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Winemaking among the grove of hills

By Carol Sones Shelter - | Feb 10, 2021

PHOTO PROVIDED Pappy Jack with some of his offerings at his wine shop near Hillsgrove.

The western ledges of Sullivan County drew Pappy Jack from his native York County to spend his retirement in the mountains near Hillsgrove.  Originally, Pappy Jack and his late wife Almoney traveled here to enjoy snowmobiling,  became acquainted with the friendly locals and in 1990 purchased a six acre parcel of land. The following year the couple built a log house which became the center of their wine making efforts.

Back In York County, Jack and his four brothers had worked a farm. Agriculture practices in his former southern Pennsylvania location did not bode well in Sullivan County soils not suitable for growing grapes. So, juices needed for the process were purchased from vineyards in upstate New York.

Eventually, both Jack and his then small cliental preferred sweet to dry wines, so they began using other fruits. “We still use Concord and Niagara grapes for dry wines but have an additional 26 varieties of sweet varieties. We are about to introduce two more flavors, strawberry/banana and watermelon,” Jack said.

Some ingredients include wild huckleberries plucked from bushes in the locality. Jack has given up making dandelion wine as its labor intensive. “This wine requires use of only the yellow flower, all green must be clipped away. Thirty-two cups of dandelions are needed to create five gallons of wine. I have neighbors who gather the buds, so I make wine for them,” Jack said.

Early on in his endeavors, Jack forwarded his homemade wines to a contest in Ohio where he earned first and second placements against 300 producers. At the Sullivan County fair, Jack garnered first place in all wine categories until 2015 when he was disqualified due to his commercial status.

The winery is located in the cellar of his cabin with an 8′ x 12′ enclosed space on the front porch designated as a tasting room. When weather permits, tables and benches are placed in the yard so folks can relax, socialize if they choose while enjoying the scenery.

As a people person, Jack said,  “I don’t hurry clients off for I like engaging in leisure conversations. One of the questions I’ll ask is how old they think I am with guesses being 55 to 60. They can’t believe I’m in my late 70’s and when they seem surprised my stock answer is ‘Wine keeps wrinkles away.'”

Jack noted that most sales are not to locals except vacationing cabin people nearby. “When they leave, they’ll take four of five cases with them. Others make a day trip driving up from Lancaster, York, Harrisburg and other areas in the southern part of the state,” Jack said.

Additional outlets for his product include two local bars, Hill Knob Inn and the Hillsgrove Hotel, the proprietor of the latter had dubbed him ‘Pappy Jack’ when first coming to the mountains.

“Their has been a lot of amateur wine makers in the area who seem to come and go or opt to make liquor,” Jack said. Even after his wife succumbed to cancer in January 2020, Jack’s intensions are to remain in the mountains and make his wines.

“In honor of my wife, our family designated a weekend as a ‘Celebration of Life.’ Our first idea was to set out a donation jar but the plan soon changed when deciding all sales that weekend would go to Hospice. With the help of family, friends and cliental, we gave a check of $12,080 to Hospice at the Williamsport Hospital where her name was placed on a leaf of a crown in the hospice ward,” Jack said.

Meanwhile at the winery, the family tradition of working together continues for when time comes for filtering and bottling, his brothers and nieces travel north reporting for duty. Jack grew up having family teamwork and learned the same when he was part of the US Army.

Visitors are invited to stop by, linger, and converse at Pappy Jacks Winery where hours at 109 Old Sullivan Road, Hillsgrove, are Friday, Saturday and Sunday noon to five, or by chance.