For three area couples, winemaking was just a hobby — until their hobby unexpectedly blossomed into a business.
Della Montgomery, who owns and operates Montgomery Underground Winery with her husband, Thomas, said they have been making wine and beer for more than 30 years. But after deciding to expand their hobby, Montgomery said they started planting their own vineyard in 2002 and opened their winery for business in 2003.
“It was a hobby gone wild,” Montgomery said.
Located off the beaten path in Rural Valley, approximately 4 miles northwest of Elderton in Armstrong County, the winery offers a wide variety of wines produced from fruits and grapes. Montgomery said all of their wines are produced from 100 percent fruit and are not blended with fruit juice. Most wines, she said, are seasonal, with strawberry and rhubarb remaining two popular wine flavors.
The winery is located literally underground, with a 19-foot tunnel entrance, which Montgomery said makes the temperature just right.
“We don’t have to worry about heat or cold,” she said.
The winery also offers a deck that is surrounded by grapes, which Montgomery said is an ideal location for people to bring and enjoy a lunch on a pleasant day.
“It’s always nice to meet new people,” Montgomery said.
In addition to the underground winery, the Montgomerys also own an outlet store between Shelocta and Elderton that sells their beer and wine.
Just a short distance northeast of the Montgomerys’ winery is Windgate Vineyards and Winery, in Smicksburg. Established by Daniel and Cay Enerson, the couple began planting their vineyard in 1974.
The two began working on the winery in 1986 and opened it for business in 1987, according to John Gbur, a wine maker.
Gbur, who also began making wine as a hobby, said he enjoyed it, so he made winemaking his profession and joined the staff at Windgate in 1989.
He said he enjoys his job, because he likes the people he works with and enjoys the challenge of producing a good product.
“There’s always something new,” he said.
Gbur said he has lots of work to do each month, even during the winter months, because during those months he is working hard at producing the wine.
He also said they package the wine the old-fashioned way, by hand.
“There are different processes,” he said. “It’s enough to keep you busy year-round.”
With approximately 14 acres of grapes and a half acre of apples, Gbur said the winery is able to offer approximately 28 different wines, with wines tasting from very dry to quite sweet.
He also said they make several fruit wines, with top sellers usually being concord, blackberry and peach.
Wine lovers who are not able to make the trek to Smicksburg can find Windgate products at an outlet store in the Indiana Mall in White Township.
In addition to the two stores, staffers at the winery also keep busy by partaking in many festivals.
Gbur said one of the biggest is the community festival, which is held the first weekend in October. Their activities for the weekend, he said, range from wine tasting, group tours and self-guided tours.
“People find their way here,” Gbur said. “People come from all over the planet.”
To list a few, he said, they have had visitors from New Zealand, Austria, Australia, Italy, Germany, France, South Africa and just about every state in the United States.
And for wine lovers who prefer to sip at a farm-like atmosphere, Raspberry Acres Winery can be found just off Route 217 on Clawson Road in Blacklick Township.
Sitting at the end of the road, visitors will find Paul and Sally Cunkelman’s farmhouse in an inviting rural atmosphere, with a patio that overlooks a small pond.
The Cunkelmans purchased the farm in 1947 from both sets of parents, who owned adjacent farms.
“It’s nice, quiet and peaceful for people to come out and enjoy the nature,” Sally Cunkelman said.
Even though the couple has been making homemade wine since the early ’80s, it wasn’t until two decades later in 2000 that the winery was established by the Cunkelmans and their youngest son, Brian. Sally said the winery began as a retirement hobby.
“It’s fun,” she said.
“We enjoy meeting the people.”
Paul Cunkelman said he never thought they would be running a winery, but said he enjoys it because it’s quiet and isolated.
“It’s a nice place to be,” he said.
In addition to their wine being sold at the Cheese House, along Route 22, Sally said they still enjoy taking their wines to events at Hidden Valley, Seven Springs and in Ebensburg.
“Making wine is a part of us,” Montgomery said. “When you can share with people, it makes it complete.”
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