Winemakers Have Passion for Their Craft

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Joe Glista III is eagerly awaiting the fruits of the first harvest at the Vineyards at Pine Lake.

The winery in Columbiana has four acres of grapes planted and Glista plans to add another nine or 10 in the spring, he says.

“This is our third growing season, so we’ll actually get a harvest this year,” he reports. “I’ve got nine different varieties of grapes growing to see what was going to grow and what isn’t.”

Whether growing at least a portion of the grapes used or relying on purchased grapes or winemaking juice, the six local winemakers interviewed for this story share a passion for what they do, whether they’ve translated their love of winemaking from a hobby to a business, or are continuing a family tradition.

Vineyards at Pine Lake: From Oil to Wine

Joe Glista Jr., the CEO, had been making wine in his basement several years when the oil business softened – he also is CEO of Energy Resources of America in Canfield – when he decided to launch the winery. The event center opened in August, followed by the tasting room in December.

The Vineyards at Pine Lake buys juice to make its wines, and has produced 16,000 gallons this year. Planting will allow the winery to supplement what it purchases and eventually to have estate-grown labels.

“We’re always going to need to import just because of the fact that we are in Ohio. We can’t grow merlot. We can’t grow zinfandel,” he says. “We can never be 100% self-sufficient and still supply all the varieties that people want.”

Pictured: Joe Glista Jr., CEO of The Vineyards at Pine Lake.

Of the nine varieties growing, he says three or four are growing pretty well. Among them is St. Croix, a Minnesota hybrid grape.

“It does well in the cold climate but it makes a really good dry red wine,” he says. “If the harvest comes in well, we’ll be able to ferment that, age it and then have an estate-grown label.”

Hartford Hill: Growing Concern

Hartford Hill Winery makes 11 wines that range from dry reds and whites to semisweet and sweet wines. “Our cab[ernet] is probably our signature wine,” owner Randy Wyand says.

A few years ago, Wyand told his wife he was going to build a winery on their property in Fowler, and transplanted a pair of barns he found to rebuild on the site. He opened in the winery in February 2015.

Hartford Hill buys much of its juice from California and Washington, he says.

“We make our sweet wines with what we get from Ohio, New York and Pennsylvania,” he says.

The winery has planted its own vines. There were “a few tiny grapes” earlier this year that were damaged by frost. “I do see some out there but not enough to harvest. Maybe next year or the year after,” Wyand says.

The winery hosts a variety of events, from high school reunions to showers and wedding receptions. Wyand plans to build an outdoor stage where he can have music and art festivals.

RedHead Wine: Making Waves at Walmart

CEO and founder Marisa Sergi is a third-generation winemaker who launched her label in 2013 and, in June, was selected by Walmart’s Investing in American Jobs initiative to distribute in a northeastern Ohio test market this fall.

She has since learned that her signature wine was approved for distribution throughout Ohio and Michigan.

Through the Walmart program, she is also working with Southern Glacier on the regional and potential national rollout.

Sergi crafted the wine while a student at Cornell University and used it as her capstone project. Toying with various combinations to craft a smooth and fruity wine with a light spice, she found that carmenere and zinfandel offered the right blend.

“RedHead blend is very fruit-forward with a light spice,” she says. “It has a very well-balanced profile and is very smooth.”

Pictured: Marisa Sergi, CEO and founder of RedHead Wines.

Her recently introduced RedHead rosé is fruit-forward as well, “but is bone dry and has a pop of sassiness to it,” she adds.

She buys her grapes from California and presses them here, which adds “a more robust flavor profile” than by just importing juice, she says.

“I want to provide my customers with the best premium blend possible and sourcing the grapes from California has enabled me to do so,” she says.

L’uva Bella Winery: Doing Business in Bulk

RedHead is manufactured at L’uva Bella Winery, which Sergi’s family operates.

Ruth Sergi, the owner of the winery, says it buys grapes from local and Californian vineyards, and imports juice from Chile and Italy.

“We process the juice here in Lowellville,” she says.

The winery makes 40 wines, including its best-selling Purple Rain series. L’uva Bella also sells juice it processes in buckets, drums and totes to home winemakers, wineries or wholesalers.

Juice sales represent about 70% of its business, though that will be decreasing, Ruth Sergi predicts, as retail sales of its own wines grow.

“We just got about 300 stores in Ohio to sell our wine,” she reports.

While Purple Rain is L’uva Bella’s top-seller, No. 2 is Blackberry Passion. “This part of the country tends to like sweet wine,” she remarks.

Mastropietro Winery: From Hobby to Business

Making wine was Daniel Mastropietro’s hobby for 25 years before he opened his winery in 2006.

At Mastropietro Winery are three acres of vineyards that furnish about 20% of his wine output, he reports. “Dry reds, like California merlot, cabs, zinfandels,” he says, “They need a longer growing season that Ohio does not provide.”

This growing season is “a lot better” than recent ones, he says. “We had a couple rough winters.” Over the last two years he has replaced 150 vines.

Pictured: Daniel Mastropietro, owner of Mastropietro Winery.

Mastropietro buys grapes and juices from California, Lake Erie wineries, New York, Virginia and Washington.

The winery makes 15 wines it sells in five counties. Its biggest sellers are Dolce Rosso and Dolce Bianco. “Those are both Ohio hardy grapes,” he says.

Wilhelm Winery: Coping With Varying Supply

Wilhelm Winery has been operating 17 years. As with Mastropietro, winemaking started out as a hobby for Gary Schilling and his wife, who own the winery in Hadley, Pa. “We decided to take some classes and here we are,” Wilhelm says.

The biggest seller among the winery’s 21 wines is Wilhelm Red, a concord wine, he reports. The semisweet wine takes eight to 10 months to make, while the drier reds, such as the cabernets and the Chambourcins, can take two years.

Wilhelm Winery brings in grapes or juice from around the Northeast, and supply varies from year to year. “It’s always a struggle. That’s a part of agriculture,” he says. “There’s not much we can do about that, but this year seems to be fairly good.”

Pictured at top: Randy Wyand, owner of Hartford Hill Winery, says his sweet wines are made with grapes from Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.