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It started with strawberries. A whole lot of strawberries.

Jeff Gormley and his family planted fruit on their six-acre property in Heidelberg Township about nine years ago. When the berries ripened, the family had more than they knew what do with.

So when life gave them strawberries, they made strawberry wine.

Gormley and his daughter, Alex, have spent the subsequent years perfecting the craft of enology, planting grapes and other fruits on their property and converting a garage into a wine-making area and tasting room.

That work came to fruition in March, when the father-daughter pair opened Thunder Ridge Vineyards to the public. Their tasting room at 932 Hill Top Drive South is open one weekend every month and by appointment.

Although the operation still feels like a hobby to Gormley and his daughter, it is a hobby they take seriously.

Gormley will soon receive an associate's degree in enology and viticulture from HACC, and Alex has helped her dad harvest and smash fruit since elementary school.

The family had not always set out to open a wine business. Gormley, 54, has worked as a firefighter in Maryland for almost 30 years. He plans to retire in a few months and devote more time to the fruit-growing side of his business.

Alex, meanwhile, is pursuing a degree in elementary education at Shippensburg University as she manages the business's Facebook page, operates the tasting room and helps her dad craft recipes. She was a 50-percent owner in the business by the time she graduated from South Western High School.

The past few years have been a process of trial and error for the Gormleys. After a few bottles exploded in the basement where they started their hobby, they moved to a custom-built area with an easy-to-clean epoxy-coated floor. When the grapes didn't grow, Gormley enlisted help from experts at the local Penn State extension, who taught him to prune the vines.

The key to good wine, Gormley said, is sanitation and education. He keeps his wine-making area spotless, and he figures he probably uses more water cleaning than he does to actually produce the wine.

Thunder Ridge specializes in dry wines but also offers sweet fruit flavors. The business also grows grapes to sell to other wineries and home wine-makers.

When the vineyard is finished, they will have more than 2,000 vines with 30 varieties of grapes.

Ultimately, they hope to expand their hours and attract more wine-tasting events for groups of up to 50 people. They are also building an outdoor pavilion and have several community events planned this summer.

Although Gormley will have more time to perfect his craft when he retires, he wants to keep the small boutique feel of the business moving forward. Alex hopes to stay involved, but she also has hopes of pursuing a teaching degree when she graduates.

"To us, it's still a hobby," Gormley said.

He and Alex plan to keep it that way, even as business grows.

If you go

What: Thunder Ridge Vineyards

Where: 932 Hill Top Drive South, Heidelberg Township

When: Tastings on May 30 and June 6 or by appointment

Contact: 717-465-1283 or 717-634-4772

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