Warmer weather means that farmers markets are open once again. And talking about farmers markets and local agriculture in Pennsylvania often brings thoughts of vegetables and fruits including tomatoes, potatoes and corn to mind.
But Patrick Walsh wants people to think wine.
Mr. Walsh is co-owner and winemaker at 6 Mile Cellars Inc., a winery in Harborcreek, Erie County. Mr. Walsh of Moon and his winery co-owner and winemaker Barton Towell often visit farmers markets in the warmer months to introduce people to Pennsylvania wines.
“We are trying to highlight the fact that local agriculture also means local wines. We’ve always taken pride in producing premium wines from local fruit,” Mr. Walsh said. “All of our wines come from within 35 miles of the winery.”
Mr. Walsh and Mr. Towell, both 31, opened their winery in 2012 after expanding on a hobby. The two met as children in Harborcreek.
“We met in fourth grade when we played soccer together,” Mr. Walsh said.
Both attended Penn State University‘s Behrend campus, where it was an internship that got Mr. Walsh started in home brewing.
“I went to Germany as an undergraduate for an internship for 10 months and learned all about good beer,” he said.
When he returned to the U.S., he started making his own beer, thanks to his brother.
“He had a home brew kit and I flat out stole it. Brewing is really cool – it is a combination of science and art,” said Mr. Walsh, an electrical engineer.
Soon, Mr. Walsh partnered with Mr. Towell, who still lives in Harborcreek and is a software engineer, to try their hands at winemaking.
“We have friends with vineyards so we were able to get some free grapes – they lose more grapes to the birds than we were going to use, so they were happy to donate them,” Mr. Walsh said.
Their first attempts were less than satisfactory, according to Mr. Walsh.
“It was horrible. But we didn’t give up,” he said.
The two decided they would make more wine – this time for Mr. Walsh’s wedding. He proposed to his wife the night before they harvested the grapes (she said, “yes”) and this time, they made 70 gallons.
“It was pretty acceptable wine. We bottled it for the wedding and for our guests,” he said.
The two kept making wines, giving it away to friends and family until Mr. Walsh got an idea. Now working on his MBA, he wrote a business plan for a winery and won $4,000 in seed money in a contest from the PA Collegiate Business Plan Competition in 2009.
A year later, Mr. Walsh was laid off from his job as an electrical engineer. As he was picking up wine making supplies at Presque Isle wineries, he asked if they had any openings. Turns out, they needed an assistant winemaker, and Mr. Walsh worked there for a year.
“I worked with Kris Kane and kept a journal – it was so much fun, but more importantly, I learned so much,” he said.
While he eventually returned to engineering, he and Mr. Towell looked at the land that Mr. Towell’s family owned, thinking of opening their own winery.
“Our parents kept saying that if we were going to do it, we should do it now,” Mr. Walsh said.
With help from both of their fathers and Mr. Towell’s father-in-law, Jim Tosak, they renovated the 100-year-old barn on the Towells’ farm and began producing wine.
There are five acres of Niagara grapes on the property, and the two use a few rows of those grapes for their estate wine. The rest of their grapes are purchased from other local farms.
“We look for the best growers in the area, which makes our jobs significantly easier. We currently source from about five growers from Harborcreek Township to Brockton, New York,” Mr. Walsh said.
The winery is open on weekends for tastings and visitors. They sell their wines at local farmers market, an important venue to allow people to know and understand the importance of local wines, Mr. Walsh said.
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