That was one of the first questions I asked of Marty Schoffstall, owner of Spring Gate Vineyard in Colonial Park, located just a few miles outside the city.
I visited during a ribbon-cutting ceremony commemorating the vineyard’s one-year anniversary, and, amidst the food and music and general hoopla, Schoffstall kindly gave me a tour of his operations.
“Wineries,” he said, “weren’t that big of a deal in PA.”
He was referring to the 1990s, when he traveled with his then-business partner, Mark Fedor, to California’s Napa Valley. They happened upon a vineyard where they tasted, learned and experienced wine. Schoffstall and Fedor decided that’s what they wanted to bring home—the vineyard experience.
The two first opened a vineyard in Virginia, named North Gate Vineyard. After North Gate’s success, Schoffstall turned homeward to Harrisburg, where he had previously purchased a farm for his family. He started by planting a test vineyard, experimenting with hybrid grapes.
Enter Rebecca Klein, another Harrisburg local, and an oenophile. Schoffstall and Klein met at their children’s school and discovered their common wine passion. He tapped her as Spring Gate’s executive director. Together, they opened the winery in March 2014.
Schoffstall, also a partner in Linglestown’s St. Thomas Roasters, envisioned something unique for Spring Gate. He decided to model his business after the European Farm Barn motif, capturing the essence of a European café.
He and Klein created a setting where people experienced the area, not just the wine. Firepits, enclosed patios, open gazebos, wandering farm animals, tastings, specialty chocolates, tours, music and private parties are all part of Spring Gate. They want you to enjoy wine at an enjoyable place.
About 12 of Schoffstall’s 60 acres are devoted to the vineyard. Two natural springs provide plenty of clean water, as well as the vineyard’s name.
The central structure on the grounds, the barn, has been renovated. It includes cozy seating, a wine bar and a tasting room. Spring Gate currently offers about 23 wine varieties. Schoffstall said the Susquehanna sweet white (Niagara) and red (Concord) thrive at the vineyard. Chardonnay won’t grow, and he lost the Merlot in a test vineyard. The noiret, a hybrid grape with a hint of pepper, is my personal favorite.
Anthea, a visitor to Spring Gate, recommended the Détente—a dry white with a crisp, fruity finish. She said it reminded her of her time in Italy, sitting outside, enjoying a similar wine.
Besides grapes, there is an apple orchard, hops and beehives. Maple trees were tapped for syrup on the day of my visit. Vegetables grown on the farm are sold across the street in a market building. Chickens roam freely and sheep, not chemicals, fertilize the ground. Sheep, not machines, cut the grass.
“Inch by inch, year by year, the property becomes more sustainable,” said Schoffstall.
One domesticated bird in particular, Gertrude, has graced the label. So has a lamb. The dog might be next.
Wine to Beer
Spring Gate hosts festivals most months. On St. Patrick’s Day, an instructor taught an Irish jig. Earth Day was celebrated with bottle swaps and guests hand-painted recycled bottles. May featured the Kentucky Derby’s mint juleps and fancy hats, along with a Mother’s Day brunch.
And Spring Gate isn’t only the reserve of wine-lovers. Schoffstall has more than 30 years of experience making cider, so he logically introduced the hard variety. Now, every Saturday is cider day, the beverage purchased by the glass, growler or bottle.
Going forward, Schoffstall hopes to add brewing to his expanding operation. A beer garden—an outdoor area where beer is served—is in the works.
“Winter wheat is a natural product in this area,” he said.
The beer menu won’t be as extensive as the wine list, at least to start, featuring three or four varieties, he said. To get things going, he’s even brought in a consultant and brewer from Belgium.
The prospect of a brewery recently led to some controversy in Lower Paxton. Over the winter, some locals objected to a special zoning exception that Spring Gate sought, expressing fears of traffic, drunken driving and noise.
When I asked Schoffstall about it, he replied, “No one has ever complained about a winery,” perhaps because beer has a stigma that wine does not.
Indeed, beer in this country long has been associated with flannel, truck stops and bad country music. However, that stereotype is fading as the local craft beer scene has grown.
“What would differentiate Spring Gate from other local breweries?” I asked.
“The culture, the property and the experience,” Schoffstall replied.
I asked about future plans and brought up the word, “mead.” With a gleam in his eye, Schoffstall said, “We are releasing a honey-peach wine in June.”
The farm has bees and springs; honey and water make mead.
“To emulate those (old-world, European) meads would be a real goal, if I could find enough local honey,” he said.
Emphasis on local. Local wine and cider. Some day, local beer and mead. That’s what Spring Gate is really about.
Spring Gate Vineyard is located at 5790 Devonshire Rd., Harrisburg (Lower Paxton Township). For more information, visit www.springgatevineyard.com.