University Wine Company’s new tasting room offers sipping with stunning views
The University Wine tasting room opened to the public in November. (Photo by Darren Andrew Weimert)
This column appears in the April 2021 issue of Town & Gown.
It wasn’t until last fall that I got a glimpse of the new location of the University Wine Company before it opened to the public. It was a fun day as I traveled the county with my friend Celesta, at all places on the Central Pennsylvania Tasting Trail.
University winery President / owner Jeff Proch was kind enough to show us around the property while the teams finished the details of the upstairs tasting room. I had a lovely time tasting various wines in the production facility below the tasting room and taking a tour of the nascent vineyard.
The facility located at 504 Misty Hill Drive, State College, opened to the public in November. The magnificent building sits pleasantly at the foot of Tussey Mountain between Boalsburg and Shingletown. I was happy to come back to see the finished product recently and catch up with Jeff to see how things were going.
University Wine Company is not new to the local wine scene. The folks at University Wine were one step ahead of the frozen drink craze when they introduced their U-FREEZE Wine Slush in 2011. The success of this product has allowed University Wine to branch out into a line. full of bottled wines. They have since opened wine bars at Greek Restaurant in State College and Brew Coffee & Tap in Tyrone.
Opening the new tasting room amid the COVID-19 pandemic has been a bit of a roller coaster ride, says Jeff. After all, shortly after they opened, the three-week December closure of all restaurants inside closed the tasting room.
Yet even in the cold of winter, people stopped to grab a bottle to enjoy outside on the back patio with friends. The area outside the cellar is now ready for spring, with picnic tables and plenty of open space, perfect for a small gathering of socially distant friends.
The interior of the tasting room is a spectacle. In fine weather, the warm fireplace and large windows bring warmth and light. The views stretch from the vineyard to the distant mountains and everything in between. The open upstairs loft offers wine lovers a magnificent view of Happy Valley, with the Beaver Stadium in the distance.
The location is a dream that has lasted a long time. Jeff was born and raised in State College before moving to Bucknell University. After working in New York for five years, Jeff was brought back to the mountains of central Pennsylvania.
“It wasn’t where I wanted to be, not what I wanted to do,” he says of New York. “I have always had an interest in wine. My father was in the PA wine industry. So I worked with him to learn the trade, and I realized that was what I wanted to do, so I started my own cellar. I went from the madness of Manhattan to central Pennsylvania while making wine. It was a good change.
After thinking about where to live for a while, University Wine has found the perfect spot that is “far enough away to feel like the country, but close enough that it’s easy to get to,” says Jeff.
The space allowed Jeff and his team to plant their own vineyard in 2017 and 2018. Colette Orlandi, a staff member, helped, saying the experience made her “feel like I was in Italy for a while. one moment”.
They planted six different varieties of vines, and Jeff says “it’s kind of an experiment to see which will grow well here and which won’t.”
Last year the vines were hit hard by a late frost in the spring and an early frost in the fall. Jeff and his team were able to use the small amount of fruit they harvested to create a field mix that Jeff said “turned out really good,” but was not available for purchase. He hopes he can use more fruit next year after a winter with mild temperatures.
Jeff says he is happy to have a home port where he can share his passion for wine with his customers.
“It’s nice to finally have a home,” he says. “We were sort of transient before that. It’s nice to have a facility for people to come and taste our product and relax, have fun; and all the production is on site.
The new Spirits of Happy Valley column will feature the thriving community of wineries, breweries, distilleries and cider houses in Center County, as well as the area’s bar scene.