are very few wineries that have the ambiance that we have here with the pond, the vineyard, really good wines, and we’ve been in business for a long time,” says Joe. Betty adds, “It really is a beautiful setting out here and we have picnic tables for people to sit and enjoy a glass of wine.”
Mount Nittany offers a selection of more than 20 award-winning wines, from dry to sweet and everything in between. Some notable awards include gold medals for the Nittany Mountain White, Riesling, and Traminette as well as a double gold medal in the 2012 Great Lakes Wine competition for the 2011 Vignoles, a sweet wine with aromas of ripe pineapple, peaches, and pears.
The best sellers include the Tailgate Red, the Nittany Mountain White, and Nittany Mountain Blush.
“Our Tailgate Red is our picnic wine that is perfect with pasta, pizza, and burgers,” explains manager Jinx Proch, who oversees the daily operations of the winery.
“If you are doing hot and spicy foods, I would recommend wines with residual sugars or sweetness like our Traminette, Riesling, Nittany Mountain White, Bergwein, or Geisenheim. Our Chardonnay Reserve complements a Caesar salad or a heartier white fish.”
His advice to new wine drinkers is to start in the middle with semi-dry and semi-sweet wines and move to sweet or dry as you discover where your tastes lie.
Brookmere Winery & Vineyard Inn
5369 State Route 655, Belleville, PA
Brookmere Winery is the first winery in Pennsylvania that also has its own Bed & Breakfast — the Vineyard Inn. The winery and vineyard were started by Don and Susan Chapman in 1984.
After 23 years, they sold the business to Ed and Cheryl Glick. Cheryl was an employee for the Chapmans for 12 years, and husband Ed was a dairy farmer for 18 years. He learned the winemaking trade from the Chapmans, and Brookmere Winery now offers a selection of 32 different wines with unique labels designed by local artists.
Brookmere’s 10-acre vineyard grows about 30 percent of the juice needed to produce all of their wines, and the entire winemaking process, including the crushing, fermentation, pressing, aging, blending, and bottling, takes place on the premises.
Brookmere’s most popular wines include the Frog Hollow, a sweet blush Niagara that is named for the creek that runs between the vineyards; the Alexander Red is a blend of Cabernet Franc and Chambourcin, and is named after James Alexander who built the property in 1866.
“We grow both the Cabernet Franc and Chambourcin in our vineyard, and since we are a Pennsylvania winery, we have made a commitment to support Pennsylvanian grape and fruit growers,” says Cheryl. “We buy our grapes juices from other Pennsylvania vineyards, mostly up in Erie.”
Other best sellers are the Pinot Grigio, Valley Mist, Berries Gone Wild, and Sangria.
“Our Pinot Grigio or Riesling pairs really well with all kinds of seafood. Our Autumn Gold is sweet but not fruity, so it is great for marinating fish,” explains Cheryl.
Ed adds, “We also have an Old World Style Port and a Cream Sherry that are perfect for an after-dinner drink. The Cream Sherry has a caramelized raisin note to it and is delicious served with cheesecake or a rich chocolate cake.”
In addition to being a winery and bed & breakfast, Brookmere also hosts 30 weddings every summer in its event pavilion that can accommodate up to 250 guests, and, for a more intimate setting, the grand room in the Vineyard Inn accommodates up to 75 guests.
Seven Mountains Wine Cellars
107 Mountain Spring Lane, Spring Mills
Scott and Mary Ann Bubb opened Seven Mountains Wine Cellars in August 2009. The winery has quickly grown in popularity, and many of its 33 wines have won gold medals at the Pennsylvania Farm Show, including three Governors Cups.
Its Vidal Ice wine took double gold medals at the 2011 American Wine Society competition and the 2012 Finger Lakes International Wine competition in Rochester, New York. Made from grapes that were allowed to freeze on the vine, this full-flavored ice wine has wonderful honey and apricot-like aromas.
The Vidal Fire & Ice wine is the regular ice wine with a Thai dragon hot pepper in the bottom of the bottle.
“It’s a wine with a Wow effect to it because it’s a pretty sweet wine and the heat just comes in the finish. You won’t find it anywhere else around here,” explains Scott. “It’s not a wine you drink a whole glass of — I would pour 1 to 2 ounces in a little cordial glass and sip it with dessert or as dessert.”
Summertime is all about white wines, so here are some of Scott’s wine-pairing recommendations for summer grilling.
“If you are grilling any kind of fish, you can’t go wrong with our Vidal Blanc with its citrus flavors of lemon and lime,” he says.
“Our Whippoorwill White is a neutral wine that is very food-friendly and will go with any dish in the summer. It is a blend of four different grapes and we slightly oak it to get just those subtle hints of vanilla and just a touch of sugar. For a dry white wine, our newly released Pinot Grigio has rich aromas of tropical fruit, banana, and citrus. Lastly, the classic Riesling is always outstanding with its floral aromas and peach flavors that finishes clean and crisp.”
This year, Seven Mountains unveiled a new 1,500-square-foot addition to the lodge that can accommodate up to 140 guests for weddings or private events. There is newly installed decking around three sides of the building that leads to a 3,200-square-foot patio.
“Come join us for campfire Fridays and have a glass of wine in an Adirondack chair in our new patio,” says Scott. “Bring your favorite campfire foods and enjoy live music.”