Throughout Pennsylvania, wine making is a family business. Yet, even in a region filled with them, the Shade Mountain Winery in Middleburg takes family-run wineries to a new level.
The Zimmerman family, parents Carolyn and Karl, are the owners, and their children Amy, Jenny, Bill and Ben all take part in the day-to-day operations.
That must explain why every time I have visited the winery in the heart of Snyder County, I've felt at home. The drive – only 90 minutes from York – is picturesque, the wines are great and the people even better.
The grapes were planted in the early 90’s, yet ironically, the winery that opened in 1999 started almost by accident, with the help of a negotiation with another winery that fell through.
“We started in steps,” Carolyn said. “We were traditional farmers that have four children. We had to get them through school.
“We have southern facing land, so Karl thought of growing grapes for home wine makers, and thought of other wineries. Then one day he woke up and decided we are going to start a winery.”
Flavor is the norm at Shade Mountain, and the winery has become a frequent stop for locals and those out for drives in the country.
Start with the fact that on a nice day it is typically a beautiful drive to the winery, which sits along Rt. 104, one of the back ways to State College. Many Saturdays in the fall, the tasting room is filled with people donning Penn State attire, on their way to the game.
Sitting up on a hill side with one of their vineyards along the road, the tasting room is simple, homey and very nice all at the same time, with gifts and other items available.
A large deck was added in 2006, helping capture the beautiful view of the vineyard and surrounding mountains. It is a scene common among the stops of the Susquehanna Heartland Wine Trail.
The most difficult thing at Shade Mountain? Deciding on which wines to sample because there are so many in a selection that suits most tastes.
Currently, there are more than 30 wines on the list, ranging from crisp dry varietals to semi dry, semisweet and on to an outstanding selection of sweet wines.
Since I knew we liked most of their sweet wines, I went a semi-dry, semi-sweet route when we were there and found an excellent pinot grigio. In fact, I haven’t bought a bottle of pinot in years, but one came home with us.
A crisp semi dry named Young’s Hill, and the 005, which is a blend of five grapes were very good and the Autumn Harvest tastes as fresh as the name suggests.
There are wines made with ice tea, along with mint and mead flavors.
Meanwhile, while I was conducting my initial interviews, my wife was already sampling some of the available warm wines, perfect for a fall day.
We spent a couple of hours there chatting about wines, kids, colleges,sports, recipes – they are big on recipes at Shade Mountain.
Behind the tasting bar is a photo of an old barn. Glancing around the room, you can see the old beams from that structure, however it’s been renovated so nicely it’s hard to imagine it as just a simple barn.
The place has become something that Karl, who said he is on disaster duty most of the time, admits he never envisioned, saying: “No I didn’t have a clue. The fates have drug us in strange ways.”
The tasting room, and event areas have also grown over time.
“Wineries have to be event driven so we do Friday night deck nights,” Carolyn said. “(The wine trail) necessitated knocking out a wall and making the bar bigger because we get a lot more traffic.”
Whether there for an event, a tasting or just out for a drive, you will enjoy Shade Mountain. The friendly staff, stunning views and delicious wines will see to that.
If you go
Hours and events: Monday through Thursday, and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Fridays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sundays from noon to 5 p.m. An upcoming event in mid-November is the 16th annual Jack’s Mountain Progressive Open House, with Penns Creek Pottery.
There is a trio of events as a part of the Susquehanna Heartland Wine Trail, as a part of the Heartland Christmas celebration, as well as a Holiday Shopping Event the Sunday after Thanksgiving.
A full list of events and other information can be found at http://www.shademountainwinery.com/.
Feature wine: Picking a favorite at Shade Mountain is very difficult. But despite that, we have really taken to the “Elderberry,” a most unique sweet red wine that offers a fruit flavor different from most others we have tried – and there has been a lot sampled over the years.
Sweet? Yes, but the fruit is what you will notice when you try it.
Like most of the fruit wines at Shade Mountain, the berries come from local farms. However, the elderberry came to be one day when Karl and Carolyn were out for a ride and saw an elderberry bush.
Picking the fruit gave Karl the idea, and it became one of the original wines offered, which along with the Rascal Red and Jack’s Mountain Red make up a line of “comfort wines.”
The only unfortunate thing with the Elderberry is how quickly the bottle gets emptied – at least at our house.
Nearby attractions: Both Bucknell and Penn State Universities are within easy driving distance, with their campuses, many restaurants, and of course, college athletics.
The Penns Creek Pottery, which is housed in a turn-of-the century mill, is just one of the many local attractions. Two state parks, the Raymond B. Winter and the Shikellamy are within 30 minutes of the winery. There’s also a wildlife refuge, T&D’s Cats of the World in the area.
Several bed and breakfasts are close, including The Vicksburg Inn, the Inn at New Berlin and The Copper Beach Manor are close by. Plus, sitting between Harrisburg and State College there are plenty of hotels to pick from.