New owners bringing their vision to local winery

New owners of the Bastress Mountain Winery, Sarah and Frank Kudlack, have coupled their unique perspective, garnered from their experiences living in different areas along the East Coast and in the midwest, with their vision to make their winery a destination for more than just tasting their products.

Situated along Route 654 just a short drive out of the city–Sarah is quick to point out it’s no farther to Target than to the winery–the setting is definitely refreshingly rural. Inside there is lots of open space with a newly-constructed burnished steel bar and large windows to let the sun in and increase the view of the grassy hillside.

The Kudlack’s arrived in the area after visiting Sarah’s parents. Her father had been the manager of the Kellogg’s plant, in Muncy, and he and his wife liked the area so much they decided to retire here. Before they came to the area, Sarah and Frank had lived in the Philadelphia area, both having attended Temple University. They had also lived in Boston, Texas, New Jersey, Florida and Michigan–an admittedly gypsy life. Frank has a background in business and Sarah experience in event planning and venue consulting.

“I would go in to existing, typically wedding venues and consult on their current business, their productivity, their efficiency flow, their sales packages and social media presence … things like that,” she said.

Her experience in that field is one thing that attracted the previous owners of the winery to the young couple. When the previous owners decided to sell, they actually approached the Kudlack’s.

In the months since they purchased the business, one of the first things they did was to reconfigure the spaces to make it less confusing to customers where things were located.

“Customer service is big for us,” Frank said. “We wanted to streamline and make it apparent where you’re going and what you’re doing when you come here.”

They painted and bought new light fixtures for the former banquet area, moved the spirits and the wine tasting all under one roof, rather than having the spirits in a separate building that was called the saloon. A patio area with tables and chairs is the site of open air concerts by local musicians and, with the coming of cooler weather, a large stone fireplace at one end of the area will offer warmth.

“Our kind of vision for the property was trying to understand this market,” Sarah said. “We’ve heard people say there’s nothing to do (in this area). We realized to get people up here, we had to be a little more ‘destinationesque’. We had to have more than a place to come up and have a tasting.”

They knew they needed something to entice people to come, grab a bottle, have a cocktail and sit and stay. They started changing the space behind the building from a pile of dirt with a pole barn to a lush green sloping hillside perfect for spreading a blanket for a family picnic or watching a movie on the winery’s 20-foot screen.

“It’s a cool place for people to hang out,” Frank said. “We put games out there, kids run around, we have music on the patio,”

“Obviously rolling down the hill is an all-time fave,” Sarah added, laughing. “Everything we decide to try to do is how can we get people to enjoy themselves. For us, it’s looking out now and seeing a band playing on the patio and people spread out across the lawn and playing Jenga and cornhole.”

They also have enlisted food trucks to be on site at times, so people have the option of grabbing something to eat while enjoying the entertainment or just relaxing on the grass.

Thinking ahead to fall, the couple has begun offering wine bingo, where you can drink and win wine. They are planning to have a series of Quizzo nights, wreath and arrangement making and chalkboard painting classes.

“We’re trying to get people to understand that we are under new ownership,” Sarah said. “While we’re kind of continuing under the umbrella of the previous owner, in the name capacity and things like that, we’re trying to put our own stamp on it and make it uniquely ours while highlighting the things that are super important to us.”

Using local sources in order to integrate into the community also is important for the winery owners.

Sarah related how one of their best sellers is the “Jacked Up” maple whiskey and that they now source all their maple syrup in Pennsylvania — particularly in Sullivan and Tioga counties.

We’ve been buying it from mom and pop places where they make 30 or 40 gallons,” Frank said. “We buy all of it at once.”

“For us it was a very conscious decision to use local when we can because we felt for a small business in an area like this, which could be labeled a little more rural than urban, we rely on the support of the community,” Sarah said. “For us to succeed, we need people to get in their car and drive up a mountain and come and visit us, so it was really important for us, one of our strong values, is if we’re asking that of people we need to do the same. So, we need to get in our car and source as much as we can locally.”

They offer a variety of barware and unique items, such as exotic beef jerky, in addition to their wine and spirits. Corporate gift baskets are planned for the holidays.