While the coronavirus pandemic has caused upheaval in countless businesses nationwide, the owners of a blossoming winery in Bangor are choosing to view the glass half full.
Husband and wife Don Andreas and Pamela Weeks, who established Clever Girl Winery in the basement of their Bangor home last year, originally intended to sell their wines primarily at festivals and other events beginning in the spring.
When COVID-19 mitigation efforts forced large public gatherings and non-essential business activity to be suspended in mid-March, however, the couple changed their game plan, deciding weeks later to open a tasting room in their hometown.
“Now, that I’m sitting on all of this wine, I’ve had the opportunity to get my second round going and have more wine than expected,” Andreas explained. “So, we’re kind of taking the COVID situation in stride. I’m sure everyone looks at it as a disadvantage, and it’s a disadvantage to us in ways, too. But we also viewed it as an opportunity to do something we didn’t see happening for maybe two or three years down the road.”
Clever Girl, which produces wines using regional and international grape juice, is set to open a tasting room Labor Day weekend — Sept. 5 and 6 — at 15 Broadway. The space previously housed Bangor Trust Brewing, which moved about a block away to 50 Broadway over the winter.
The winery’s tasting room, which has been repainted purple and gray, will feature seating for approximately 24 guests with social distancing guidelines in place, Andreas said.
To start, nine wine varieties, including red and white sweet, semi-sweet and off-dry selections, will be available for purchase by the bottle, glass and flight.
A pear wine also will be available, along with a young, dry Chilean pinot noir. A second dry red, a syrah, is set to debut in early 2021.
“The dry red that we’ll have will be recently bottled,” Andreas said. “I’m going to sell it suggesting that people do a tasting of it, and if they like it, buy a bottle to open around the holidays. That way, it will have about three months to find itself in the bottle.”
Clever Girl, which will be open noon to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, is named after the famous last words of “Jurassic Park” character Robert Muldoon, the game warden in the classic science fiction adventure film,” before he is ambushed by a velociraptor.
Andreas admits, however, that his answer to where the winery’s name originated varies depending on who’s standing next to him.
“If I’m standing with my wife or my daughter, [people] always point at them and say, “Is this the clever girl?” Andreas explains. “If I’m with my wife, I say yes because she told me to find a new hobby and she knew I wasn’t going to take up golf. If I’m with my daughter, I say yes because she graduated valedictorian of her class. If I’m by myself … I give them the real answer. It’s from ‘Jurassic Park.’”
Before starting Clever Girl last year, winemaking was a casual activity for Andreas, who continues to work full-time for a home heating company.
Following his daughter’s graduation from high school in 2018, Weeks challenged him to find a new hobby to fill his time, as he previously spent much of the spring and summer months traveling with his daughter, who competed in slingshot race car competitions for eight years.
Since Weeks had introduced Andreas to enjoying wine many years ago and the couple have become regulars of local wineries on the weekends, Andreas purchased a basic winemaking kit in summer 2018 and started making wine from concentrate kits.
He quickly became enthralled with the endeavor and eventually enrolled in Northampton Community College’s Wine Specialist program.
“I’m the type of person who’s either all in or not in at all — 100% or 0%,” Andreas said. “So, in going to school, I started to learn so much more — that you can make blends, you can back sweeten, you can take two different juices and make eight different wines out of them and so on. With this knowledge, I thought, ‘I could advance way faster than I previously thought.’”
Andreas and Weeks eventually crafted seven crisp and unique wines from three juice varieties.
After receiving rave reviews from Andreas’ fellow classmates, the couple entered the wines into Winemaker Magazine’s International Amateur Wine Making Competition in spring 2019. The creations earned four amateur medals: a gold, silver and two bronze.
Coupled with Andreas’ completion of the Wine Specialist program, the accolades provided the assurance needed to convert Andreas and Week’s cellar into a licensed, commercial wine production facility. The pair began commercially making wine in October 2019.
“At the end of the day, we’re still a small-batch winery,” Andreas said. “For our first round, we probably made about 2,800 bottles. We’re probably making another 2,800 bottles right now. In the spring, I can see what I need to make more of, what’s selling a lot and so forth.”
Clever Girl’s limited winery license also allows the business to sell Pennsylvania-made beer and spirits.
Spirits are not planned to be initially offered, but bottled beers from regional breweries such as Evil Genius, Troegs, Weyebacher and Yuengling will be served upon the tasting room’s opening, Andreas said. Additionally, customers will be able to enjoy a few draft selections from Richmond Farm & Brewery in Washington Township, Northampton County.
“We’re definitely going to have a really great beer selection as well,” Andreas said.
With Gov. Tom Wolf’s recent order mandating that alcohol can only be served for on-premises consumption when in the same transaction as a meal, Clever Girl is planning to serve pizza — pies and $1.50 slices — made in the space’s existing pizza oven. Andreas and Weeks also are looking to eventually welcome food trucks to the business.
“We’re going to do flights and a slice,” Andreas said. “You’ll pick four of the nine wines — 2-ounce pours each — and get a slice of pizza for $10. So, you’re basically getting 8-ounces of wine, which is more than a glass.”
Andreas is excited to join Bangor’s already rich wine-making scene, complete with longstanding wineries such as Franklin Hill Vineyards and Tolino Vineyards.
He also is appreciative of the guidance he has received from wineries throughout the Lehigh Valley region, including Sleepy Cat Urban Winery in Allentown and Blue Ridge Estate Vineyard & Winery in Saylorsburg.
“Whenever I have a question on something, Carl at Tolino is ready to help,” Andreas said. “In the winery business, there’s no competition. It’s a more-the-merrier situation, and nobody wants anyone selling bad products. It only hurts our region’s name.”
“Randy from Blue Ridge also has been a huge help, as well as a huge inspiration,” he added. “That guy is pure motivation — positive energy. You get near him, and you want to start something big.”
Clever Girl Winery will open around the same time as Kim’s Kozy Krochet, selling handcrafted organic soaps and bath bombs and crocheted items such as bags, blankets, gloves, face masks and scarves, next door.
Kim’s, established in 2017, will occupy the other half of the building at 11 Broadway.