The Toast Of The Town

POSTMARK: NISSLEY VINEYARDS

May 30, 1993|By WAYNE HARDIN

A mile from the Susquehanna River town of Bainbridge, Pa., rain rolls in over the hills of Nissley Vineyards.

Out of the weather, Judy Nissley, the general manager, perches on a stool by a stone fireplace in the winery, talking about wine and family.

"My father started [the winery] when he retired from his bridge-building company at age 59," she says.

Founded by J. Richard and Anna Ruth Nissley, Nissley Vineyards and Winery Estate is 34 1/2 acres of grapes (10 varieties) on 300 acres of farmland in western Lancaster County.

"My brother, John, is vineyard manager," she says. "Mary Lee, my oldest sister, lives in Washington and works at the Smithsonian but she does all the landscaping. My twin sister, Joyce, who lives in New Mexico, comes back three times a year to help with government reports and bookkeeping. My parents are mostly advisory now."

The 18th-century buildings of the winery nestle in the Conoy Creek valley, hidden from Stackstown Road by a hill. They include a 1779 stone house where Judy Nissley lives, a 1797 stone mill used for storage, and a wood, stone and brick winery that Richard Nissley created out of parts from older buildings and attached to a red, wooden tobacco barn. He finished the winery in 1978 and it opened to the public the same year.

"This is a small winery," Ms. Nissley says. "It's almost considered a boutique winery by California standards. But it's one of the largest in Pennsylvania."

Last year's crop produced 30,000 gallons, she says.

Her winemaker is William Gulvin, here since last August, in the wine business 18 years. He used to be a paint chemist.

"It's not as unlikely as it sounds," he says. "Paint manufacturing requires the same basic knowledge of equipment. The main difference as a paint chemist was that at the end of the day, you didn't sit down and drink a glass of paint."

Mr. Gulvin says the industry owes much to Philip Wagner, the founder of Maryland's Boordy Vineyards. He brought in French hybrid grapes, Mr. Gulvin says, and established them as "the grape for the eastern United States."

Despite its romantic image, winemaking hardly ranks as a spectator sport, he says. "It's pretty static most of the time."

The grapes bud in May, blossom in June, get harvested from late August to October. Fermenting at Nissley takes place in stainless-steel tanks. Nine people work here full time, doing tasks such as pruning in winter, bottling, labeling, thinning buds and clusters, tying vines, mowing in summer and spraying. Harvest is the busiest time. Three more workers are needed then.

Two tasks not required here are fertilization and irrigation. Rich soil -- limestone with a clay base -- takes care of both.

"This land is almost too fertile," Mr. Gulvin says. "We have to plant grass between vines for control."

The beauty of the place makes it an attraction all its own. There are the old buildings, green hills, parklike grounds, the creek where some fishing is allowed, the arched stone bridge over the creek, and rows and rows of grapevines.

Even on this dank day, 15 people come down the narrow lane that leads to the winery. Self-guided wine-sampling tours for individuals and small groups are free. Guidebooks with color pictures explain the operation.

Earl and Annette Lightner, of Camp Hill, Pa., drop in after seeing a sign on Route 441. Chuck and Virginia Carlson, of Bethlehem, Pa., are return visitors. "Their DeChaunac is one of the best reds I've had," says Mr. Carlson, an amateur winemaker.

Page and Jean Doughton, of Indialantic, Fla., and their sister-in-law, Joan Doughton, of Lancaster, stay the longest. They walk in a light rain to see the grapevines, look at an old lime kiln with a 150-year-old wild grapevine sticking out of the stone, and wind up in the main hall of the winery.

Bill Kauffman waits behind a polished cherry-wood slab, ready to serve them some wine.

"Candlelight, a semidry blush wine, is our best seller," Mr. Kauffman says.

The Doughtons try it and sample five more, with Page Doughton stopping from time to time to take pictures.

Most of the wines get favorable reviews. Joan Doughton says the Fantasy sweet rose wine is "too sweet" but likes the sweet Spicy Red, served heated.

The day continues damp and gray. No visitors come after 4 p.m. but the sun will shine tomorrow.

"The blossoms arrive by the first week in June," Judy Nissley says. "The vineyard smells so sweet at blossom time."

NISSLEY NOTES

THE WINERY BUILDING: Nissley was built from 1976-78 with parts from older buildings in Pennsylvania -- fieldstone from a mill, wood for the archway ceilings from covered bridges, siding from buildings already on the property, black wrought-iron railing from a Victorian hotel.

HOURS: Open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays to Saturdays, 1 p.m. t4 p.m. Sundays. Free tours for individuals and groups of 14 or fewer. Minimum charge of $30 for larger groups. Closed Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's. Call (717) 426-3514 for more information.

SPECIAL EVENTS: "Music in the Vineyards," a series of Saturday evening concerts, is held from late June through early September. A seven-mile race, the Nissley Vineyards Distance Classic, is held in October.

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