by Karl H. Kazaks
HARRISBURG, PA — Imagine you’re a consultant tasked with giving a set of recommendations to a winery or brewery wishing to become a successful and popular travel destination. Then look at what Spring Gate Vineyard and Brewery, which opened in the spring of 2014, offers its customers.
Likely you’d find an overlap between your list and the Spring Gate experience to be complete. You might even find that Spring Gate is doing things which hadn’t occurred to you.
You’d have a charming location, with a sense of history or a good feel. Spring Gate has both. Its winery tasting room is in a renovated white bank barn with original stone foundation. The location has a cozy, out-of-the way feel that entices customers to spend hours there while literally being centrally located in Pennsylvania.
You’d have a connection to your place. In Spring Gate’s case, they have the ongoing agricultural history of the wooded 60-acre farm set on the eastern outskirts of Harrisburg.
You’d have a vision of where you want your operation to go, together with a dedicated owner, skilled executives and operators. At Spring Gate, owner Martin Schoffstall and Executive Director Rebecca Kline are business school case-study worthy examples of those positions.
You’d have the necessary lineup of products to deliver your message into the hands of your customers. Spring Gate makes over 40 wines, about 20 ciders and a lineup of beers.
There would be new and cutting edge products, such as Spring Gate’s wine slushies. “They’re a hit in the summer,” Kline said, “but people drink them all year-round”. They also have infused wines, bottled mimosas and sangria and barreled and brandied ciders.
There would be other innovative twists, such as the discount Spring Gate offers its customers when they use Uber or Lyft to visit the farm, cutting down on parking needs and post-consumption driving concerns. Or the champagne bar, where you can sample Spring Gate’s sparkling beverages.
There would be creative ideas to bring customers back, such as Spring Gate’s long lineup of musical entertainment and its regular feasts, including a Crab and Chardonnay Feast and a Bacon Feast. Spring Gate also has a classic car weekend, murder mystery weekend, and Oktober festival with pumpkin wine, pumpkin cider and pumpkin beer along with many other themed events.
There would be robust outreach and marketing — see Spring Gate’s participation in festivals and its social media presence. There would be a commitment to progress, like Spring Gate’s growth of its vineyards, winery and brewery.
You might think Spring Gate’s rapidly sustained success — it produces more than 10,000 cases of wine already, with grapes from its own vineyard as well as other sources in Pennsylvania, New York and Virginia — is due to the fact that Spring Gates makes cider and beer as well as wine. And that does play a part.
Or you might say it’s all due to the magic touch of Schoffstall and Kline. That too plays a part.
But one of the biggest factors in Spring Gate’s success is the clarity of its vision and the dedication its team has to realizing that vision.
“Our philosophy is all about hospitality,” Kline said. “It’s not just about wine, beer and cider.”
That’s how you get to be a hot destination in the wine and craft beverage world.
It’s not that you can’t have success without a tasting room, selling only to wine list customers, but the reality is that model only works for a small sliver of the beverage industry.
Most others producers rely on not just crafting quality beverages but also, as Kline said, creating an environment in which guests can experience a memorable occasion.
That’s one reason Spring Gate has branched out into making so many different products — to have enough offerings to satisfy a wide array of customers so a group of family or friends with disparate tastes can all spend time together at Spring Gate, each enjoying a beverage of their favor.
“Part of the experience,” Kline said, “is not just where you are but who you’re with.”
On a busy weekend, Spring Gate can host well over 1,000 visitors. That requires a lot of outposts, which Spring Gate has built. There’s the winery tasting counters including the champagne bar, the sales counter in the brewery, many outdoor patios, an indoor entertainment space (a renovated garage) and a grassy area for picnicking.
There is no restaurant at Spring Gate, but a variety of food trucks are always on the calendar.
Customers come to Spring Gate from across Pennsylvania, including Philadelphia, Lancaster and Allentown, as well as from locales in neighboring states such as Maryland.
Customers can also find Spring Gate wine in some grocery stores. As for now, all of the production from the brewery’s Stout 10-barrel brew system, which includes lagers as well as ales, is sold at Spring Gate. The brewery, built in 2015 in an old implement shed, is slated to undergo an expansion, as the winery already has.
This year, thanks to a recent change in Pennsylvania law, Spring Gate is also serving cocktails made with Pennsylvania-distilled spirits.
Becoming a destination by focusing on hospitality entails challenges beyond those found in producing and wholesale marketing wine and craft beverages. For example, you have to train your team in how to interact with your customers.
But the payoff is worth it, even if you become only halfway as successful as Spring Gate as become.
“It’s amazing,” Kline said. “We’ve become a destination.”
The recipe for that kind of success is not too difficult to come up with.
Spring Gate: Central Pennsylvania’s destination farm winery and brewery
by Karl H. Kazaks