Next weekend, Sept. 14-15, is when the land surrounding the Greater Lehigh Valley’s vineyards turns from fields of grapes into fields of gold.
The Lehigh Valley Wine Trail celebrates its biggest event of the year with its annual Harvest Weekend when the valley’s eight wineries welcome hundreds of wine lovers from across the region for tastings, tours and entertainment.
Elaine Pivinski, owner of Franklin Hills Winery in Lower Mount Bethel Township, said many tourists from New York and New Jersey view harvest weekend as their last big chance to enjoy the Pennsylvania country scenery before the weather gets too cold.
That makes it a very busy and profitable weekend for wineries in the region.
“It’s going to be quite busy,” said Kari Skrip, co-owner of Clover Hill Vineyards & Winery in Breinigsville. “People like to see the vineyards in their full season. They want to see you crush the grapes.”
The local wine industry is a booming one, said Mike Stershic, executive director of Discover Lehigh Valley.
He said since the Lehigh Valley received its American Viticultural Area designation in 2008, the agri-tourism generated by the local wine industry has grown significantly and is now bringing more than $50 million and 300,000 people to the region each year.
“It’s a growing thing. People are using wine tours as entertainment now,” he said.
Jan Landis, co-owner of Vynecrest Winery in Breinigsville, which bottles about 20,000 gallons of wine per year, said she has seen the industry and her business grow dramatically in recent years.
“Five or 10 years ago, very few people had heard of us. Now we’re an up and coming, fast-growing industry,” she said.
Her winery, one of the smaller ones, supports four partners and four salaried employees plus more than 30 part-time or seasonal employees.
“But even those seasonal employees are getting to be year-round,” Landis said. “We add an acre or two each year, and that’s a lot of maintenance work for them.”
At the larger Clover Hill, Skrip said she and her three partners employ 11 full-time staffers and more than 60 part-time and seasonal employees to work the field and their retail stores.
It’s more than just entertainment, Skrip said, it’s jobs.
Stershic said the local wine industry doesn’t just mean sales for the wineries themselves. People visiting the Lehigh Valley for day or weekend trips eat at local restaurants, shop in local stores and check out other entertainment venues.
Landis said she always encourages her guests to try one of the restaurants surrounding her vineyard and she also recommends a number of bed-and-breakfasts or hotels in the region to extend their stay.
Landis noted that she and her fellow vintners strongly support other local businesses.
“We’re big on the ‘Pa. Preffered,’ ” she said. Most of the wineries will be promoting other regional businesses and vendors selling jewelry, crafts, produce and other food items.
Blue Mountain Vineyards in New Tripoli will partner with Allentown restaurateur Louie Bellitieri, who will be cooking with his Louie’s Sauces on Sunday.
And Franklin Hill is bringing in a food truck so people can buy lunch and make an entire day of their visit. Pivinski said she wants to make sure everyone has the opportunity to be fed, educated and entertained during their visit.
The key to such weekends, however, is establishing relationships.
Landis said people may discover the wineries through such a heavily promoted weekend event, but the hope is they will come back and be repeat customers not only for their businesses, but for other businesses in the region.
“It’s a super brand kind of thing,” Stershic said.
Bringing people in for a weekend of celebrating the Lehigh Valley as a viticultural area adds credibility to the region’s wine industry and to the Lehigh Valley as a tourism destination, he said.
He said the Lehigh Valley may never be on the same level of the Napa Valley, but the wine trail events are getting people to pay attention to the region and take it seriously.
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