Maybe wine is the answer?Looking for way to sustain family farm, Hauser Estate owners enter new business
It started with a problem.
The orchard operations owned by Jonathan Patrono's family in Adams County were selling apples to processors that make juice, applesauce and other products.
But no matter how much more they grew, starting about 10 or 15 years ago there seemed to be no way to get ahead, he said.
So Patrono began looking for an alternative, one that would help the farm operations sustain themselves and keep the land in the family.
Today, the growing Hauser Estate Winery outside Biglerville is the result.
Hauser Estate allows the farm business to add its own value to fruit grown on its land, and some from elsewhere in the area, and then set its own prices in the market as well as tap into the area's scenic views and existing tourism base as an entertainment venue.
The Franklin Township-based winery, which opened the tasting room there in 2008, sits up on a hill on the smaller of the two farm parcels Patrono's family owns in the area.
It has been in the Hauser family — Hauser was his mother's maiden name — for about 20 years, and the larger farm has been in the family for about 50 to 60 years, Patrono said.
The business has since opened stores in Gettysburg and in Carroll Township, York County.
The winery pulls customers from the Gettysburg, Chambersburg, York, Hanover and even Harrisburg markets, as well as from Frederick, Md., said Patrono, who is president of Hauser Estate Inc.
Hauser Estate is particularly happy that it is able to pull from such a large area, and it could be even better with a few more wineries in its area of Adams County, he said.
Today, there are three, but the number could easily double and have the businesses all benefit each other as a wine trail destination for people who like to travel and sample numerous wines in areas they visit, Patrono said.
People are increasingly interested in where their foods — and wine — come from and in learning about how they are produced, he said.
And don't let the name fool you. Apples are still a big part of the business, and by at least one measure, they are bigger than wine.
After making more wine than hard apple cider when the winery started, the latter business has taken off to become its largest product in terms of gallons produced, Patrono said.
Although it plans to keep Jack's Hard Cider within the craft product niche, Hauser Estate already sells the cider through wholesale distribution in several states on the East Coast and isn't capping how far it could go with the offering, he said.
The fact that business is booming actually is one of the issues the winery is facing, Patrono said. It is already making more gallons of product than expected in the first five years, and increases in sales mean Hauser Estate needs to buy new equipment.
Each time it looks like the business is going to get into the black relative to the money it's invested so far, it seems like another equipment purchase is necessary, he said.
"The rapid expansion requires a lot of investment in the cellar," Patrono said. "But we're not complaining. That's better than the opposite problem."
A farm family looking for a way to make its operations more sustainable and profitable is not an uncommon reason for someone to start one of the growing number of wineries in Pennsylvania, said Jennifer Eckinger, executive director of the Pennsylvania Winery Association.
And Hauser Estate's use of apples to make a value-added product — the hard cider — gives the concept of a winery a great new twist, she said.
Farmers across Pennsylvania are always looking to make their operations more valuable and, in doing that, sometimes they choose to diversify, said Mark O'Neill, media relations director for the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau.
So, for example, a farm in Adams County, known throughout the country for its fruit growing, might choose to set up a roadside stand or establish a market to sell directly to consumers instead of just selling wholesale, he said.
And it's not confined to fruits or vegetables. Dairy operations might look to making ice cream or cheese to create a value-added product to sell directly to consumers, O'Neill said.
Farmers can't pick just any price to sell at — the market determines that — but it allows them to bypass the middleman, letting more money come back to the farm itself.
Patrono said that, when he first began investigating the possible alternatives to selling apples to processors, he looked briefly at using the property for alternative energy production.
But solar and wind energy just didn't seem like a good fit to preserve farmland in the truest sense of the word. Growing crops for biofuel would not have been within the family's core fruit-growing strengths, and it was too difficult to tell where those markets were headed, he said.
"But you know that people are always going to drink wine," Patrono said. "That's not going anywhere. It's been around for centuries."
Sustainable practices and concepts play a large role at Hauser Estate, from solar-heated water and using cans for cider instead of glass bottles to having the wine- and cider-making operations underground and keep the operations cool naturally, he said.
Knowing that people love to drink wine is one thing, but knowing immediately how to make it well is another.
With many other wineries in Pennsylvania, the owner can also be the head wine maker, but Hauser Estate opted from the start to hire a wine maker, said Patrono, who received law and computer science degrees before getting into the business and now is president of the state winery association.
"I know the steps to make it, but I'm not going to pretend I can go down there and make it," he said.