Mount Nittany Winery brings awards season home

CENTRE HALL – Mount Nittany Winery is bringing the award season home to central Pennsylvania.

It won five medals at the Pennsylvania Farm Show Wine Competition in January, and traveled to Washington, D.C. to receive the "Best of Category – Other White Hybrid" for their 2016 Geisenheim at the Atlantic Seaboard Wine Association Wine Competition. And it just received one of the most prestigious awards – the 2018 Pennsylvania Winery Association (PWA) competition awarded a double gold “Best Dry White Wine” and overall “Best Dry Wine” for their 2016 Chardonnay Reserve.

We sat down with their winemaker, Scott Hilliker, to talk about the path that lead him to winemaking (it's a science), what made these award-winning wines so distinctive, and the best wine for you to take on your next tailgate. Read on!

“I took a trip up to the Finger Lakes in New York,” Hilliker said, “and spent some time with winery owners and winemakers while I was there. I fell in love with wine and winemaking. When I can home from the trip, I started reading books about winemaking and making wine in my basement at home. I have a bachelor’s degree in Biological Sciences from North Carolina State University, so I am a science type of person. The whole winemaking process was very interesting to me. After working as a quality control analyst at a chemical company five years, I went back to school to become a winemaker.”

Hilliker and his family moved to Central Pennsylvania seven years ago and started making wine at Mount Nittany Winery three years ago. He remembers the 2016 growing year – the one that produced the PWA award-winning 2016 Chardonnay Reserve – fondly.

“That growing year was a great one for us from start to finish. We had a warm spring that helped keep any chance of a late season frost from happening. The summer months were very warm with some rain, but no heavy thunder storms with hail or high winds that damage the growing grape vines.  The vines thrived that summer, but the fall was the best of the growing season. We had really warm, dry conditions up here on the mountain (cool weather doesn’t allow the grapes to fully ripen and lots of rain can cause mold and rot). The warm, dry conditions let the grapes ripen up their sugars and flavors into a great vintage. When we harvested those grapes and made wine out of them, the whole 2016 vintage showed in the final wine,” Hilliker said.

You can try the 2016 Chardonnay Reserve for yourself at their winery. While you are there, make sure to get a bottle of their don't-miss 2016 Merlot, a bronze winner at PWA. The 2016 Geisenheim won awards at several competitions recently, and it's something different that you won't normally see in a wine store – it's an aromatic wine with strong citrus and lemongrass overtones, pairing it easily with curry and strong ethnic cuisine. There are wines for every occasion: Tailgate Red pairs great with burgers, hotdogs, pizza, and BBQ pork or chicken sandwiches. Mountain Sunset is a popular sweet wine that's perfect for your next party.

Hilliker is looking forward to another banner year in 2018. In addition to the wines already in their repertoire, they are making some small-batch new wines this year: a dry Sauvignon Blanc and a sweet Muscato. They should be bottled this April and ready for sale in their tasting room by late spring and early summer.

He said his favorite thing about making wine in Central PA is the differences that each year brings.

“Our weather is always changing from year to year, and the different vintages make things fun in the winery and in the vineyard. Never knowing how the vintage is going to turn out keeps me on my toes,” he said. “Being at Mount Nittany Vineyard and Winery is amazing. Our team is great, and the owners, Steve and Linda Weaver (who took over for Linda's parents, winery founders Joe and Betty Carroll, in 2015) are awesome people. It is truly the best job.”

You can find a curated collection of the wines at the State College Wegmans or Weis Markets in Bellefonte, Mill Hall and State College (and soon to be offered at local Giant grocery stores!) and a full selection at their winery at 300 Houser Road in Centre Hall.

You can also order online at mtnittanywinery.com.

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