Looking to the future at Amore Farms
Dr. Gregg Amore is well aware of the old saying in the wine business: The way to make a small fortune in the industry is to start with a big one.
As owner and operator of Amore Vineyards and Winery in Nazareth, Pa., as well as Amore Farms and Greenhouses in neighboring Bath, Pa., he retails 100 acres of fresh fruits and vegetables and bottles 30 different wines a year.
The vineyard, now in its 10th season, lies in the narrow limestone belt of the Lehigh Valley. It wasn’t necessarily intended as a big moneymaker, but more of a hobby, a sideline to the seasonal vegetables and flowers, “something I can do in semi-retirement, when I’m too old to pick corn at 7 a.m. seven days a week,” Amore says.
He’s in the process of spending a fortune to build his wine business. Since the vines are stable, Amore is investing in his 200-year-old barn, turning it into a showplace for the winery.
Unfinished, he’s already booked a wedding, even at a showing in the dead of winter. As soon as the bride-to-be saw how the barn overlooked the winery, she was hooked. “Everything here is about production, sale and promotion of wine,” Amore says.
A bump in the road
Amore first redid the barn’s roof, then ripped up the old floor and built seating lofts on the second floor, but a fire in what had been the tasting room last October slowed down progress. Though there wasn’t any structural damage, the cosmetic cleanup took time. In the aftermath, Amore has used the misfortune to enclose the once-open porch area that’s serving as the temporary tasting room.
He’s also closed in one of the two previously vaulted ceiling areas, and made two small rooms above, one for use as a warming kitchen. Enclosing the space, he figures it will make it easier to heat and cool, a financial coup.
The other vaulted ceiling above the tank room wasn’t scorched, and it remains as is to house 15 tanks that vary in size from three 5-gallon tanks to two 1,000-gallon tanks. A story up, there are glass windows to oversee the operation below. “It creates an ambiance,” he says.
He’s also adding an upstairs outdoor balcony that will measure 4-by-14 feet and overlook the bulk of the roadside vegetable acreage on the farm’s south side.
Inside the barn, corner windows in the left of the bank side of the barn overlook, and almost overhang, the bulk of the vineyard. The barn’s original floor boards were uprooted, sawed into two boards and are scheduled to be reinstalled over a reinforced subfloor.
Built into the bank side, Amore has terraced it with gigantic slabs of composite concrete into three levels reminiscent of the backdrop that actor Charlton Heston had for his funeral oration as Marc Antony in the film Julius Caesar.
“We’ve been hosting events, but we want to host even more events—events that were once contingent on the weather, we needed a tent for or needed to schedule them around the winery hours [11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Friday through Sunday],” Amore says.
He envisions Valentine’s Day weekends with two sweethearts talking over a bottle of his vineyard’s finest wine. “We would already have been finished if not for the fire,” he says.
He’s looking to replace several dilapidated outbuildings with grassy knolls or for use for overflow parking, and to create smaller conversation gardens.
Amore Farms has been in his family since his Sicilian grandfather moved from Stewartsville, N.J., and bought the acreage in the 1940s. His father and an uncle ran the farm before he took over 20 years ago.
“I will never live long enough to get my money back,” Amore says of the barn restoration. “But, it’s family heritage, and the sense of leaving the world a better place than I found it.”
A vineyard takes root
Amore planted the vineyard in the spring of 2000. Three years later, he was selling wine. Before he planted his 5.5 acres of vines, he experimented with making wine from kits for a few years. Then he decided “to do it for real,” and personally hand-pounded in every single steel post for the vines to climb.
The rows are 8 feet apart, with 12 feet between posts. He planted three vines per post. There are three areas for the vineyard, one with 20 rows, another with 22 and another with 13 across the Monocacy Creek, a tributary of the Lehigh River in Northampton County.
Amore processes an average 3,000 gallons a year, though last year yields were down because it was so wet. “It was the worst year we’ve had,” he says. “[The wet weather] was great for the vegetables, though. We didn’t have to irrigate once.”
In the summer, he filters and bottles sparking wines and smaller batches, then at the end of the summer he relies on an automated mobile unit. Landwirt Bottling comes up from Harrisonburg, Va., and bottles Amore’s larger runs, like its Red Rapture, a chambourcin with a touch of sweetness, or its white Bella Donna, a “seductive white.” Large runs are economical, but each changeover costs $100 each.
Amore began by offering 20 wines, then the options grew from there. “It’s crazy,” he says. “But, it’s experimental. The public likes a variety.”
He plants nine different grapes: the concord, Niagara, Cayuga, Chambourcin, Vidal, Riesling, Chardonnay, Cabernet and noiret. They are planted by area, and grouped mostly for maintenance.
All wine sales, like his farm sales, are retail, and sold at the farm and at two festivals a year. Amore’s wife Diane designs and personalizes all the wine labels.
Amore is also part of a nine-winery consortium on the so-called Lehigh Valley Wine Trail. Annually, the trail’s biggest marketing event is March Madness. The nine wineries distribute some 1,800 passports, handing out gifts to visitors, and promoting food pairings with wines served at each winery. If a consumer visits all nine wineries, the are entered into a drawing for prizes that include bed-and-breakfast stays and restaurant gift certificates. Each winery gets 200 passes to sell.
“The object is to get a visit from all 1,800 people,” Amore says. “We never get all 1,800, but maybe 1,600 or 1,700 come through.”
A four-season farm
Since the early 1970s, Amore’s bread and butter has always been his 15 greenhouses along Route 512. By March 1, he’s planted seeds, and by April, he’s planted his fields, which include 15 to 20 acres of corn. By mid-May, the 3 or 4 acres each of peppers, tomatoes, cantaloupe, cucumbers, zucchini and yellow squash go in.
Amore Farms begins each spring with Easter flowers, then transitions into late spring with bedding crops and hanging baskets, and then to summer vegetables and eventually fall fruits and vegetables, a 3-acre pumpkin patch, a 3-acre corn maze and pony and hay wagon rides as part of country-themed birthday parties held in the greenhouses.
The farm closes briefly from Halloween to Thanksgiving, then reopens for Christmas wreaths and trees as well as cemetery arrangements.
His staff ranges anywhere from two during the winter, which are mostly charged with pruning the vineyard, to eight by the spring and summer, or 12 depending on the strength of the vineyard’s growing season.
A few surprises
Amore had hoped his flower and vegetable customers would also become wine customers, but it hasn’t necessarily happened. “It’s been a little surprising,” he says. “I thought we’d convert more plant and produce folks into wine folks.”
To draw more customers down from the roadside stands to the winery, he’s even offered a 10 percent wine coupon at the greenhouses, but it didn’t work.
“I guess plant customers are plant customers and wine customers are wine customers, and perhaps never the two shall meet,” he says.
The author has been published in national and regional magazines as well as daily and weekly alternative city newspapers. A gentleman farmer in Quakertown, Pa., he writes about people, social trends, historic preservation and 18th century America, agrarian culture, land use and sports and recreation topics.