By Jason Scott @CPBJ

March 01. 2013 10:15AM

Like a rare vintage wine, The Vineyard at Hershey has been highly sought out since decanting itself to the world last February.

The Vineyard At Hershey partners are, from left, Jason Reimer, president; Mike Wilson, vice president; and L. Paul Vezzetti, winemaker. On Feb. 23, they celebrated the winery’s first anniversary with their new Sparkling Moscato at their facility. Photo/Beth Moore Baker
TheLondonderry Township winery attracted more than 15,000 people in its opening year, plus an additional 1,100 for a merlot release party in September, President Jason Reimer said.
Winery sales flowed to the tune of nearly 3,000 gallons — double what its partners had expected.
And projections are to do twice that much in this second year, with a nearly completed 12,000-square-foot building that will house production and expand the winery’s ability to entertain.
The new facility, which includes a deck overlooking the vineyard, will be home to the vineyard’s “Decked-Out Live” summer concert series.
“The vineyard should be a place you want to come out to,” Reimer said. “Our goal is to immerse you in the experience.”
For the partners at The Vineyard at Hershey, that means more than creating a top-notch wine menu and first-rate guest experience.
They believe in fostering regional tourism and making the Hershey-Harrisburg area a destination, which not only helps solidify a long-term future for their vineyard and others like it, but also provides a bump in consumer spending at other local attractions and hospitality venues.
Achieving that requires thinking outside the box, Reimer said.
Through on-site dining collaborations, emphasis on facility rentals, sales to area restaurants and private label distribution for corporate clients — blended with a heavy dose of social media interaction and promotion — the vineyard has been the catalyst for growth in Hershey Harrisburg Wine Country.
“It’s all working hand in hand,” said Reimer, who led the charge in creating the wine trail program last spring.
Growing trail
With marketing help from the Hershey Harrisburg Regional Visitors Bureau and a share of Dauphin County hotel tax funds — $50,000 this year — the 15-winery trail is having a measurable impact on foot traffic and sales at member wineries.
“We saw upward of 200 people during that (ValenWine’s Day) weekend,” said Candace Smith, a spokeswoman for Mount Hope Estate and Winery in Rapho Township, referring to the two-day wine and chocolate event that ran before Valentine’s Day.
Mount Hope is one of three recent additions to Wine Country.
“I would expect we would see at least a 15 percent increase in foot traffic,” Smith said of the winery’s new trail association. “I think people who really aren’t local will see this area as a wine destination.”
Wine trails serve to put the message out about the wineries’ use of locally sourced grapes and fruits, she said. Pennsylvania is the fourth-largest grape-producing state in the country, according to the Pennsylvania Wine Association.
“The more we can give them a reason to spend a day or a weekend, the better it is for everybody,” said Jim Miller, owner of Moon Dancer Vineyards and Winery in Lower Windsor Township.
Because of its location at the southern end of Wine Country, Moon Dancer already attracts visitors from several neighboring states, including New York, Maryland and Virginia.
Joining Wine Country only enhances the draw and creates greater sales opportunity, Miller said.
Moon Dancer plays host to live music throughout the year. Miller has installed a wood-fired pizza oven to boost his offerings. He also is growing hops, with plans to start brewing his own line of beer this year.
“We’ve got the capacity in the facility to do that without changing our footprint,” he said.
Beer is a natural progression for wineries, he said.
Outside draw
Wine Country’s signature events are driving visitation spikes from outside a 60-mile radius, which is generating sales growth for supporting businesses such as Premiere #1 Limousine Service LLC in Londonderry Township.
In less than a year, there were 50 wine tours booked through Wine Country, Reimer said.
“This year, we’ll easily double that,” he said.
A standard tour is four wineries, said Jonathan Snavely, Premiere’s business development manager.
“We’ve seen a 300 percent increase on tours,” he said, also noting the company’s collaboration with the nearby Mason-Dixon Wine Trail.
Last year, Premiere had 17 vehicles. It is up to 29 this year with the growth in retail traffic, he said, which also includes weddings and other private bookings. The limo company handled 445 weddings in 2012.
About 70 percent of the company’s weekly trips are for corporate travel. That makes up about 51 percent of revenue, Snavely said.
That could be starting to shift. Premiere has run 15 wine tours already in 2013 and another 30 are on the schedule, he said, which translates to about 120 people.
About 80 percent of the alcohol-related tourism business is local and the majority of attendees are women, Snavely said.
“Our groups do buy a lot of wine,” he said of the impact on the wineries.
Restaurant and hotel partners also are benefiting from the tour packages, which Snavely expects will triple from the first year.
The goal of Wine Country was not to drive overnight hotel stays, Reimer said. It was about driving retail traffic while creating opportunities for the bureau and other partners to sell packages that would extend leisure trips.
“It’s absolutely doing that,” he said

Wine Country by the numbers

15: The number of wineries participating in Hershey Harrisburg Wine Country. The wine trail started with 12 last year.

1: The Vineyard at Hershey, which led the charge in creating Wine Country, celebrated its first anniversary during the weekend.

12: The Vineyard at Hershey started with family volunteers. It has grown to a full-time, paid staff of 10 with two additional commissioned salespeople. And the vineyard is hiring as it grows and prepares to open a new building for production and entertaining.

60 percent: While 60 percent of The Vineyard at Hershey’s business comes from tastings and direct wine sales, a growing percentage is tied to private events, sales to area restaurants and other private label distribution.

50: The number of Wine Country tours booked last year. Wine Country President Jason Reimer expects that number to double this year; Premiere #1 Limousine Service LLC is projecting it to triple.

2,000: Ticket sales generated by signature events in the spring and fall last year. Of those, 30 percent came from outside a 60-mile radius. Promotional efforts last year focused on the Baltimore and Washington, D.C., markets. The focus this year is on marketing Wine Country to the Philadelphia market.

75 percent: The recent ValenWine’s Day event bolstered sales for participating wineries by an average of 75 percent over last year. There were 487 tickets sold that weekend, including 450 couples.

$600: The cost of the average wine tour package through Premiere #1 Limousine Service. Most group bookings have been for six to eight people.

32 percent: In 2011, 23 percent of Premiere customers said they heard of the company through referral or previous use. That percentage increased to 32 last year.

Added blends

The Vineyard at Hershey has seen steady interest in facility rentals for private events.

Corporate clients and restaurants seeking private label wines are a growing area, President Jason Reimer said.

Members 1st Federal Credit Union ordered several hundred cases of wine for client gifts, he said.

JoBoy’s Brew Pub in Manheim ordered 100 cases of red and white wine to serve as its house options, Reimer said.

The Vineyard at Hershey is targeting additional business in those areas.