By Andrew Hesner
Published: Tuesday, March 19, 2013, 12:01 a.m. Updated: Tuesday, March 19, 2013
Walter Walt Vinoski is a South Connellsville native who has been making wine for 45 years. His family has been in the business much longer. His last name even has a Polish translation of son of a winemaker.
He and his wife, Roxanne, along with two other couples the Schillings and the Lynns co-own the Greendance Winery in Mt. Pleasant.
The Schillings and the Lynns are full-time fruit farmers, according to the Greendance website, greendancewinery.com.
During a recent tour of the winery, Vinoski described the 120-acre plot as a place where people can relax, have a good time and leave the rest of the world behind.
Although all the wine is made on site, Greendance does not grow all the fruits on site. Some are purchases from growers around the country, with locations depending on where they can find an ideal balanced blends, Vinoski said.
As a result of the careful consideration for blend balance, in the five years since opening, Greendance has won more than 150 awards, including the most recent Governor’s Cup for its 2011 locally grown Diamond grape wine.
The awards are displayed in the decorative wine-tasting room, which is furnished with country-style furniture, rustic decor and various wine-related knickknacks.
This is what Greendance is all about, Vinoski said. We are just a bunch of farmers following what Mother Nature has given us.
At the onset of the tour, Vinoski offered samples of the wine first, a Cabernet Sauvignon, followed by a sweet summer wine and bestseller, Isabella. He then explained his wine-making techniques.
Instead of using traditional oak barrels to make and ferment the wine, Vinoski uses stainless steel barrels with oak chips added to the mixture.
It all depends on your niche and technique, he said. Using oak or stainless is not better or worse, just different.
Vinoski said he preferred the steel barrels because the oak has a tendency to crack and require more maintenance.
Barrels aside, Vinoski and his staff conduct hundreds of tests on each batch of wine to insure consistent taste and overall quality.
There are 30 or 40 main tests we conduct on each wine, he said. Some of the more complex fruit wines go through over 120 different tests.
As for the wine-making process, the first step is to bring the fruit to the lab for content analysis. The happenings in the white and sterile-looking lab room, he explained, influenced some of his best compliments as a winemaker.
The best compliments we get from customers and other winemakers is that each of our wines have a distinctly different taste, he said trying not to chuckle. We like to listen to what people say and we cater to their needs.
The next step in the wine-making process is fermentation, which is conducted in a special shed behind the main winery building. The 70- to 72-degree room houses large metallic holding tanks filled with fermenting wine.
The biggest of the holding tanks bigger than many of the tanks used by Pennsylvania winemakers, Vinoski explained houses Greendance’s most popular wine: Isabella. The locally-grown wine has been shipped as far as England and, about 4,000 gallons are made each year, according to the winemaker.
Vinoski then provided an update on the status of the wine in the tanks.
Primary fermentation is done and the secondary fermentation is coming to an end, he said. The next step is cleaning and filtering.
Once the wine has been cleaned, it is pumped to the bottling room in the basement of the main winery building. After it is run through a sterile filter to remove leftover yeast particles, it is bottled, corked, labeled, capped and cased.
Vinoski, at this stage of the tour, felt it was an appropriate time to discuss the business end of Greendance.
Producing approximately 20,000 gallons a year, Greendance has seen a steady 20-25 percent growth each year since its opening in the winter of 2007.
However, Vinoski explained the conundrum that exists with food business growth.
Profits are taken, he said, but most of what is earned goes right back into new tanks and equipment, so your profit margins are continuously delayed.
Asked about the effects of the 2008 recession, he replied that he chose not to participate in the recession or the depression.
We are a service company, he said. We want people to come here, relax and forget what’s happening everywhere else, at least for a few hours.
As a result, business has been so busy for Vinoski and the partners that they began selling their products to various stores throughout the state. These businesses include Simmons Market in McMurray and Backyards Gardens in Ohiopyle.
According to the winery website, one of Greendance’s recent ventures involved opening a satellite store in Donegal.
Just minutes from Seven Springs, Hidden Valley and Out of the Fire Cafe! the site said.
When not at the winery, Vinoski is a self-employed consultant who provides expert opinions on power-generation equipment failures around the world.
He earned his degree in electrical engineering from Ohio Technical Institute and holds a doctorate in business administration and economics.
He is married, enjoys woodworking and has three young children, all of whom have started making wine.
I love making wine, Vinoski said. We (Greendance) have really good products because we have a really good team.
The Greendance Winery at Sandhill is located at 306 Deerfield Road in Mt. Pleasant. The business is open year-round and offers free wine-tasting daily.
Andrew Hesner is a freelance writer.
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