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A husband’s passion lives on in McElhattan

McELHATTAN – Wayne Township was “dry” until 2018. Now it has its own winery.

Oregon Hill Winery Inc., of Morris in Lycoming County, held a soft opening for their first expansion in McElhattan at the Shoemaker Estate, 67 Reservoir Road.

The winery is owned by Karon Swendrowski and was originally started in 1983 by her husband Eric.

“This is my very first expansion,” Karon said.

According to the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, a winery has the option to expand to five other locations with only one location able to produce the wine, she said.

The McElhattan location is the only planned expansion, she said.

The winery will serve 29 varieties of wine from white chardonnay to sweet fruit wines like apple, blackberry and peach.

One wine in particular, the raspberry joli, is not only considered a specialty wine. It also holds a special place in Karon and her children’s hearts.

“Eric’s passion started at age 12,” Karon explained.

Eric was the principal wine maker for over 30 years, having been the youngest licensed professional in Pennsylvania when he first started Oregon Hill in 1983, she said.

Her husband first began fermenting and creating wine with his father when he was 12. When their oldest child turned 12, Eric decided it was time for her to learn the art of wine making just like his dad taught him.

They began to create a raspberry wine, she said. Unfortunately Eric passed away before he could see the wine bottled.

Almost a year later in 2018, Karon and her daughters decided it was time to begin the process of bottling the wine, she said.

The port-style wine, also considered a dessert wine, label had to follow certain guidelines which included the use of“raspberry dessert” on the label and avoiding the word“port” too, she said.

She and her daughters struggled to find a name that would really capture the essence of the wine and what they were trying to convey with it.

One fateful day while Karon was in the wine cellar looking through the wine, she stumbled upon one of her husband’s favorites he and his father created.

It was a variety of grape labeled joli, meaning beautiful in French, which Eric and his father, who spoke multiple languages, named, she said.

They did so because of the beautiful coloring of the wine, she said.

It even became a gold medal winner in 1990 at the Pennsylvania wine competition, she said.

Karon suggested that they incorporate the phrase in the name to her daughters who loved the idea. And so raspberry joli was created and began selling in the summer of 2018.

Customers will have the option to come in and purchase raspberry joli and a variety of wines to take home or even sit down and have a glass in a relaxed setting. The space is fitted with tables and chairs, a bar, a large booth and even a comfy couch.

The winery will also serve three Pennsylvania brewed beers – Straub from St. Mary’s, Funk from Emmaus and Lion’s Head from Wilkes Barre – which must be consumed at the property per PLCB guidelines, she said.

Karon said the best selling wine available is the Mountain Reds.

“It’s by far our best selling wine,” she said.

All of the wines are fermented in the company’s main location by principal wine maker Bri Linn who has been creating wine for approximately five years.

Linn started out her wine making career through online courses at home as well as experimenting with home brewing before shadowing a wine maker in Lancaster where she learned a great deal and built her pallet, she said.

She’s been working at Oregon Hill since November 2018, she said.

Karon’s journey to McElhattan began in April 2017 after her husband, Eric, suddenly passed away.

After his passing, Karon was left with the decision on whether to continue to the winery or not.

When faced with the decision of whether to continue her husband’s legacy, Karon spoke with the Brenda Holden from the Small Business Development Center at Lock Haven University.

She was given three options: sell the company and walk away, become a small wine shop and sell other companies wine or consider expansion.

She decided to keep her husband’s dream alive and expand after hearing encouraging words from Brenda.

“He gave you a gift,” Brenda told her. “You can now run with it.” The winery had a loyal following, was debt free and was well established in the area, she said.

Karon and the Maguire family, who offered her the space in Wayne Township, had already had a relationship thanks to her family’s German restaurant, the Idlewood Inn, in Morris.

The Maguires frequented the restaurant before it closed and then began purchasing wine from Oregon Hill, she said.

Karon first approached Jim Maguire Sr. about possibly selling wine at his restaurant Restless Oaks.

Jim said he’d rather not sell it from that location but offered her a space in the basement of the restaurant which she felt wasn’t quite right for what she had in mine, she said.

Luckily, Jim had another property to offer her which led her to the Shoemaker Estate, she continued.

As soon as she took a look inside she knew immediately it was the place for Oregon Hill’s expansion.

“It just appealed to me,” she said about the old dairy barn.

Once it was settled that the barn would become Oregon Hill’s second home, Karon and her employees got to work preparing it for opening day.

They custom made the bar, as well as large wine racks to store the variety of wines the business offers. Karon explained that the bar and racks were created using wood stored in the upper levels of Oregon Hill’s barn in Morris.

Karon chose the McElhattan area because she wanted to expand south of her original location and bring her company’s wine to its many customers in the area.

“We have so many customers from this area,” she said. “When I was looking to expand I was looking at Tioga County or this side of the area… I was looking where customers are coming from.”

Karon felt settling in Wayne Township was the perfect plan because, until 2018, the township was considered a dry township.

“It was the perfect opportunity,” she said. “My customers were very excited.”

In fact, the local residents were so excited that when they held a “soft” opening to test the cash register and other equipment people stopped by to see if they were officially open, she said.

An official soft opening was held Thursday from 4 to 8 p.m. with a grand opening and ribbon cutting set for 2 p.m. on Wednesday, June 26.

The winery’s regular hours of operation will be Wednesday from 1 to 8 p.m., Thursday from 4 to 8 p.m., Saturday 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Sunday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

These hours are subject to change as Karon and her employees see the need in the county, she said.

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