Two family farms have put Greene County on the regional wine tasting map. The Pennsylvania Wine Association calls this the “Pittsburgh Countryside” and visitors with a taste for the unique have been stopping by for years to buy what Thistlethwaite Vineyards and Shields Demesne have to offer.
A family farm since 1892, Thistlethwaite Vineyards near Jefferson, Pennsylvania has a rustic charm and a hand restored barn that is now a state-of-the-art winery. When Agro-Tourism became the reason to take a country drive as the 21st century dawned, the family business was already in transition from raising beef cattle to growing fruit of the vine. Richard Thistlethwaite was networking with the Western Pennsylvania Wine Growers Association and planting acres of grapes, while son Jamie was learning his craft at a winery in St. Louis.
Over the years the menu of wines crafted at Thistlethwaite Vineyards has expanded along with their ever-widening circle of return customers.
The process begins in stainless steel tanks downstairs at the winery where fermentation creates alcohol and filtration removes sediment. What happens next is where process becomes art.
Fully-ripened Vidal grapes aged in oak casks for six months after the first fermentation and inoculated to convert the lactic acids, develop a buttery texture and a soft finish that is love at first sip.
There’s no sugar added, just what the grape produces. Then it’s up to oak casks to develop the traditional depth of flavor of a good wine.
Wine made with grapes and honey is another vintage treat to be found, aging in oak casks at Shields Demesne near Spraggs, Pennsylvania. Its fields are planted for herbs and perennials has been in production since organic gardener Leigh Shields began his greenhouse in 1982. Business expanded to wine making in 2000 when Leigh apprenticed himself to Ferenc Androczi of Little Hungary Farm in Buckhannon, WV. There he learned to make a traditional Hungarian wine sweetened with what bees have to offer and adapted his greenhouses to be part of the fermentation and aging process.
Melomel is a honey – and only honey – of a wine. “It’s like nothing you’ve ever had before,” Leigh tells us. It has the richness of port “and something else. That’s the secret I learned from my teacher. Once you taste it you’ll know what I mean.”
Shields Demesne – Old English for domain – offers many flavors of Melomel based on type of grape and the fruits and herbs used to create subtle undertones that keep patrons coming back for that one certain bottle. Some of these custom combinations have been aged for up to ten years but all have been aged to perfection in greenhouses where the outgasses from the fermentation process are absorbed by the plants that grow there, a true testimony to the interconnectedness of the natural world. Melomel is available by the bottle year round, along with a wide variety of houseplants at the greenhouse.