BEDFORD - A vacation trip to the Finger Lakes in upstate New York led a Bedford County couple into the wine business.
"We fell in love with the vineyards. We were looking for something to do in retirement, and we found it," said Tod Manspeaker, who owns Briar Valley Vineyard & Winery with his wife, Jean.
The Manspeakers are not retired. They also run M&M Janitorial, a commercial cleaning business in Bedford and spend the rest of their time at Briar Valley.
Mirror photos by J.D. Cavrich
Jean Manspeaker works in the Briar Valley Vineyard pruning vines.
Tod Manspeaker shows the wines on display at the Briar Valley store on East Pitt Street in Bedford.
The couple planted their first vineyard of 2,200 vines outside their Dutch Corner, Bedford Township, home in May 2006 and opened their winery and tasting room at 107 E. Pitt St., Bedford, in December 2007.
A larger, second vineyard with 10,000 vines was planted in West Providence Township last June.
"That was the farm I grew up on. My parents bought the farm in 1950 and raised quarter horses. We wanted to keep it as a farm. We say horses kick but grapevines don't," said Tod Manspeaker, who holds a bachelor's degree in accounting from Juniata College.
If you go
Name: Briar Valley Vineyard and Winery
Location: 107 E. Pitt St., Bedford
Tasting room hours: Noon to 6 p.m. weekdays; noon to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
Price range: $12.95 to $24.95 per bottle
Phone number: 623-0900
Jean Manspeaker, who makes the wine, grew up on a dairy farm between New Baltimore and Berlin in Somerset County.
"My grandfather grew grapes and sold them. We had grapes at our farm, so I was somewhat familiar with them," she said. "Making wine is an art form and allows us to be very creative."
The wine industry is a part of Pennsylvania's No. 1 industry - agriculture.
"People forget when they pick up a bottle of wine, they don't realize it is from agriculture," Tod Manspeaker said.
Pennsylvania ranks fourth in the nation in the amount of grapes grown and seventh in the production of wine.
Grapes are also grown for juice and jelly, said Mark O'Neill, Pennsylvania Farm Bureau spokesman.
According to a 2009 study commissioned by the Pennsylvania Wine Marketing and Research Program, the industry provides $2.35 billion per year in total contributions to the state economy. The study also showed there are 114 licensed wineries in Pennsylvania, up 8.7 percent from 104 in 2006; and 387,000 cases of wine are produced annually with 894,000 visitors to Pennsylvania wineries.
In Pennsylvania, the industry employs 10,537 with a total payroll of $472 million.
Briar Valley is different than other area wineries. It was the first in Bedford and surrounding counties to produce all vinifera wines, styled after the classic European wines.
"The grapes are better quality, are not as hardy and take more work," Tod Manspeaker said. "Our grapes are a lot more susceptible to winter damage. They are also more susceptible to molds and fungus. They also require a lot of additional pruning that many native grapes do not."
Briar Valley produces nine varieties, with chardonnay and merlot the top sellers.
"There is not one of our wines that doesn't sell," said Jean Manspeaker, who holds a master's degree in business from Frostburg State University.
Briar Valley's wines have won numerous awards - in the International Eastern Wine Competition in January, their Riesling 2010 won double gold medal and Best of Class. Cabernet Franc and Vigonier won bronze medals.
The couple is satisfied with producing just nine varieties.
"It is not about being big, it is about being the best," Tod Manspeaker said. "We want to make the best wine we possibly can do; that is our goal. The medals show we are doing that."
The Manspeakers produce about 2,000 cases a year, and their outside goal is 5,000 cases.
Tod's brother, Brian, and his wife, Janet, help at the West Providence Township vineyard. and three people are employed at the tasting room.
Briar Valley attracts customers from Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Harrisburg, Baltimore and Washington, and their wines are sold in many restaurants, especially in the Pittsburgh area.
Close to home, Briar Valley wines are served at Chancellor's House Bed and Breakfast in Bedford.
"They are very fine wines, they are exceptional. Our guests ask me, 'Do you grow those kind of grapes in Bedford County?'" said co-owner Steve George. "It is amazing how many people head down to the store to pick up some wine to take home with them [after staying at the B&B]. It is great to have a winery of this quality in this county."
Tod Manspeaker said wine is a "neat" beverage.
"With a glass of wine, you take your time to enjoy all of the senses. With fast food, you gulp down your food. With wine, you slow down and relish the moment and enjoy it. We have started to do that," Tod Manspeaker said.
Future plans call for construction of a production facility at the Bedford Township location. The wine is currently made in about 3,400 square feet of space underneath the old Burket Motors building on East Pitt Street.
"We are tickled by the number of people who come through our doors and the number of people who are calling us. People are recognizing we can make quality wines in Pennsylvania," Tod Manspeaker said.
"This helps the economy. We are helping to bring in dollars and tourism into Pennsylvania."
Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 946-7467.