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Local Wine Makers

N.J. couple opens area’s only winery

November 21, 2010
By MIKE ZUMMO, The Leader-Herald

GLEN - Ken Schick started making wine with his father when he was a boy.

Now, he has turned that activity from his childhood into one of the newest businesses in Montgomery County, the Hummingbird Hills Winery, a project that has taken him more than 10 years to realize.

"We're kind of the new kid on the block," said Schick, who owns the winery with his wife, Kimm. "We're the first active winery in Montgomery County and in this region. Everything we sell is produced here and people really take that into account."

Article Photos

Kimm Schick, co-owner of the Hummingbird Hills Winery in Fultonville with her husband, Ken Schick, pours a glass of Hound Dawg Red New York state table wine at the wine-tasting counter on Nov. 13.

The Leader-Herald/Bill Trojan

The Schicks also sell their wine at the winery and have produced elderberry wine and Ken Schick said he has gotten positive feedback on apple wine. He said he plans to introduce blueberry wine and dandelion wine.

"You can make wine out of anything, but there's a lot of old-fashioned types of wine that have gone by the wayside," he said. "Some stuff makes an excellent wine, but it's an acquired taste."

Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce President Deborah Auspelmyer said her favorite is the Hound Dawg white.

"It's a very unique business here in Montgomery County," she said.

Auspelmyer said Hummingbird Hills carries other local products from places such as Farriello's Confection Co. in Amsterdam and dairy products from the Palatine Valley Dairy.

"It's very nice that the proprietors are not only here, but they're bringing attention to other products in the area as well," Auspelmyer said.

"Businesses need to work together, especially how the economy is," Ken Schick said. "Word of mouth is one of the best ways to sell a product."

While the wine and the fruits and flowers that they are made from are all grown on the more than 200-acre converted dairy farm, the business owners are not. The Schicks hail from western New Jersey.

"Sometimes we get stereotyped as Jersey people, but we just want people to know how much we love it here," Kimm Schick said.

"Our heart is in upstate New York," Ken Schick said.

The Schicks have owned the property, which was originally a 500-acre dairy farm but was split up over time. After buying the main parcel, they bought an adjoining parcel to bring the property to 202 acres.

"We came up this way because all of our farmland [in New Jersey] is being eaten up by developers and we don't want to be part of that," Kimm Schick said.

Auspelmyer said the Schicks are part of a trend of out-of-area people coming to Montgomery County for business interests.

"We've had several people from the New Jersey and New York City area come here and have invested in Montgomery County," she said. "They want to get away from the hustle-bustle of the city, and from here, it's a convenient drive time to see family and friends that might still be down near the city."

Ken Schick has a mechanical contracting business in New Jersey and the couple still owns a home in New Jersey, so for now, the winery is only open every other weekend. It was open Nov. 13 and 14 from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. It will be open Saturday and Nov. 28 as well.

In the future, those biweekly hours could change.

"Once we sell our house and retire, we'll be up here full time," Ken Schick said. "Then we could push time toward our second business and this will be less hectic. Before, I'd work like crazy in New Jersey and come here and work like crazy. The business in Jersey paid for up here and now the business up here is starting to pay for itself."

Living so far away from the winery also brings its own set of challenges, such as finding time to juggle between both businesses and both homes.

"You have two different lives really," Kimm Schick said. "You want to put 110 percent into just one and you can't. It's difficult and frustrating sometimes."

They also had to learn what they needed to know to operate a business and had to do the necessary research online. It took them two years to get the necessary licenses to sell their products. They are still working on other licenses so they can expand their business.

"We want to do festivals and we've been approached by so many people who want us to come in and introduce our product," Ken Schick said. "We will have to get an off-site license for farmers markets. It's just a very heavy-regulated business."

While now a winery, Hummingbird Hills is unapologetic about its dairy-farm roots. Two silos reach for the sky on a structure that to the naked eye was obviously a barn. Two glass doors lead to the main retail store, which features a wine-tasting counter and a display counter featuring the wines for sale in an environment created mostly from wood.

"The conversion started with the cow barns and we brought it so that it didn't look so much like a cow barn," Kimm Schick said.

The Schicks started by growing about 2,000 grape vines and every year added more. Ken Schick said the grapes they grow have to be able to handle the harsh winters Montgomery County is subjected to. They also made wine for themselves and gave away grapes because they couldn't sell them all.

"We had more grapes than we knew what to do with," he said.

The winery had two events, a grand opening in August and a recent ribbon-cutting with the county chamber.

Auspelmyer said the winery could be a boon to the county's tourism efforts.

"Agro-tourism is something we've been promoting," she said. "This is one more added venue and added stop for people who do come to the area. It's another nice touch for someone who is coming up to look at orchards and other activities."

The Schicks, meanwhile, plan to stay open every other weekend throughout the winter, but that could depend on the weather and how snow may affect accessibility to the winery. The Schicks are planning an open house in December as Hummingbird Hills cements itself into the Montgomery County business community.

"It's not just a fly-by-night thing," Ken Schick said. "We've thought this out over the years and I've put a lot of hours in trying to make this thing come together."

"We're fortunate to have family and friend support and we really appreciate that and won't lose sight of that," Kimm Schick said.

Mike Zummo is the business editor. He can be reached at business@leaderherald.com.

 
 

 

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