Sip Your Way Through Lawrence County’s Wine Trail

PULASKI, Pa. — As a worker digs a path here for the walking trail at the future home of Nova Cellars Winery, Brew 32 and a yet-to-be-named distillery, owner Walt Novosel envisions what the main campus of his complex will encompass.

The east side of the property on Pennsylvania Route 208 will be home to a 20-acre vineyard and a pavilion. In the middle of the parcel sits a two-acre pond – a former swimming hole – and a two-story building that once served as a concession stand. When work is done, the building will house the brewery and winery, with the distillery sitting 100 yards west. And looping from the main building around the pond will be a trail with several fire pits and patios.

While a work in progress, it’s still an impressive difference from what Nova Cellars called home four years ago: Novosel’s garage.

“This was just a hobby and we ran it like that,” he says. “Any extra money we made went right back into the business.”

Under the umbrella of Nova Destinations, Novosel today operates three wineries, two cideries and Liquid Fusions – a store that sells infused olive oil and balsamic vinegar – as his full-time job. Products from all are sold at a store in Grove City, Pa. The brewery is scheduled to open in August with the distillery not far behind.

All but two of the locations – Running Vines Winery in Chesterton, Ind., and Aftermath Hard Cider in Valparaiso, Ind. – are situated along 18 miles of Route 208, creating what’s effectively a wine trail for Nova Destinations through Lawrence County.

“It’s one straight shot five miles down the road and you’re at the next place,” says operations supervisor Capri Mateer. “It makes it easy for customers to check out another place.”

Also helping matters are three nearby interstates, I-79, I-80 and I-376, that bookend the trail. Because of the highways, Novosel explains, it’s simple for tourists to get off at either end of the wine trail, follow Route 208 and easily return to the interstate. And with a store at Grove City Premium Outlets, it’s routine for employees to point out-of-town visitors to the other locations.

As Nova Destinations has expanded – a new location has opened in Pennsylvania every 11 months – Novosel has worked carefully to create a specific atmosphere at each bar. Nova Cellars in Pulaski carries the look of a California vineyard while Fractured Grape in New Wilmington is splashed with bright colors, a turn-of-the-century medical theme and a wall of glass jugs where customers can donate to local charities.

Knockin’ Noggin Cidery & Winergy in Volant combines the town’s rusticity with historical science – the idea for the name came from the tale of an apple falling on Isaac Newton’s head, which resulted in his theory of gravity. When it opens, Brew 32 in Pulaski will have a 1920s sports theme.

It’s that variation that first draws customers in and then keeps them rotating through each operation.

“It’s the experience,” Mateer says. “If you have a great time at one location, why not check out another that the same people own? You know that you’ll have that great time at all of them.”

The variations extend beyond the art on the walls. In a warehouse just off Route 208 in Pulaski, Nova Destinations makes 65 varieties of wine along with a dozen ciders. Each location has its own wines, including Knockin’ Noggin. What’s available at Fractured Grape will be found only there and at the outlet store.

“You always go [somewhere] for the experience,” he explains. “We give a different experience at every location. If you can go to the same winery in four places, why go to all four?”

Novosel allows that growing to offer 65 wines from just seven four years ago wasn’t simple. While he wouldn’t disclose just how much wine he sells or financial information, he says Nova Destinations has doubled its production volume every year since opening.

What’s made the blends distinctive, he says, is the variety of grapes available and how those grapes can be blended. With the vineyard in Pulaski still in its planning stages, Novosel buys grapes from California and the northeastern United States. For cider, he buys almost all of his apples from farmers within a 40-mile radius, including Apple Castle in New Wilmington.

“The great thing about grapes is that every year they can differ slightly. There are so many possibilities. It’s endless what you can provide people,” he says.

And by having more wines available, the more likely it is that a customer will find a wine he likes, Novosel explains.

“Everybody’s palates are different. With all the varieties, there are some I don’t like and there are some my wife doesn’t like,” he says. “We don’t expect everyone to like them all, but you should be able to find one you do like.”

Over the years, as more and more customers filed in, the bars have expanded to offer live music – at Fractured Grape every Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and at least one show a weekend at the other bars – and other events such as trivia nights, karaoke and wine crawls.

“It all boils down to the experience – the taste, the smell, the sound, everything,” Novosel says. “By enabling that, it’s just another layer that people can enjoy when they sit down and relax with a glass of wine.”

Once the new building is completed this summer and Brew 32 and Nova Cellars open, weddings and parties will be added to the list of events. A pavilion will be able to seat 500 guests, with wine and beer from the two bars available.

“A lot of people around here are starting to get into weddings with barns and venues like that,” he says. “We’ll be able to add another layer to that.”

Like other craft breweries and local wineries, Nova Destinations is riding the wave of people looking for something beyond what they find at liquor stores. They want something found nowhere else, says Knockin’ Noggin manager Katherine McCue.

“They want something different that you can’t just pull off a shelf,” she says. “A lot of places are overly sweet with their cider, but we try to keep a good variety between sweet and dry, along with the seasonal ciders. It’s not like what you’ll find at other places.”

With the success Nova Destinations is seeing – McCue notes it’s hard to find an empty seat Saturdays and Sundays in the two-story bar – Novosel is more than ready to expand into beer and liquor. The process isn’t that different. Whether making spirits, wine or beer, all involve converting yeast and sugar into alcohol.

“By understanding and mastering wine, the next step into beer is minimal, as is stepping into spirits after,” he says. “This is all part of the natural progression.”

Pictured: Part of what keeps customers interested in all Nova Destinations locations is the unique theme of each, say Knockin’ Noggin Cidery & Winery manager Katherine McCue, Nova Destinations operations supervisor Capri Mateer and owner Walt Novosel.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.