Linda Weaver’s son, Rob, labels Nittany Mountain White wine bottles by hand while Weaver recalls the days when her father made wine in the basement of the family home.
The operation became professional years ago when Weaver’s father, Joe Carroll, professor emeritus at Penn State, opened a winery. It has been neatly tucked away at the end of Houser Road off Brush Valley Road since the 1980s.
The family, all three generations, work in tandem at Mount Nittany Vineyard and Winery. Linda Weaver spoke about how the business got its roots.
Q: How did your parents, Joe and Betty Carroll, start Mount Nittany Winery?
A: My dad had been an amateur winemaker for years, and he was also a professor at Penn State in the (Smeal) College of Business. His field was business logistics. We lived on Park Avenue, and he used to make wine in his basement with our neighbor. I used to work at the Nittany Lion Inn and would bring him all the bottles from the banquets I hosted.
Q: The empty bottles, right?
A: (laughs). Yes, only the empty bottles.
Anyway, my parents had the opportunity in 1983 to purchase this property, 65 acres. They wondered if they could do something with the land because at the time there was just the barn, the house and the land. They decided to plant a vineyard, and they happened to be friends with the Kollns, who had a vineyard. Jack and Martha (had) really one of the first wineries in the area. My parents were going to supply grapes to them, but it turned out what my dad wanted to grow and what the Kollns wanted to use were not necessarily the same thing. He also learned there wasn’t money in just having a vineyard. So, he and Mom decided to go into commercial production. My dad was the chief winemaker and my mom worked in the tasting room.
Q: How did you become involved?
A: I was involved from Pittsburgh for marketing and media. It really wasn’t being done, and it was the era of when websites became important to have. It also became important to have a Facebook page, and I could do all of that from a distance. I did their emails, the Facebook page and website. When my youngest, Rob, graduated from high school, my husband retired early and we moved back here in June 2014. I’ve become a lot more involved in the day to day and in the tasting room, which I’ve kind of done peripherally. I’m the winery manager, and we just got a new winemaker in July.
Dad is still driving the tractor and doing that kind of work, mowing and vineyard work ... He’s a workaholic. He’s always got to be busy with something.
Q: So, are there three generations that work here?
A: My son is in school at Lehigh (University), and he works here in the summer and on breaks. My mom works with me in the tasting room, does events with me and bookkeeping. My husband is active in the vineyard management part of the business and general business management. Dad is still driving the tractor and doing that kind of work, mowing and vineyard work.
Q: He still enjoys it?
A: Oh, he does. He’s a workaholic. He’s always got to be busy with something.
Q: And you and your mother are in the tasting room together sometimes. Does that mean you sit back and sip wine?
A: Oh, no, but maybe a sip after the day is over.
I like dry wines in the summer and red wines in the winter. I think a lot of people are like that.
Q: What are the challenges in running a winery?
A: Well, always quality control. We’re lucky to have a winemaker (Scott Hilliker) who is just fastidious in his winemaking process. The quality has to be top-notch ... We feel like we are reasonably priced. We want people to know us, come here and be repeat customers.
Q: What are your most popular wines?
A: Tailgate Red and Nittany Mountain White. Those are two of four that are in the state store system. Those are two that are tried and true. We’ve been selling them for many years, and they appeal to a wide range of consumers. Those who like dry wines, those who like red wines, everyone seems to feel they’re a nice compromise.
Q: The state stores have an annual report, and the most recent said that this is the busiest month of the year. Is the same true for you?
A: Our biggest month really is November. December is really strong, too, but people who are buying our wine are often planning ahead. It’s not often someone comes here out of impulse, because you have to travel here. It’s really a destination. I would say that December is definitely strong for us, but sales taper off right before Christmas. We are also open New Year’s Eve until 2 p.m., because it will be a strong day, too. We also want to respect the family time our employees want.
Q: What are your favorite wines?
A: It really does depend on the situation. I tend to like dry wines. I like our Geisenheim, our white, our Chardonnay. We have a new dry red coming out that will probably be one of my favorite wines. But we also made a mulled wine out of our Mountain Rose. We’re selling a lot of that. I think it’s also seasonal. I like dry wines in the summer and red wines in the winter. I think a lot of people are like that.