second generation owner leads Mount Nittany vineyard and winery into the future | Cooking and country recipes


Linda Weaver is the second generation owner of Mount Nittany Vineyard and Winery in Center County, PA. She had been remotely involved in the family business for many years, but decided to take the helm in 2014, when she and her husband, Steve, moved from Pittsburgh to Center Hall in search of a new career. and a change of pace. .

Mount Nittany is one of 17 female-owned wineries in Pennsylvania (roughly 5% of the state’s 300 wineries).

“It wasn’t as formally planned as you might hope,” she said. “It has evolved. There was no real succession planning, but I know my parents had hoped we got involved.

As the winery’s website indicates, Linda Weaver’s parents, Joe and Betty Carroll, purchased their 65-acre property on the side of Mount Nittany in 1983. Joe had been an amateur winemaker for years, from the 1970s, learning the trade from local aficionados and other wineries across the state at a time when there were only 30 wineries in Pennsylvania.

Linda and Steve Weaver in the vineyard in winter.

Today, there are over 300 wineries and 14,000 acres of vineyards in the state, producing over 2 million gallons of wine per year. Pennsylvania is ranked fifth in the country for wine production, according to the Pennsylvania Winery Association.

In 1987 Joe and Betty planted what would become a 6 acre vineyard and soon realized that the southern exposure and elevation of the site was proving to be an ideal microclimate for growing grapes. The estate opened in 1990.

When the time came for Linda and Steve to take ownership of the business in 2016, they had the right skills at their fingertips – Linda had an MBA from the University of Virginia and a banking background that made her well placed to be the general manager. Steve’s interest and background in the vineyard suited him perfectly as the Vineyard Manager.

Growing grapes and a business

Currently, the winery produces 16,000 gallons of wine each year and harvests 12 to 15 tonnes of grapes per year. The couple cultivate six grape varieties: Cayuga, Seyval Blanc, Riesling, Vidal Blanc, Itasca and Muscat Valvin. They buy Cabernet Franc and Syrah grapes from Shade Mountain Winery in Middleburg, Pa., As well as from wineries in California and Oregon. For their fruit wines, they source apples, blueberries and raspberries from the Erie region.

Earlier in their marriage, Linda and Steve had transferred their jobs to Sydney, Australia for three years, but with three young children at the time, they decided not to live there permanently.

“We spent a lot of time in the wine country near Sydney and made a few trips to other parts of Australia which sparked our interest (in winemaking),” said Linda.

She said it was while her parents were traveling that they decided to venture out into planting grapes for other vineyards on their acreage, before becoming a winery themselves.

Linda fondly remembers the early years of Mount Nittany Vineyard and Winery, developing the first website and Facebook page, while encouraging her parents to step out of their comfort zone.

“We should take the credit cards,” she recalls telling them.

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Some of the award-winning wines from Mount Nittany Vineyard.

“I was involved in their communication with their clients, like email, marketing and possibly social media,” Linda said.

Accolades for professionally crafted wines from Mount Nittany continue to flow.

“Our winemaker, Steve Hilliker, has a professional winemaking training – it was his second career – but that is why he does so well with awards.”

Most recently, they received awards at the 2021 Pennsylvania Wine Competition, 2021 Pennsylvania Farm Wine Competition, and 2021 Atlantic Coast Wine Competition (see sidebar for a full list of awards.)

The location of the winery has advantages and challenges.

“Our location at State College is a rural place – people love it because it’s peaceful, scenic, and we have a pond. We did not opt ​​for musical performances in the evening. We’re a little more dated – we close at 5pm most days, ”said Linda, unless they have a small event on the property.

“We certainly benefit from being in a university town – there is a lot of tourism in this region. Considering the market here, we have a wide range and wines to appeal to all tastes and non-wine drinkers. We also want to have a higher level wine for a more sophisticated palate. We will bring grapes for it. We are known for our Tailgate Wine and Tailgate Red because they are smooth mid-range. They aren’t too sweet or too dry, they have a broad appeal and the name helps, ”she said with a smile.

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A fall view of the Mount Nittany tasting room in Center Hall, Center County.

While they benefit tourists to the area, Linda said their location presents some challenges as well. Because they are surrounded by antlers, deer are the primary concern for grapes, not birds as they are with red grapes. The Weavers put up a deer fence about a year and a half ago, and Linda said it was one of the best things they’ve done.

They also keep a close watch on fungi and insects. They spray the grapes, albeit minimally, to ward off pests and diseases. According to Linda, the ideal conditions for grapes are hot, dry summers with enough rain showers to keep growing.

The profession of winemaking

The couple try to be innovative and strategic in their planning.

Thanks to his father’s pioneering actions 30 years ago, the weavers are trademarked on the Tailgate Red and White names as well as the Lion County and Nittany names.

Mount Nittany Vineyard and Winery participates in the Central Pennsylvania Tasting Trail, which includes wineries, breweries, distilleries, cider houses, and meads. If it is a competitive market as they are all attractions, this cross promotion benefits all partners.

When the COVID-19 pandemic prevented Mount Nittany from offering tastings over the counter, side-by-side with other customers, the Weavers decided to reinvent their tasting room experience. They transformed their traditional event space into a tasting space, where they now offer seated flight tastings rather than a counter tasting. The new space, as well as the old tasting room or ‘Treehouse’ which was built about 30 years ago, both offer seating and high tables. The winery now offers plenty of indoor seating options for guests during the colder winter months. Both spaces can comfortably accommodate 20-25 people, so they aren’t meant for larger events like weddings, but they do host smaller gatherings.

Treehouse n ° 1

The Treehouse, a private event space, can be rented out for small parties. Originally, this was the tasting room for the cellar built around 30 years ago.

Throughout the pandemic, the winery has seen more demand due to its outdoor spaces and social media presence. Linda said students aged 21 and older were looking for a safe place to be outside because being outside reduces the chances of catching the COVID-19 virus, so the cellar has had a fall very successful last year. Due to the pandemic, she said the winery has always complied with wearing face masks and social distancing, which customers have also appreciated.

“Our base has really helped us with (wine request) shipments and online sales. When things reopened, they came because they could be outside. And, we have been discovered by a lot of young people who use social media.

To thank loyal customers and increase customer loyalty, the winery recently expanded its wine club offerings and member benefits to include free tastings for members as well as guests of members up to a party of four, discounts on event clubs and a substantial discount on the rental of the “Treehouse” event space. They also offer vacation rentals on the property through of Linden Lodge, a completely renovated house that was the former residence of Linda’s parents. To rent it, they offer it to members of the wine cellar at a very advantageous price, sometimes up to 50%.

Now that shipping wine has become a customer expectation, Mount Nittany is using a third-party vendor, VinoShipper, to ship wine to buyers.

As the business draws to a close from a busy fall season of harvesting, production and visitors, the winemaking work continues into winter, including filtration, blending and fermentation, to to name a few. Tastings also continue throughout the week.

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