Originally purchased by my grandfather Sam and great-uncle Dominic, the farm that is now Big Creek Vineyard, has been part of the family for 80 years. My brother Stephen and I spent every summer on the farm, dreaming of a future that might include living here.
Coming from an Italian/Sicilian/German heritage with an old fashioned butcher for a grandfather, I had some trouble with the cafeteria at my university. Learning to cook became an imperative. After going through the trouble of shopping on a student’s budget and cooking, ice tea or beer just didn’t cut it. So began a journey into the world of wine, rarely store bought, mostly home made. Each fall, while at the University of Georgia, I would always drive back from a Brooklyn visit with a car full of California grapes for a new batch of wine. Coincidently, at the same time, I discovered B&B Rosser, a winery in the nearby town of High Shoals, GA. That’s where I first “helped” crush/press grapes and make wine. My interest in wine and winemaking continued to grow as the time passed and my geography changed.
In the mid-80s, while enjoying some homemade wine at a family gathering at the farm, “Mr. D” (my mother’s best friend’s father from Naples) suggested that I plant grapes instead of buying them. So, the next year, we planted some Concord vines and they did very well. The following year, we planted some of the more popular varieties of wine grape that we enjoyed drinking. They grew beautifully, but only ripened sporadically. Growing grapes in this part of Pennsylvania certainly isn’t easy, getting them to ripen routinely seemed impossible. That’s where the intrigue started. All of my years at different universities doing research came full circle, back to the farm.
In the following years, the hobby grew. We planted grapes from many different continents, trying to find which would do best and eventually identified through trial and error those that really like the Pocono Mountains. Only Seyval and Chardonnay are still around from those early days. While home for a visit from the USDA in Maryland where I worked, our immediate family half-seriously began talking about turning our hobby into our family business. The idea of having our own vineyard and winery enthralled me. Over the next year, we started looking at the feasibility of the idea and rationalizing the numbers.
In the early 90s, my mother Millie, my brother Stephen, my great-uncle Dominic, a close family friend Walter, and myself got serious about it. We began building the winery in 1995 under the watchful eye of Millie, who more than once came down from her house on the hill to tell the carpenters something wasn’t straight. We opened for business in March of 1996. In the subsequent years, we replanted the vineyard at least 3 times trying to better match variety to climate.
My mom Millie took the helm and has run the tasting room from day one. With the help of Steve’s talented palate, the wines have continued to improve. Fortunately for me, all the other hats sit on my head.
Now with 16 acres of grapes and an outlet in nearby Jim Thorpe, still the learning continues. Like children, as the vines get older and assert their character, life gets both more interesting and more satisfying.
About Our Vineyard
The vineyard is located on the south face of the Pocono Escarpment in the western corner of Monroe County. Situated in the northeastern most section of the Appalachian Plateau physiographic region, we have more in common with areas further to the west than we do with our neighbors to the south.
The great glaciers had a profound effect on the local geology. Glacial drift, combined with the naturally occurring slate and shale, similar to the Mosel in Germany. Soils are very well drained with little inherent fertility. The south-facing slopes capture what the winter sun offers, and along with the slate/shale soils, the variety of grape and the manner in which we grow them, help to insure a mature, healthy crop. Mother Nature seems to have a more profound influence on the character of our wines than the more familiar regions of the grape-growing world.
Since our original hobby planting of Concord in the late 1980s, we have gone through several transformations due to our growing familiarity with our local climate and pest problems. While plantings of Nebbiolo, Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon and many others sometimes produced the wines we loved to drink, it became evident that we do not have the climate to produce evenly ripe, healthy grapes from them.
We still have some traditional European varieties which seem to thrive here including Pinot noir and Chardonnay, but most of our new plantings are of a more cold-tolerant, disease-resistant nature. These varieties are often hybrids of European and American vines – they ripen reliably and make things a little easier out in the fields. Their names might be unfamiliar, but that is temporary.