Fast growth for a new small business
The partners who created The Vineyard and Brewery at Hershey first met in a piano bar while drinking wine. They began a conversation about Pennsylvania wines stereotypically branded as only sweet and thought was there might be an opportunity for something different. Mike Wilson was just out of grad school with an MBA and was helping the piano bar manager with promotional ideas. One of the patrons involved in the conversation knew how to make wine from family recipes, and a gifted attorney with liquor law experience happened to be sitting at the bar and joined the discussion. It was decided that any vineyard making wine should also brew handcrafted beer to please all patrons. That’s when the idea blossomed to build the first all-in-one vineyard and brewery in Pennsylvania.
The future entrepreneurs decided the first step would be to stage a focus group tasting among friends who were wine aficionados. Those oenophiles were most impressed with the skills of the winemaker. It wasn’t long before the fledgling small-business planted grape vines on land owned by an additional partner’s 40-acre farm in the Hershey area. Those plantings included several varietals that would thrive in Pennsylvania’s climate.
In 2012, a few years after the first planting, The Vineyard at Hershey opened its doors. Capital generated from wine sales in year one helped to front the opening of The Brewery at Hershey in year two, officially bringing the idea of Pennsylvania’s first all-in-one winery and brewery operation in the same production center, to fruition. A year later the organization added a hard cider lineup to the portfolio of products.
The Vineyard and Brewery at Hershey has become “THE” place to be for the World-Famous Merlot and Pumpkin Beer Release Party each August. At the first event in 2012, Mike Wilson flew the first bottle of Merlot in by helicopter and popped the cork for the crowd. Dressed in a bright purple suit, complete with matching shoes and wearing a crown, he declared himself “Merlot Mike – King of the Pennsylvania Grapes.” That name stuck, and in later years Mike arrived with the first bottle of Merlot in a monster truck and on an Orange County Chopper.
Mike Wilson says the partners all still work at unrelated full-time jobs to reinvest enough cash into their growing business. There are expensive pressurized tanks and additional fermenters they want to purchase to expand operations, and a chilling system is consuming great amounts of energy. The organization’s 12,000 square foot facility is already in need of expansion.
In just five years, The Vineyard and Brewery at Hershey has landed in the top ten among more than 200 Pennsylvania wineries when it comes to production and sales. NFIB says cheers to Merlot Mike and his partners at this fast-growing member business!