Partners of The Vineyard at Hershey celebrate 10 years in business and the “dream” that has come true

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One of Pennsylvania’s most influential wineries celebrates its 10th anniversary this month.

The Winery and Brewery at Hershey opened in February 2012 in a rural area of ​​Dauphin County. It featured a two-story glass-fronted tasting room with a wrap-around porch that gave visitors a bird’s-eye view of the vineyard, framed by hills and woods and a glimpse of Route 283 carrying traffic between Harrisburg and Lancaster. This property covers 40 acres.

Its founding came at a time when about 15 wineries were opening across the state each year, developing an industry that was mostly family businesses focused on tastings and bottle sales and appealing primarily to baby boomers and the young. generation X in their locations.

Hershey’s Winery has found its own niche within the regional wine industry, a destination producer that has made entertainment part of its DNA. Over the past decade, others have followed his business model.

Additionally, it was a unique partnership of four people from diverse backgrounds: attorney Jason Reimer, president; businessman Doug Gellatly, chief financial officer; marketing/PR whiz Mike Wilson, VP; and communication specialist L. Paul Vezzetti II, winemaker. Among those joining the team in the coming years are Brewmaster Ryan DeLutis, Operations Manager Lynn Day and Associate Winemaker/Brewmaster Christine McCarl.

Reimer, who calls the business and its success “the American dream,” said those early days after opening are impossible to forget.

“It was the culmination of a few years of planning, numerous hand bottlings in the old farmhouse cellar and a host of enthusiastic guests from across the region, far exceeding our wildest expectations for the launch. !” he said. “We sold out the first batch of Crimson Fox in less than a month. Twisted Kiss was not far behind. Paul had to call every juice supplier we could connect with to bring in additional Fredonia, Vidal and Chambourcin – staples of those wines. For Doug, Mike and I, it was a constant question for Paul: how quickly can wine be made without sacrificing quality? We were amazed at the demand! It was the little engine that could do it right from the start!

Wilson added, “I don’t think it went as planned, and that’s the best thing about being an entrepreneur with great partners. You simply follow your dreams, dream BIG, and pursue those dreams with persistence until you achieve them. Our model pivoted in two years to add the brewery and a major production facility, then again in the third to add cider, and by year five we were all ready to host big name gigs with artists nationals. ”

Hershey’s Vineyard has arrived at the perfect time, with interest in local wineries and breweries growing and producers responding with larger facilities and supplementing these with food and entertainment. It’s not just VAH, short for Londonderry Twp. establishment, was the first to organize large concerts. For years, Nissley estate vineyards in Lancaster and the old Naylor Wine Cellars in York County brought great bands for a series of summer gigs, and Spyglass Ridge Winery in Sunbury, Northumberland County, in 2011 was just beginning to invite big names in rock (including Styx, Kansas and Foreigner) for its annual hillside gigs.

A 2013 photograph taken from the second deck of The Vineyard in the Hershey Entertainment Building.

But when you add up the weekly Friday night Decked-Out Live! concerts that VAH had held from spring to fall for the past decade, the annual fall Merlot (and later Pumpkin Beer) releases that drew thousands, and then the addition of the Straws & Stripes fundraiser on the summer schedule with bands and musicians such as 3 Doors Down, 38 Special, Phil Vassar and Lee Greenwood, no cellar could match the sheer volume of live music.

Its audience grew rapidly, a crowd much more geared towards millennials who found the atmosphere, facilities and drinks to their liking. Within a few years, the winery would become The Vineyard and Brewery at Hershey, with the addition of cider and then craft beer to the menu. It was unique, fun and progressive; Just for years, Wilson disguised himself as a grape named Merlot Mike, which gave him another marketing tool that tends to be overlooked in a typically stuffy industry.

There was a time when a visit probably meant meeting the partners there; they worked their main job and then headed to the cellar. Gellatly was the exception. His work has been located on the premises, with one of its Greelin Pet Resorts located along the driveway.

Over the past two years, they’ve fallen since Day was hired to manage day-to-day operations and McCarl to take over much of the wine, cider and beer production.

Hershey's Vineyard

Paul Teutul Sr. and the Orange County Choppers traveled to Harrisburg in September 2015 for the World Famous Merlot & Pumpkin Beer Release Party.

“I’ve been blessed to embrace their vision while keeping things fresh and new,” Day recently said. “There is no decision made that does not focus on growth. Our customer experience is the most valuable aspect of our business and we seek to enhance that experience through our products, our concerts and the atmosphere of our establishment.

Reimer added, “We have found two incredible leaders who are leading the operation. We have grown from a small operation to one of the largest operations in the region thanks to our customers who keep coming back for a glass of wine or of beer., stock up for their personal cellars, and enjoy our year-round entertainment program with friends. We’ve made mistakes along the way, but we’ve always learned from them and improved upon them. based on feedback from our customers.

No time has proven more challenging than the past two years trying to keep a business open and operational, and that has certainly included the hospitality industry. While activities have somewhat returned to normal since the end of the lockdown, there have been lingering effects: for example, none of the major concerts have taken place since 2019.

Still, Day noted that the patio expansion was completed in mid-2021 and the cellar hosted two smaller, more intimate concerts, the first with OAR’s Marc Roberge and the second with the Gin Blossoms. She said four similar events are planned for this summer as well as a Decked-Out Live! concert series featuring four tribute bands (Beatles, Bruno Mars, Credence Clearwater Revival and Lynyrd Skynyrd).

“The winery will always be a work in progress,” she said. “COVID has put a damper on a lot of projects for us. Luckily, we were able to expand the patio which allows us to have more outdoor space. The beautiful view of our pond is still so picturesque. upgrades of equipment and infrastructure that have been postponed over the past two years.

Hershey's Vineyard

Mike Wilson (right), dressed as Merlot Mike, stands alongside Paul Vezzetti in this photo from 2014.

Activities marking the 10th anniversary will take place throughout the year, she said, including the release of a small wine called Raspberry Tea on Feb. 26. The Riesling based wine is made with freshly brewed black tea and freshly squeezed raspberries. . “It’s been a fan favorite for the past few years and it doesn’t last long,” Day said, adding that McCarl will host paired tastings of a VAH library that contains samples that date back to early vintages. Meanwhile, Vezzetti will host a class of desserts, or cupcakes, to accompany VAH wines.

Also on the agenda this year are gourmet picnics, which Day says have been a hit in 2021. really just a cute time away from the stresses of life,” she said.

There’s been a lot of angst along the way for the creators of one of Pennsylvania’s most successful and popular wineries. “Our partners took big financial risks, some winning big and some losing big, but we always trusted and respected each other’s areas of expertise and made collective decisions in hopes of winning more than we only lost,” Wilson said. “We have run the organization with a genuine, local style that has always given back and will always give back to the local community that has helped us thrive. [And] we are fortunate to have a passionate and loyal clientele for which we will always be grateful.

This audience kept coming back for many different things, including wine. It was an idea that began in 2008, in a piano bar in central Pennsylvania. Vezzetti, at the time a winemaker at home, said he could produce wines that would put the place on the map. This prediction would come true in 2020 and 2021 when The Vineyard at Hershey would become one of the few state wineries to win back-to-back Governor’s Cups, in this case both in the dry wine category. The first was for his 2017 Merlot and the second was for his red blend called Firefly, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.

“I promised our partners that we would make wines that would be recognized for their quality, value and uniqueness,” Vezzetti said. “Having twice won the Farm Show competition with Firefly and Merlot, I am happy to have fulfilled this promise. I also really like Moscato. When we introduced this variety to Pennsylvania, we almost immediately started winning awards with it.

Straws and Stripes Music Festival at Hershey's Winery and Brewery

The Straws and Stripes Music Festival took place at the Vineyard and Brewery in Hershey on Saturday July 20, 2019. 3 Doors Down perform during the festival. Vicki Vellios Briner | Special for PennLiveVicki Vellios Briner | Special for PennLive

While the wine list isn’t as long as some other producers in the region, it offers diversity that should appeal to most palates, including its Merlot-based chocolate wine called Cocoa Di Vezzetti. These are supplemented by ciders and variety of beers. Already, march calendar is packed with events and Decked-Out Live! is defined start May 6.

There is optimism as mandates ease and a more normal approach in the spring and summer.

“Ten years of ‘trials’ and 10 years of humility will continue to fuel this operation into the future so that we can evolve and stand the test of time,” Wilson said.

Reimer echoed those sentiments. “It’s humbling to reflect on the past 10 years,” he said, “and know that we’re in a strong position to continue to be a place our customers call home for the next 10 years.”

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