Off Black Horse Pike in Lower Saucon Township, less than two miles from Bethlehem, Black River Farms has the distinction of being a green space in a densely populated area.
And now that its wine tasting room is open and wine sales are in full swing at the vineyard, owners Andy and Kris Warner are hoping the beauty of their farm and taste of their wine make them a destination that is close to home for many people in the Lehigh Valley.
“This is completely an estate winery,” Kris Warner said. “Everything is grown, processed and bottled on this property.”
In addition to wine, Black River sells fruit from its orchard and flowers from its garden seasonally, as well as eggs from the chickens that live there.
The Warners bought the 17-acre property in 2009. A former farm, the land had most recently been owned by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.
It was zoned industrial, but the Warners wanted to use the property for agriculture. They brought in consultants to test the soil and gauge the market.
With the quality of its soil and hilly terrain, it quickly became clear that Black Horse Farms was to become a vineyard.
The Warners planted their first grapevines in 2010 and began producing grapes suitable for winemaking by 2013.
But with a full-time career as a financial planner, Andy Warner said he was looking for the long-term investment.
As they learned to perfect their trade, he and his wife sold off those first few years of grapes to other wine producers.
In 2013, Black River Farms grew four-and-a-half tons of grapes and sold three-and-a-half tons of that haul. With the rest, Andy Warner said, “We made our own wine to go through the wine-making process and learn.”
Each year, they grew more grapes and kept a larger percentage of the crop until 2016, when they began serious wine-making.
“We grew 51 tons last year and kept 40,” Andy Warner said. “Eventually, we’ll keep all of it.”
Since last fall, Black River has been fully operational as a vineyard and wine-seller, and Warner said his main concentration is growing great grapes to make great wine.
The vineyard is off to a good start. It won gold and bronze medals for wines it submitted at the Pennsylvania Farm Show.
The Warners’ Chambourcin 16 took the gold and their Lemberger 16 took the bronze.
Also, the vineyard’s winemaking consultant, Rett Oren of Bethlehem Township, took grapes grown at Black River to make a wine that recently was named best hybrid of the show at the national American Wine Society Show.
In all, the Warners make 12 varieties of wine.
The vineyard’s most popular wine is Saki, but it’s not a Japanese rice wine. It’s the bronze-winning Lemberger wine, which the Warners named after their dog, Saki.
In fact, a sighting of their rescued black lab is one of the highlights for visitors, Kris Warner said.
“People are always excited to see him, and they ask about him if he’s not around,” she said.
Because, ultimately, a successful winery is about more than good wine. It’s an agritourism business.
FUN DAY OUT
Part of the trick to gain followers is to make the vineyard a destination where wine fans can enjoy a glass of wine and a stroll in the gardens.
The farm’s patch of sunflowers is a popular spot for photos, Kris Warner said.
There is food pairing from local producers including, chocolate, bread and cheese makers, as well as events that bring in food trucks or musicians to attract people looking for a fun day out.
Black River also will host birthday parties or small weddings.
EASY TO GET TO
Kris Warner said the closeness of the farm to a dense urban core is a big boost to making it an easily accessible destination.
“You can have a glass of wine, enjoy this unique location and then not have a far ride home,” she said.
Before the last big snowstorm, Andy Warner said, he and his wife drove to the farm’s gate to find a woman standing there waiting for them.
“She told us she didn’t want to get stuck in the storm without wine,” he said. “So we took her in, sold her some wine and then even gave her a ride home.”