Would You Like Some Wine With That Ring?
ALIQUIPPA — Tom Glatz the jeweler became Tom Glatz the winemaker on a whim.
It happened about 1980 when his wife came home from Pittsburgh with a tub of grape leaves, one of the main ingredients in making stuffed grape leaves. When Glatz heard the price — $60 — he knew he could grow better grape leaves for less money. The grapes were a bonus.
“Honestly, I’m really a farmer. I just really like growing things,” said Glatz, who has operated a jewelry business in Aliquippa since 1976.
That was the beginning of Glatz Wine Cellars, which is now a full-fledged family affair operating from the rear of Glatz Jewelers on Brodhead Road near Mill Street in Aliquippa.
The initial planting of grape vines has blossomed over the years into a six-acre vineyard on the Glatz farm off Monaca Road in Hopewell Township. This year, the Center Township family expects to produce about 10,000 gallons of wine. 17 varieties of red and white wines are currently available at the store. A bottle of wine ranges in price from $10 to $18.
Tom’s son, Aaron, is the official winemaker. He also maintains the vineyard. Other family members, including Aaron’s parents, brother and sister, help out wherever they can. Aaron quit his job as an aircraft mechanic in Georgia several years ago to return home and start the winemaking business. It is a craft that has been handed down for 200 years in the Glatz family, which has its roots in winemaking regions of Germany. “People ask me when I started making wine,” Tom Glatz said. “I tell them I’ve always made wine, and my family’s been making it for 200 years.” Aaron, 29, has been making it for as long as he can remember. “When I was a kid, I didn’t know I was making wine when I was making wine,” he laughed. “We were doing it in the basement. For me, this is definitely a lot of fun.” But the homemade vintage was exclusively for family consumption.
The Glatzes began marketing their wine in 2007 when they were licensed by the state and federal governments, a process that took about two years.
“It took me at least that long and a couple of attorneys,” Tom Glatz said. “It’s very, very strict. To give you an idea, our label took me nine months to get approved. We would send it in and they would say, ‘Wrong, do it over.’ “
In 2007, they made about 3,000 gallons. Production has since more than tripled.
Glatz Wine Cellars has replaced the former Lapic Winery in Daugherty Township as the only winery in Beaver County. Tom Glatz bought much of Lapic’s equipment when the winery closed in 2006.
So far, the Glatzes have bought juice or made juice from grapes picked at other Pennsylvania vineyards for their wine. Aaron said that will soon change.
It takes about three years for grapevines to mature enough for winemaking and six or seven years to produce optimum yield. Last year should have been the family’s first big production year, but frost and damp summer weather stunted that.
The topography and location of the farm are perfect for a vineyard. Tom Glatz said Monaca Road runs along a ridge that is actually a glacial moraine, featuring sandy, well-drained soil perfect for grapevines. A steady breeze helps keep fungus and disease away from the vines, and the hilltop affords good sunlight.
Aaron has high hopes for this year.
“We intend to grow and use everything that we grow,” he said. “This year, we definitely plan to have a big picking year.”
The ultimate dream is to have an outdoor facility at the vineyard where people can come and sample wines, listen to music and possibly have banquets and larger group functions, such as weddings.
So far, the business is breaking even, according to Tom Glatz. But he envisions a day when winemaking will overtake the jewelry business.
“This was going to be my idyllic retirement business,” he said with a laugh.
By: Bob Bauder
Beaver County Times
Saturday March 27, 2010