LOWVILLE — In spite of a few late-season cold snaps that knocked out some grape plants, Tug Hill Vineyards plans to rally back with an expansion project that will help offset the crop loss.
Tug Hill Vineyards owners Susan and Michael Maring, who were recently honored with a Small Business Excellence Award from the New York Small Business Development Center in Watertown, will expand their processing facility to increase its case capacity from 2,500 to 5,000. The project is funded through a $65,000 U.S. Department of Agriculture grant, a $40,000 New York State Economic Development grant, and additional company investments. It will create two new jobs at Tug Hill. The business currently has two full-time employees — a winemaker and an event coordinator — in addition to the Marings, Tug Hill Vineyards employs more than 25 people during the peak summer season.
Susan Maring, president of Tug Hill, says she expects the expansion project to wrap up in late July or early August. Along with increasing the vineyard’s case capacity, the project will also open up a tasting room at the processing facility. Maring expects that tasting room will result in increased summer tasting crowds compared with the current tasting room, located near the vineyard’s banquet facility. During the summer, especially on Saturdays, that area is often full with wedding parties and can lead the public to think the tasting room is not open and accessible, she says. With nearly every Saturday booked with a wedding, something needed to be done, Maring says. The facility also offers a Sunday brunch that is very popular with customers.
The processing facility tasting room, located away from the banquet facility, should eliminate that problem. The location is also convenient to the vineyards, and golf carts will be available for those who wish to tour the grape fields. “They can do a tour of the winery and some tastings out of the tanks,” Maring says of the “taste and tour” offering.
The Marings started the vineyard in 2009 after 30 years of running a nursery and landscaping business. While the standard answer to why is, “We always enjoyed wine,” both Marings also have degrees in horticulture and wanted to pursue something that would allow them to continue to work outdoors and with plants.
Right from the start, the Marings diversified their offerings with five acres of blueberries and three acres of raspberries for “you-pick” berries and a banquet facility that hosts events such as weddings. Of course, they also have 20 acres of grapes to make the wine.
“Our niche is that we only make wines from the grapes we can grow in our area,” Susan Maring says. Tug Hill uses its own grapes, as well as grapes purchased from other local growers, to make its wines. At peak season, the vineyard offers 16 wines ranging from dry to sweet. “We try to cover everybody’s palate,” she says.
The vineyard also makes five fruit wines made using fruit grown on site.
While she declined to provide revenue information, Maring says the majority of sales are made through the tasting room. Tug Hill also sells wine through its website, www.tughillvineyards.com, and distributes to retailers from Utica to Syracuse to Potsdam.
Tug Hill Vineyards, located at 4051 Yancy Road in Lowville, has won nearly 50 awards for its wines, Maring notes. Going forward, the owners are planting more varieties of berries, such as elderberries, to experiment with new wines. “Our goal is always to make a better wine the next year,” she says.