Oregon Hill Winery
Apr 25, 2018 07:49PM
Look up reviews of Oregon Hill Winery and you’ll see words such as “hidden gem,” “quaint,” and “a delight” used as descriptors. They’re all true, but there is so much more to this lovely winery, tucked in the rolling hills of north central Pennsylvania, about eighteen miles south of Wellsboro. It’s also about passion, love, and even legacy.
Eric Swendrowski, the son of European parents who ran a German-style restaurant, became the youngest winery owner in America when he got his license to open Oregon Hill Winery in 1983 at the age of eighteen. Two years later, he sold his first bottle of wine on July Fourth weekend, and two years after that, in 1987, he met Karon Jackson at a concert. Karon (above) was working in the travel industry at the time, but would become his partner at the winery and eventually his wife and the mother of their two daughters. The winery flourished—winning awards and gaining a reputation for producing a wide variety of wines, from traditional reds and whites to other fruit vintages such as peach, blackberry, and raspberry.
Sadly, however, Eric, known for his perpetual smile, died unexpectedly in 2017, and Karon found herself at an unanticipated crossroads. “I had a few choices, and one was to sell everything and leave, but we’re an established business doing this for over thirty years, and we have the brand name and our clientele,” she says. “Another one was to sell someone else’s wine and just be a shop owner, but I decided to take the hardest one—to find a winemaker and continue with Eric’s legacy.”
She actually found that winemaker, Aaron Rush, somewhat serendipitously; Aaron’s wife, Cat, worked closely with Eric at various Wellsboro Area Chamber of Commerce and business events, and knew Oregon Hill Winery’s varietals very well.
It was also important to Karon that the couple’s daughters, Katarina and Alexandra, would have the option of keeping the winery open. “I want to be able to say to them, ‘Do you want to continue with this or what?’” she says. “They’re fifteen and thirteen now, so there’s a few years before they can do anything, and we want them to go to college and all that. But I want them to be able to continue with it if they want.”
So, Karon keeps Eric’s dream alive, running Oregon Hill, whose main building is a converted barn originally built in the 1880s. “You walk down a few steps and it’s almost like you’re walking back in time,” Karon says. “It’s sort of as if you’re walking into a wine cellar in Europe. It’s different.”
Just one more way to describe Oregon Hill Winery. (840 Oregon Hill Road, Morris; (570) 353-2711; oregonhillwinery.com)