Just 10 minutes away from State College, you’ll come across a scenic view of the mountainside filled with trees and vineyards as well as breathtaking views of Tussey Mountain from afar. People from Centre Country, State College, and across the country come to visit Mount Nittany Vineyard & Winery, a popular attraction that has been family-owned and operated since 1990. With decades of history, have you ever wondered where it all started and how the winery came to be to where it is now 30 years later?
Linda Weaver, general manager and daughter of winery founders, Joe and Betty Carroll, speaks in a phone interview about how her parents founded the business beginning in the 1980s. She says that her parents did not intend to begin this business venture at first. They bought the property in 1983 after falling in love with the 63 acres on the side of Mount Nittany, which included a pond as well as a barn. But they had no plans for what they could do with their new land.
Joe and Betty’s dreams of winemaking first arose when they became close friends with Jack and Marissa Kohlns, another winemaking family in the area. Jack was looking for a source of grapes
and Joe suggested that they could use their land to grow the grapes. Thus, Joe and Betty planted the first part of the vineyard, beginning the three-year process from the time they plant a vine for it to come to fruition. During those three years, they decided to travel to Australia to visit Linda and her husband, who were residing there at the time. While Joe and Betty were there, they did a lot of wine tasting and traveling with their daughter and son-in-law.
Linda states that she thinks the time her parents spent in Australia visiting wine-producing areas and talking to a lot of other winemakers there planted the seed in her dad’s mind that led him to make his own wine. Her parents came back to Pennsylvania, constructed a building that contains the original tasting room that is still used today and eventually began commercial production and sales in 1990. When her parents started this business, they were both employed full-time at Penn State so running this business was more of a weekend hobby.
However, over the years, both of her parents and friends of volunteers grew the business, planted more vines, added more buildings, and bought more equipment. Once both her parents retired from Penn State University, with her mom retiring five years later than her dad, they decided to pursue this business full-time.
Years later, in 2014, Linda moved to the area with her family and became involved in the family business. Linda’s background made her well suited to this task; she got her undergraduate degree at Penn State as a business major and got her MBA in finance from the University of Virginia. She knew she wanted a marketable major when she decided to study business, and those skills would help her immensely in all aspects of running the winery and managing employees after she bought the business from her parents and took over as general manager in 2016. Linda now works with other full-time employees including her husband, Steve Weaver, who is the vineyard manager, winemaker, Scott Hilliker, tasting room manager, and other part-time employees.
Linda’s day-to-day schedule as a general manager consists of working closely with Scott to discuss the production plan and the supplies he wants to buy, especially when he is going to make a new wine. She also oversees the running of the tasting room, purchasing of supplies, grocery store sales, advertising, renovation of the winery’s event space to convert it into a winter tasting room with indoor seating, and many other pertinent tasks that go into the daily operations of a winery.
Linda’s favorite part of her job would have to be working with the staff; she feels very fortunate to have a great team to work with where everyone feels like family. Another aspect of her job that she loves is the opportunity to contribute to the business in creative ways, such as managing the social media presence and designing advertisements. She always finds it fun to learn new things and is currently looking into a new point of sale system at the winery that can more conveniently manage reservations and payments. Thus, she is involved in big projects and crucial upgrades so that the business can continue to grow and meet the needs of its clientele.
When discussing the details of the winemaking process, Linda emphasizes that sanitation, expertise, and attention to detail are most important for a successful winemaker. When her father first started out, he was an amateur winemaker and learned the ropes throughout the years. Therefore, as the winery grew, the family needed to hire a professional who has been trained in all the intricacies of winemaking and provide him with all the tools that he needs.
The professional winemaker who filled this role, Scott Hilliker, brings expertise and creativity that makes this winery unique from its peers. Scott knows what kind of yeast to add, how to blend grapes, and what types of wine are popular with customers, and each choice he makes leads to his success in the art of winemaking. Furthermore, the winery stands out for its state-of-the-art bottling line, state-of-the-art cleaning system, and state-of-the-art equipment.
Four years ago, Mount Nittany Vineyard & Winery won best dry wine in Pennsylvania for the 2016 Chardonnay Reserve. Additionally, a lot of the wines that have won awards in recent years have sold out due to their high popularity. However, since COVID-19, there have been no wine competitions, which has been somewhat tough for the winery since they don’t get the opportunity to showcase their wines. But the fact that this small winery in Central Pennsylvania won "Best Wine in Pennsylvania in 2016" speaks for itself.
Linda also mentions some of the most popular wines that they sell are Tailgate Red, Nittany, and Lion Country. All these wines are trademarked so no one else can make wine using these names that people can identify with, especially if they have a Penn State background. These wines all range from semi-dry to semi-sweet. The winery also offers excellent dry whites and dry reds which is not something that everybody expects from a Pennsylvania winery because many wineries focus on sweeter wines. However, Linda says that they offer the full palette from dry to sweet and that includes around 26 wines currently.
If you are interested in coming in for a tour and wine tasting, you will have to call 814-466-6373 and make reservations in advance. The typical experience for a tour led by Scott, which costs $10.99, is about 30-45 minutes of exploring each step in the winemaking process. Scott begins in the vineyard and talks about the different grapes they grow, their characteristics in terms of when they ripen, and the kinds of wine they are made into. Then he takes everyone into the winemaking operation and shows their equipment, bottling line, and basics of winemaking from start to finish. At the end of the tour brings you to the tasting room with a wine flight, which allows customers to sample four wines in one of two pour sizes, costing either $5.95 or $9.95. Full glasses or bottles of guests’ favorite varieties are also available.
Thus, if you’re visiting Centre County or Happy Valley and are looking for a place to relax and enjoy wine with your friends and family, then Mount Nittany Vineyard & Winery is the place to be. With years of fascinating family history, dedicated staff members, award-winning wines, and captivating scenery of the mountainside, you’ll be sure to experience a fun adventure like no other around Centre County.
Written by Angela Chan
Edited by Kashia Quay