By Paul Vigna
In an industry where a majority of the businesses nationally are owned and operated by families, meet three next gen owners who all tell a similar story of wanting to make their own mark while respecting the past. More importantly, they provide each winery’s bridge to the future.
New products, more music
Nissley Vineyards in Bainbridge, Pa., opened in 1978 and has steadily grown its following, in part through a series of highly successful outdoor summer concerts. John Nissley and his sisters ran the place for years. Now it’s Jonas Nissley’s turn.
“Growing up here, I definitely was active — although, when you’re a kid, you’re not always pleased about being put to work,” he says.
In 2015, the family started talking about retirement. Jonas says that’s when it hit him. “I’m the only child on this side of the family. There are no Nissley cousins. If I don’t do this [take over the winery], I can imagine 10, 15 years down the road and see a lot of regret in my future. I have to at least try this,” he says.
Since then, he has planted additional vinifera vines, introduced canned wines, tweaked the weekend entertainment and is in the process of adding a second label of premium wines to his family’s Lancaster County winery.
He’s also hired winemaking consultant Genevieve Rodgers from California to assist with this significant addition to the winery’s portfolio.
Says Nissley: “These wines are really going to raise the bar [here]. It fits with our history of what we’ve always tried to do, which is produce the best possible wines we can, without compromise.”
Honoring history and stepping into the future
History is the first thing you see on the Loew Vineyards website, which has been upgraded several times over the past few years. That’s because there’s plenty of it, dating back to the mid-1800s, in Bursztyn, Poland, when Meilech Loew began making mead and his sons became involved in wine distribution and marketing.
During the late 1930s and 1940s, the family and its winemaking businesses were victims of the Holocaust. One concentration camp survivor was Wolfgang — imprisoned in the Budapest political prison at 18 because he was assumed to be a Polish spy and then sent to Auschwitz on his 19th birthday. In 1954, he immigrated to America and changed his name to William. Almost 30 years later, he and his wife, Lois, bought a 37-acre parcel in Mt. Airy, Md. They opened the winery several years later.
Rachel Lipman, their eldest granddaughter, was exposed to the vineyard and winery at an early age. Eventually, she would earn an enology certificate and work in a variety of industry jobs. In November 2018, she returned to assist full time with the winery, which has benefitted from her energy and ideas, beginning with her devotion to telling the family’s story.
“The reason we exist is because of our history,” she says. “And, as the grandchild of a Holocaust survivor, that’s my responsibility to share it.”
As for operational changes, the business model they had prior to the pandemic was “old school,” she says. “People would come by, try the wine, buy the wine and then leave,” says Lipman, whose grandfather died in April 2022 (Lois continues to be involved). “I started seeing other wineries offering certain things during the pandemic that we weren’t. We had to start pivoting, figuring out: ‘How do we do that?’”
Lipman has overseen a remodel of the production area, worked at growing the wine club and looked at ways to use social media to draw new customers to this small family-owned winery.
“We start harvest on Tuesday,” she says. “It’s going to be really hard to not have my grandfather there. But the wines from this harvest, like each one in the future, will honor him and make him proud.”
A new identity and new ideas
Bill and Penni Heritage still run their winery, which welcomed son Richard as director of marketing and sales in 2009. Among the long list of changes he has instituted, two stand out.
First, a rebranding, which was undertaken by necessity after the family learned of a West Coast producer that had the rights to their original winery name. Not long after, William Heritage Winery became the first in New Jersey to earn 90 points (for its vintage brut) from Wine Advocate.
A decision to add sweet wine production drew “pushback” from Richard’s father over concern it would lower the “perception of quality of our drier wines.” They settled the disagreement by creating a second brand, called Jersey, devoted to sweet wines.
Rich also started his family winery’s first wine club (it now tops 2,000 members), and says the idea of nurturing the business is what keeps him focused. “I absolutely love our family farm. We’ve farmed the same piece of land since 1853.
“Beyond love for the land, there’s a strong family legacy attached to what we do,” he says. Over time, his brothers have joined him: Erik in the vineyard and Bryan in production. “I have an incredibly strong urge to grow the business so that our family winery and our agricultural legacy can continue on,” says Rich.
Enjoy what’s next
All three individuals profiled here share a similar attraction to the business, a chance to bring their classroom and onsite education and enhance what has already been established. It also means they’re playing a major part in adding another generation to their family business in an industry that Nissley calls “fun to be in. Wine is meant to enhance whatever you are doing with it, whether you are with friends, family or having dinner,” he says. “To be in an industry where fun and enjoyment is at the center of it, that’s a great business to be in.”
Paul Vigna is a writer and editor in Harrisburg, Pa., who has been covering East Coast wines for 10 years. He was the first winner of the Atlantic Seaboard Wine Association’s Birchenall Award in February 2018. You can find him at the Wine Classroom at www.pennlive.com and follow him on Twitter @pierrecarafe