Homegrown Black Walnut Winery Encourages a Relaxing, Engaging Wine-Tasting Experience

By Amy Strauss

When winemaker Lance Castle of Black Walnut Winery in Sadsburyville decided to tackle the tantalizing world of producing homemade wines, his attempt was far from small-scale.

In 2001, with the help of his wife, Valerie, and friends Jack and Karen Kuhn, all of which are now co-owners, they destemmed by hand 500 pounds of local Hopewell Vineyards grapes, constituting this “labor of love” as the first unofficial crush.

Under the Castle’s canopy of 40 Black Walnut trees (the winery’s namesakes) at their Kimberton home, the winemaking continued, with the Kuhns always on hand to assist through even the “non-sexy” jobs, like scrubbing recycled bottles that Lance thought would offer the most “bang for the buck” when having an at-home winery.

In 2006, the partnering couples for what had become the Black Walnut Winery chose an alternate location: a 200-year-old Chester County bank barn on Lincoln Highway. Besides being imbedded in local history, the potential in the bank building’s appearance, which clearly needed some sprucing, drew in the entrepreneurs.

“We all had full-time jobs [and still do], and would come here nights to work on the barn,” said Lance.

“We tried to save money and we all knew what we wanted it to be like,” said Valerie. “It just took us three and a half years to get it this way.”

The owners are now reaping the benefits of their hard work to restore the bank barn to its full potential, having entered Black Walnut Winery into the local wine market in July of 2009.

The cozy countryside location, which features an inviting tasting room with a fireplace, a special-events room, a private tasting reserve room, a retail space and an ideal processing facility, is exactly what the Castles and Kuhns envisioned – a soothing spot where the art of the sniff, the swirl and the sip is appreciated, as are wine-infused conversations and discussions about the historic building.

Black Walnut Winery is focused on developing the balance of aromas and flavors in their wines, which now boast 17 blends, and identifying tones and tastes approachable by many palates. Not yet reaching their one-year anniversary, the winery already received a bronze medal at the 2010 Pennsylvania Farm Show for their Chardonnay 2007 and another bronze win at the 2010 Pennsylvania Wine Competition for their Merlot 2007.

“We want to offer our visitors nice wine through an interactive experience,” said Lance. “We want people to enjoy themselves and not feel that they have to rush through what we have to offer.”

The traditionalist winemaker, who adores rubbing elbows with those enjoying his wines, has been caught several times covered in grape juice allowing visitors to sample a wine that, at that very moment, is filtering in his facility.

“I enjoy people having fun at our winery, as well as engaging them with what we are working on,” he said. “We aren’t Mondavi; everyone gets to interact with at least one, if not all four, of the owners here. We want to talk to the people who are experiencing our wine.”

Always striving to enhance a guest’s experience, from the amateur to the connoisseur, the Chester County winery also offers pairing suggestions with chocolate and cheese stemming from an ideal working relationship with Amazing Acres’ Goat Dairy of Elverson. They suggest you’ll experience an incredible partnership if you sample their Spiced Apple 2007 with Amazing Acres’ Chipotle Chevre; their Blanc Franc 2007 with Amazing Acres’ Cranberry goat cheese; and their Vidal Blanc 2007 with Amazing Acres’ Blue Stilton Cheese.

Even more appreciated is the ease and convenience of visiting Black Walnut Winery, and the co-owners have decided to open a retail space and tasting room mid-to-late summer on the corner of Bridge Street and Gay Street in Phoenixville.

“The comment we get a lot is that ‘our place is so welcoming’,” said Valerie, who confirms their second location will be just as approachable.
“Some people feel that if they don’t have wine knowledge, they can’t even ask questions,” she said. “We don’t want anyone to feel uncomfortable. We are here to offer them as much as they want to learn. We just want people to have fun.”

Black Walnut Winery is located at 3000 Lincoln Highway in Sadsburyville Township and is open Thursday to Friday from 2 to 8 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. The tasting room is open during hours of operation and, through October, the winery offers an outdoor concert series every Saturday and Sunday.