When I put together my story on the oldest Pennsylvania wines still being made in 2018, Nissley Vineyards in Marietta, Lancaster County had two of its wines on that list: Seyval Blanc and Naughty Marietta.
It remains a site that’s tied closely to the state’s history of wine production, drawing its roots to the mid-1970s when J. Richard “Dick” Nissley and his son John planted several acres of grapes. Dick later would be involved in the founding of the Pennsylvania Wine Association and become its first president.
Still family-run, it remains one of the state’s best-known wineries, as much for its presence in Pennsylvania’s Fine Wine & Good Spirits stores to the fact that its summer concert series held on the ground has been taking place longer than any other.
In the past couple of years it has been making news other ways, such as partnering with Wine-in-a-Can Research in the summer of 2019 for a survey on canned wines and then becoming one of the first in the state to sell several of its wines in a can. Here is a link to its line of Kiss canned wines.
In addition to the farm winery (140 Vintage Dr.), which is accessible via a winding driveway that runs along the vineyards, Nissley also has retail stores at Rockvale Outlets and at Tanger Outlets Lancaster.
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 Jonas Nissley, the winery vice president who has put his stamp on the business over the past several years, for taking these on.
Q, What is the assessment six months removed on the 2020 vintage? How does it compare with some of the other recent ones?
A, The 2020 vintage is looking solid and some of the wines are already in the bottle and on the shelf, Riesling and Pinot Grigio among them. Both taste great and gave good varietal expression. We saw even ripeness across the vineyard as there were no prolonged temperature spikes or periods of wetness. By all accounts, it was a normal year and I think sometimes, in PA, we forget that we should be thankful for a normal growing season!
Q, How did winter treat the vines? And are you doing any replanting or putting in any new grapes either this spring or next?
A, Winter was without any prolonged period of bitter cold which is letting us breathe a sigh of relief. I think everything that was alive going into winter should have made it through ok, and we will know for sure in a couple of weeks. We are doing a fairly large replant of all our viniferas, which took a beating during the winters of 2017 and 2018 due to bitter cold and intense rain. I would say 80% of our Merlot died and 60% of the Cab Franc. We will replant those this year along with adding a few rows of Petit Verdot. I am concerned about the lanternfly moving in this year so we are not planting any new blocks — just focusing on replants.
Q, Summer concerts. Any sense at this stage of what they might look like? Last year’s worked OK, yes?
A, Yes, full speed ahead on concerts! Within state and CDC guidelines, of course. We have rebranded the event as Summerfest and will now have music on both Friday and Saturday nights like we did last year. Dancing on the patios will be allowed again this year. We booked larger groups like we had in the past who will play on Saturdays and many audience favorites will return this year. Smaller acoustic groups are playing Fridays.
Also, we have some fantastic food trucks lined up for each show. Tickets are now $10 and season passes will be $50, which is less than we have charged in the past. We want to keep the series fun and relevant for people of all ages [still must be legal age 21], satisfy our longtime loyal guests and bring out new guests as well. We are really excited about this season!
Q, Still forging ahead on the canned wines? It feels like the introduction has been successful. I see you have the Port toying with any other new products?
A, We will soon be introducing a pét-nat [pétillant natural] called “Jester,” which is an exciting new venture for the winemaker and the rest of the team. It is made from 100% Pa.-grown Gruner and is a really neat wine. It has a fantastic citrus character I get tangerine, lemon, lime, grapefruit on the nose and palate. It will be interesting to see how our customers respond to a niche product like pét-nat. We also introduced our Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve this past year, which has been very well received, and hope to launch a Meritage Reserve (or similarly named Bordeaux blend) either for this vintage or next. We want to continue to demonstrate that Nissley Vineyards can produce first-rate vinifera wines that are among the best in the state.
Q, What do you stick with even after the pandemic fades? Curbside pickup? Free delivery to surrounding areas? Any other changes you stay with?
A, Home delivery is here to stay. People love the service and we plan to incorporate free home delivery into our wine club, which will be rolled out sometime in 2021.
Q, Where is your demographic at this point and how has it changed the product line at all? And what are your three top wines in terms of sakes these days?
A, I was ecstatic to see our demographics shift younger for our event series last year. In addition, I would say that the majority who came to our Summerfest series had not visited the winery before. This is very encouraging and is the main reason why we chose to rebrand the series this year while bringing back some of the services/offerings that people loved about Music in the Vineyards. We pull a very wide demographic in terms of regular winery visitation. Top three wines are still are sweets – Grapeful Red, Fantasy, and Naughty Marietta – but we continue to push the envelope with our reserve program and demonstrate that Nissley is a top contender when it comes to these higher-end wines.
Note to readers: if you purchase something through one of our affiliate links we may earn a commission.