Couple Work to Bring Vineyard, Winery Back to Life

10/27/2012 7:00 AM
By Chris Torres Staff Writer

GLEN ROCK, Pa. — Kim Miller has always had a love of wine. Her husband, Joe, always wanted to own his business.

So when the chance came for the two to meld their two passions, they jumped at the chance.

The couple are finishing up their first summer running the 80-acre Seven Valleys Vineyard & Winery just outside Glen Rock in York County.

Nearly three years after the winery shut down after the death of former owner Fred Hunter, the Millers have taken on the business, putting their mark on what has been a dream of theirs for many years.

“It’s quite an undertaking. It has been a lot,” Kim Miller said recently while taking a break from harvesting grapes for this year’s vintage.

Owning Seven Valleys, which has actually been in business for many years, wasn’t something the couple planned on.

He is an operations manager at a local landscape company and she has been in retail for most of her life. Neither has farming experience, although he has a bachelor’s degree in horticulture management from Penn State.

“He always wanted to have his own business and something pertaining to outside and agriculture and live plants of some kind. He just didn’t know what,” Kim Miller said. “I always wanted to sort of have my own store or some kind of my own business.”

The couple read books, attended workshops and visited other wineries to see what other owners were doing.

One thing they always had, though, was a love of wine.

“We like wine. We did a lot of wine touring,” Kim Miller said. “We go up to New York and the Finger Lakes, and we go to Virginia and Maryland and all of the wineries around here.”

They toured Seven Valleys on several occasions and were impressed by its location — in the middle of several valleys — and its beautiful views.

When Hunter, who ran the business with his wife for many years, died at the end of 2009, the business was in limbo. Several retail locations were shuttered and the winery itself was closed.

The Millers thought about buying the place but didn’t have the money to pull the trigger.

Then in late 2010, they started talking to the family to work out details about possibly buying the business from them.

“It was a matter of working with the family, getting in with the USDA Farm Service Agency and a bunch of other avenues that we worked at and chipped away at for probably a year and a half,” she said.

They worked out a lease-to-own agreement with the Hunters to get financing to buy the business.

They officially took over in February and went to work putting in a plan to get the winery open again.

A lot of things were already in place. The Hunters actually kept their vineyard manager on to keep up with maintenance, and as a result, many of the vines were still in good shape.

About 15 acres total are planted in grapes.

Much of the equipment the Hunters used to make wine was left behind.

But the Millers made many of their own changes.

Even though many of the vines were bearing grapes, many were in bad shape and had to be taken out.

“A lot of things needed to be pulled out. They weren’t looking that great,” Kim Miller said.

The couple planted a lot of vines of their own, including 3,000 of Dornfelder grapes, a German variety, 1,500 of Chambourcin, and 500 of Riesling and other varieties.

The actual vineyard design, with high trellises, is different from what’s being used in most vineyards today.

“They did a lot of stuff differently the way they are doing them now. You go to a lot of the newer vineyards, everything is like these straight rows. The posts are straight up and down, and the trellising is low,” she said. “Whereas they have all of the posts on the end pointed out, which was like the old way of doing it. It was just very different.”

The downstairs area of the winery, which is now the retail store, was being used as a storage area and had to be cleaned up.

The upstairs of the winery, where the tasting room is, was refurbished with a new bar. The adjoining deck was lengthened, Kim said, to allow a more open feel and better views of the pond behind the winery.

The couple got its liquor license from the state in late August. They are currently offering five wines of their own, along with several other whites, reds and blush varieties.

She estimates around 3,000 gallons of wine will be produced this season. But it will take several years for the rest of the vines to bear good enough fruit to make into wine.

“In three to five years, we should be having a lot more wine,” she said.

In the meantime, the couple is just trying to get their name out there.

They’ve been holding various events at the winery, including some live musical acts, and are opening up the winery for weddings and other special events, something not done when the winery was previously opened.

They’re planning a Halloween party, with live music and catered food.

Nine months into it, Kim Miller is still adjusting to the idea of being a full-time business owner and farmer.

“Just the whole process, from pruning to planting, spraying and then harvest, if they are even ready. And then the process of finishing it and tasting it and sharing it with the public,” she said.

“Not ever having done it, just going on the tours and everything, you always just see the end product. It wasn’t until getting into this you realize that it really is an entire year’s effort to even just go to harvest and then almost another year before you’re getting to appreciate what you did,” she said. “That was a big surprise — how much time it took.”

And she’s still learning the little things that matter when it comes to making a wine something that others will want to buy.

“I’m learning as I go. Obviously, I had wine knowledge from just drinking and enjoying wine throughout my life,” she said.

“My main thing that I like to do is I like to be in the tasting room,” she said. “I like tasting the wine toward the end to see what the winemaker is going to do with them, and finishing up and listening to how he talks about the different tastes and flavors in it.”

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