California Winery Goes DTC in Pennsylvania

Thorn Hill Vineyards opens first out-of-state tasting room in Lancaster

by Linda Jones McKee
Thorn Hill Vineyards
Thorn Hill Vineyards opened its doors to the public today at 11 a.m., making it the first out-of-state winery to operate a tasting room in Pennsylvania.

Lancaster, Pa.—Last week marked the first time that an out-of-state winery began selling directly to Pennsylvania consumers at its own store. Thorn Hill Vineyards, owned by Jack and Amy Thorn in California, opened the doors to its new tasting room at 1945 Fruitville Pike in Lancaster at 11 a.m. on Dec. 2.

Since the end of Prohibition, Pennsylvania has been a control state for the sale of wine, beer and spirits. The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB) operates approximately 650 stores across the state that sell liquor and wine, and it has taken many years for the system even to begin to loosen its vise-like grip on those sales.

Wineries have only been permitted to operate in Pennsylvania since 1968, when the legislature passed the Limited Winery Act, allowing wineries producing no more than 50,000 gallons (now the limit is 200,000 gallons) to offer tastings and sell products directly to consumers. Several years later, additional legislation permitted Pennsylvania wineries to maintain as many as five “extensions of premises,” as additional store locations were called, where they could sell their own wines.

The PLCB realized after Supreme Court’s 2005 Granholm v. Heald decision that the law allowing only Pennsylvania wineries to have tasting rooms in the state was probably unconstitutional. It took a while for out-of-state wineries to recognize the possible opportunities for expansion of sales in Pennsylvania. In March 2011, Napa-based, 500-case Thorn Hill Vineyards received a Limited Winery License giving the Thorns the legal ability to sell wine directly to consumers in the state.

Jack and Amy Thorn are lifelong residents of Pennsylvania. Thorn graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a degree in biology, while his wife was a communications major at Elizabethtown College in Elizabethtown, Pa. The couple’s main business, Distribution Business Management, a think tank devoted to supply chain/logistics, is headquartered in Lancaster.

The California roots

Thorn Hill Vineyards Jack
Jack Thorn talks to a customer at his new tasting room in Lancaster, Pa.

When the Thorns became interested in wine and started to look for a place to grow and produce the best possible Cabernet Sauvignon, their search for land took them to California. “Sunlight was a factor,” according to Jack Thorn, “and we have limited sunlight in the East. Water was another concern. Grapes need water, but not much during the growing season, and not the quantities we get in Pennsylvania. Soil that is not too rich is also important.”

The Thorns now own 4 acres of vineyard in Carneros, a small property in Sonoma and 10 acres in Napa. Recently they purchased 50 acres with 20 acres of established vineyard in Lake County, Calif. Each parcel was selected because it had proven potential for growing quality vines. A Lake County tasting room for the winery was built during the last year.

However, “Pennsylvania is our home,” Thorn told Wines & Vines. “We specialize in high-end, high-quality wines, and we wanted to bring fine wine to Pennsylvania and especially to our home town. It’s a joy and a dream come true.”

The Thorn Hill Vineyards tasting room in Lancaster is open from 11 a.m. until 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. The 1,500-square-foot tasting room features a tasting bar, a fireplace and numerous small tables where customers can sip their wine. Thorn Hill Pinot Noir, Petite Sirah, Merlot, Chardonnay and four vintages of Cabernet Sauvignon are for sale.

For additional information about the Lancaster store, phone (717) 517-7839.


Currently no comments posted for this article.