Fero Vineyards & Winery is a little more than an hour’s drive from Harrisburg, with Routes 11/15 (and then just 15) as the most direct route to 965 JPM Road, which branches off a few miles south of Lewisburg.
It’s another one of those Pennsylvania wineries – similar to Galen Glen in Schuylkill County and what was formerly Briar Valley in Bedford County – that remained off the radar of a lot of wine drinkers early in their existence only because of their rural location and not because of the quality of their wines.
In fact, Fero is among the most intriguing of the more than 300 wineries across the state, both for the varieties of grapes it grows and the types of wines it makes. Co-owner and winemaker Chuck Zaleski grows – among others – Pinot Gris, Gruner Veltliner, Lemberger and Sapavari, one of the few East Coast producers to grow and make the latter.
Zaleski attended Bucknell University, and that education took him to Vienna, where his interest in grape growing and making wine began to develop. He would eventually meet and marry Daneen, who already was a big wine fan.
In 2004, they converted part of an 1812 family farm into a vineyard and winery, and their passion would evolve into a business that would officially open in 2012.
Away from the vineyard and cellar, he is a urologist whose practice is located in Lewisburg.
The couple built a wedding pavilion in 2017 with the hope of adding to the number of visitors already coming to the winery. While the pandemic temporarily halted that side of the business for a time last spring and summer, some of it has started to return.
But the emphasis from the beginning has been on the wine.
“The original plan was, the number one focus was grapes,” Zaleski told PennLive in 2018. “I wanted to do the best grapes, the right varieties, the right setting. I’ve been the winemaker and an observer and doing very, what I’d call, basic European-style natural winemaking. I don’t do a lot of intervention. We’re kind of letting the grapes do what they can do.”
The winery is open 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sundays. You can keep track of the coming events on the website and Facebook page.
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 Chuck Zaleski for taking the time and making the effort to answer these so thoroughly.
Q, For those who don’t know the winery, how would you describe the experience there and the type of environment you two have tried to build since opening? And just to make sure, you opened in which year?
A, From the beginning, we were a grapevine-up organization. After years of test plot data and site prep, we planted 13,000 vines in the spring of 2010. The inspiration for Fero vineyards, winery, and tasting room came from small family vineyards and wineries in central Europe. We opened for vineyard view tasting and events in 2012, seven days a week. We have indoor and outdoor spaces to relax and enjoy the wine experience in the heart of central Pennsylvania.
Q, You wrote me about the quality of the 2020 vintage. What made it so good? And just a refresher on the vineyard. How many acres? What do you grow and are you planning to plant anything new this year or next?
A, 2020 was the most ideal season at our vineyard since planting and this was the best 40 tons of fruit we have ever harvested. The weather was warm and sunny. It was dry at the critical times for grape development at fruit set and after veraison. We were able to handpick each variety at peak ripeness with very clean clusters. We make whites from the Pinot Grigio, Gruner Veltliner and Riesling. Reds and the rosé are made from the Pinot Noir, Lemberger, and Saperavi.
Q, Are you back up to speed on events and weddings? And do you regularly bring in food trucks?
A, Our large pavilion with open green space has been really popular with event planners. Booking is better than ever and we are able to host parties up to 250 in the pavilion, smaller parties up to 50 in the taproom, and still keep our tasting room open to the public. When we have music or large crowds we have food trucks. That information is on the website ferovineyards.com or social media.
Q, What has the past year been like there? How much were you forced to adapt and are there things you implemented that you’ll continue even after the pandemic?
A, The last year has been all over the place with visits nearly shutting down then rebounding. We survived but I don’t think we can do it again. We had to adapt quickly and found a few nice surprises. People love fresh air and sunshine now more than ever. Wine flights are really popular. When no one was out last spring, wine slushies to go saved the winery.
Q, How much have you changed/added to the place since you opened, and do you have plans to do anything else?
A, We planted enough of the right varieties to fulfill our needs for 10 years and allow us to sell some grapes to other wineries. We have sites prepared to double our current acreage of 13 acres in vines. Gruner Veltliner and Saperavi make the most sense for the next planting and a little Chardonnay will find its way to the vineyard for sparkling.
6, How is the beer side of the business working out? And are you happy where you are with your list of wines? It’s a really diverse list some different wines than other places have.. plus the sparklings.
A, Act 39 allowed us to sell beer and spirits from Pennsylvania, which was great for events and small gatherings of friends. COVID has been hard on tourism and sales. We take extra precautions to keep everyone safe. The old adage that grapes must suffer to make the finest wine applies to the 2020 season. When people come out and explore the Susquehanna River Valley we will have some special varieties sure to impress.
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