Black Dog Wine Company is a boutique winery producing award-winning wines in western Allegheny County, just 15 miles from downtown Pittsburgh and 10 miles from Pittsburgh International Airport.
Much of its fruit is sourced from local Pennsylvania farms, and you also will find its wines at many local festivals.
One other place you’ll find the wines of owner and winemaker Mark Rozum is on the awards list of competitions. It has fared back both in intrastate competitions and in some national competitions.
The main winery is located at 7425 Steubenville Pike. It’s currently open Wednesdays through Sundays, and in addition to being dog-friendly (as you’d expect by its name) and kid-friendly, it’s also limo- and tour-bus-friendly. The events include weekend music and food trucks, which you can find on the winery website.
it also has a tasting room in Kittanning.
Below is the latest in the “6 Questions” series of interviews with winemakers and owners of East Coast wineries, which looks behind at what has been a turbulent year and, with optimism, looks ahead. Thanks to owner Mark Rozum for taking these on.
Q, Just some basics. When did you open? What gave you the idea? Are you sourcing a vineyard or bringing all your grapes/wines in?
A, We have been in business since 2016. We opened our main tasting room in 2018. I’m a former software engineer. I lost my job. I had been making wine at home for many many years and had won some amateur awards and people seemed to like the wine so while I was unemployed I looked into “going pro,” licensing, permits, equipment, etc., and obviously did. I started in my garage. I went back to work for a local software company [Pittsburgh] and figured I’d do the wine things on the weekends at festivals and farmers markets. Then it just took off and I couldn’t do both anymore. In the fall of 2017, I quit my day job and just do this full-time now. We do not grow our own grapes, we get everything from the Lake Erie area.
Q, For my readers who are unfamiliar, what can you tell them about what to experience if they visit? Based on the website, it looks like you do have live music. Are the hours changing soon, either because of moving into spring or the fact that the COVID guidelines are lifting?
A, We have a very large outdoor space. We do live music year-round. Right now we do Friday and Saturday nights from 6 to 9 p.m. It will be indoors or outdoors depending on the weather right now. Memorial day weekend our music schedule changes and we do Friday nights from 6 to 9 and Saturday and Sunday afternoons from 2 to 5. This we plan on outdoors. Dog-friendly, kid-friendly. We may open back up on Tuesdays in the summer. We used to be open Tuesdays but then last year we didn’t because of COVID [we needed extra cleaning time] but this summer we’ll see what the demand is like.
Q, So tell me about the dog theme Looks like you had fun with the names. I assume there is a dog there roaming the premises? I’d be remiss to ask about the wine you call Crazy Ex Girlfriend.
A, We have a black lab, pretty short story! We actually have four labs, a black [Elvira], yellow [Ries], red [Sydney] and a chocolate [Vino]. The black lab is old and kinda cranky so we don’t bring her around much, but the others make an appearance every so often when my wife or kids can bring them.
We do have fun with the names and labels. They’re easy to remember. We will get people in and say “we had that beaver wine” and we know right what they’re talking about. There honestly isn’t a good story about Crazy Ex Girlfriend although I should just make one up!!
Q, So you have the winery and another shop. And then retail distribution? Did that change at all during the pandemic? Did you start doing curbside? Is there anything you think you’ll continue doing even after this pandemic fades?
A, Our retail/wholesale reach increased a lot during the pandemic. We had a few stores we were in but we’re in a lot more now. So much so that we’ve hired a full-time outside sales rep. We did the home delivery thing and curbside. We’ll probably stop those in the next month or so.
Q, The wines have done well, I think, in terms of competitions? I would think you’re pretty happy with how they have turned out. Any thoughts of new wines or new products? A lot of wineries seem to be branching out.
A, We have done very well with our wines in competitions. Our Port just won double gold at the San Francisco Chronicle wine competition. I was pretty proud of that. We have released several new wines this year [apologies they aren’t on the website yet!!].
We did it in a neat fashion. For 5 weeks in March, we ran what we called VinoMadness to coincide with March Madness. We released a new wine every Friday for these five weeks. Two of them were previous releases that were brought back but three were new wines. We have a couple more new releases planned for the rest of the year as well. We’re looking into canning wine.
Q, For anyone heading out, obviously there is the North East corridor and all those wineries. Is there much around you? Have you largely just tapped into the Pittsburgh market or are you seeing folks from elsewhere? Finally, have you been in this long enough to answer the question of what do you know now that you didn’t know when you started?
There are actually quite a few wineries around Pittsburgh. We are one of the largest and definitely the most award-winning. We do get people from all over the country. We had a bus tour from Tennessee stop in. They were hitting wineries up and down the East Coast, found us online and made us one of their stops. We’re going to be branching out in o the Philly market soon.
I honestly never thought it would get this big this quick. Our first vintage in 2016, we did a little over 600 cases. For the 2021 vintage, we’re planning on doing over 6,000.
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