Sewickley Township winery eyes expansion
Gregory M. Hazuza has a $1 million plan to construct a building where he can make the wine he now produces in a garage on his Sewickley Township property and another building where he can host parties and wedding receptions in a banquet hall atop a hill outside Rillton.
“We're really excited about it,” said Hazuza, who hopes to begin construction on the project in April and have it completed by August.
Hazuza has applied to the Sewickley Township Zoning Hearing Board for a special exception to the zoning ordinance to construct the buildings on a 29.7-acre parcel that is zoned for agriculture use. Greenhouse Winery LLC., which lists Hazuza's Pinewood Road residence as its business address, needs the extra space a new building would provide because it has outgrown the tasting room at the family-owned Hazuza's Greenhouse, Hazuza said in his application to the zoning board.
The winery needs a climate-controlled location in order to continue to expand and attract customers, the application states.
The zoning hearing board has scheduled a hearing for 7 p.m. Jan. 22 on Hazuza's request for the special exception to the zoning ordinance. He had withdrawn his application last month because the original application did not include plans for the winery production building.
“It should be good for the township — bringing in jobs and tax revenue,” Hazuza said. The 50-year-old Hazuza anticipates creating between 12 and 15 jobs, from landscaping to customer service positions, with the expanded winery operation.
The expansion has been in the plans for about three years, said Hazuza, who is listed with Cynthia M. Helinsla as a co-owner of Greenhouse Winery on the state Corporations Bureau website.
“A lot of the clientele has been asking for this for years,” Hazuza said.
Hazuza is planning to build a 72-foot-by-76-foot structure to house retail sales where customers can taste his wine, as well as buy it. The structure will hold a 30-foot-by-72-foot banquet hall.
The building housing the retail sales and banquet hall will be brick and wood-framed, Hazuza said, with Robert W. Shuster in North Huntingdon as the contractor.
“I want it to look nice. It will have curb appeal. I want them (customers) to say ‘wow',” Hazuza said.
While the new building will have a kitchen for caterers, Hazuza said he does not plan to cook food for parties at the banquet hall.
“I'm good at letting the experts do what the experts do,” Hazuza said.
A 3,200-square-foot wine production building will allow Greenhouse to increase production, Hazuza said. He produced 11,000 gallons in 2013 and anticipates expanding production to 14,000 gallons this year, which would result in an increase in costs as well as revenue, Hazuza said.
Hazuza's limited winery license from the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board permits him to produce no more than 200,000 gallons of wine a year, but he said that is not a problem. He considers the 200,000-gallon limit an “unreachable number” for a limited license winery.
Hazuza has been in the wine production business for six years, but he is following in the footsteps of his grandfather and great-grandfather, both of whom made wine, he said.
“It's a hobby that grew into a business,” said Hazuza, who devotes about 80 percent of his working hours to the winery, with the remaining 20 percent at the family's greenhouse, where he has worked for 30 years.
It was his partner, Cynthia Helinsla, who encouraged him to turn the hobby into a business.
“I'm the wine maker and she does all the other aspects of the business,” Hazuza said.
Greenhouse Winery sells its wine at the family's greenhouse along the Rillton-Guffey Road, at stores along Route 30 in North Huntingdon and on Route 51 in Brentwood and at a kiosk at the Westmoreland Mall in Hempfield.
Hazuza also is permitted to sell his wine to the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, but he said he has opted not to do that.
Hazuza's operation is part of the state's $2 billion wine industry and one of the state's more than 200 wineries, according to Jennifer Eckinger, executive director of the Pennsylvania Winery Association, a trade organization based in Harrisburg.
Hazuza has one of two limited wineries in Sewickley Township, and is among five in Westmoreland County, according to the Liquor Control Board.
To produce 35 different varieties of wine he sells, Hazuza said he buys juices pressed from 15 varieties of grapes from a vineyard in North East, a community along the Lake Erie shore that is home to several wineries. Buying the juice in bulk — about 1,000 gallons at a time — is an added cost of doing business, but the local region's late spring frosts and high humidity in the summer are not conducive to growing grapes for large-scale wine production, Hazuza said.
“To try to grow grapes commercially, would not be (economically) feasible,” Hazuza said.
Eckinger said that most of the state's wineries do make wine from their own vineyards, but also buy grapes or juice to make their products.
Hazuza ferments the wine in tanks ranging in size from 200 gallons to 1,000 gallons. It takes the juice four months to ferment into sweet wine and eight to 12 months for dry wine, he said.
“You are sitting on a lot of inventory for an extended time,” Hazuza said, referring to the wine fermentation.
His wine has been good enough to win medals at county fairs and his Traminette wine, a semi-dry white wine, won best of show for hybrid wines at the recently concluded Pennsylvania Farm Show.
Joe Napsha is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-836-5252.
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