Friday, January 27, 2012

Nazareth Patch Profile Franklin Hill Vineyards Winemaker Bonnie Pysher

Bonnie Pysher, the chief winemaker at a favorite local winery in the Lehigh Valley, tells how she got into the business and continues to make award-winning wines.

Meet Franklin Hill Vineyard's Winemaker
By Anthony Rando
January 25, 2012
Nazareth Patch

One of the things that Bonnie Pysher stressed in her interview with Patch is that she has no background in chemistry.

“I didn’t even take chemistry in high school,” she explains.

And yet, as the chief winemaker at Franklin Hill Vineyards in Lower Mount Bethel Township, she is in a field that requires a knowledge of pH levels, acidity and solutions.

Her success in the field probably has something to do with 29 years of experience; Pysher began working at Franklin Hill in 1982, the same year the winery opened.

“I was a young mom, I had 3-year-old twins at home,” Pysher explained. “I had met Elaine [Pivinski, the owner] and she said, 'Why don’t you come help me label wine?’ And I’m like, anything to get me out of the house for a couple hours a day!”

In the winery’s early days, Pivinski and Pysher did all of the vineyard work, but Pysher paid close attention to the mechanical aspects of the winemaking process.

Eventually the two women settled into new roles: Pivinski got into the marketing side of the business, while Pysher stayed in the winemaking part.

“We kind of grew and grew… when [Pivinski’s] husband left, she had the choice to buy him out, or sell the winery,” she said. “We both loved what we were doing.”

Pivinski kept the winery and the two continued the endeavor. It ended up being a good choice: the first year together, they entered the Pennsylvania Wine Competition and won two bronze medals and one gold.

“At first we were really scared to do it, we didn’t know if we were doing it right or not,” she said. “But [the competition] gave us a pat on the back… it said, ‘Keep doing what you’re doing, and you’ll be okay.’”

According to Pysher, she’s doing the same thing she’s been doing from the beginning. Even when other winemakers have told her, “Don’t do that!” she sticks to her experience. Years later, those same winemakers tell her, “We’re doing that now, too.”

Another of Pysher’s duties is coming up with new flavors. She experiments based on what’s popular.

“For mango and strawberry-kiwi, Snapple was my inspiration,” she admitted. “The newest one, Pomegranate Peach? Pomegranate is really hot right now, everyone’s drinking pomegranate! So we made a pomegranate wine.”

A specialty at Franklin Hill is Bliss, a blueberry wine that is actually blue, which was Pysher’s idea.

“I knew that anything in a blue bottle would sell,” she said. “I thought, what if we made the wine blue? We won’t even go to the festivals without the blue wine.”

And for those who aren’t big fans of wine, Pysher has a few suggestions.

“Some people mix with vodka, but I don’t really like vodka,” she said. “I’ll mix Fainting Goat [a black cherry wine] with ice cream, make a milkshake. Or Pomegranate Peach with cranberry juice.”

Pysher admits that she has a pretty awesome job. Although it hasn’t always been easy, she’s learned along the way and continues to turn out award-winning wines.

“When we first started in 1982, we were one of 15 Pennsylvania wineries. Now we’re one of about 140 Pennsylvania wineries… and I think there are only four female winemakers in the state. We’re in a man’s world,” Pysher said.

But they’re doing just fine.

If Lower Mount Bethel is a bit of a hike, stop by The Grape Spot, a place to buy Franklin Hill's wines and wine-related products, in Lower Nazareth Township.

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