On Route 51, a Castle in an Idyllic Setting

    It is amazing the places one can discover that are under an hour’s drive from our beloved, bustling Strip District.

    About 40 minutes south down Route 51 is the spectacular, family-owned Vinoski Winery, located on 30-plus sprawling, green acres in Belle Vernon, Rostraver Township. Aptly named The Castle, the 34-room estate that sits majestically atop the grounds was built in 1992 as a single-family residence but is now an ideal home to a winery. Offering not only award-winning wines, the venue hosts wine tastings, has wedding and event facilities, and offers a spa, live entertainment on the weekends, veranda reservations, and picnicking on the premises.

    Vinosky Winery

    Owners Walt and Roxanne Vinoski, both natives of South Connellsville, purchased the property in 2017 and have worked tirelessly to transform the home into their dream winery. In fact, on the day I visited, Walt was putting the finishing touches on a fabulous outdoor pizza oven, with the help of one of the couple’s three children. Winemaking is obviously their destiny and passion. Walt can trace his winemaking ancestry all the way back to 13th-century Poland, where his family produced wine for Polish royalty; “Son of Winemaker” is his surname translated. The Vinoksis came to the United States in the 1800s, and Walt’s great-grandfather continued the family’s winemaking, passing his knowledge down through the generations.

    An expert in electrical-power-generation failures, Walt has traversed the world consulting on the topic. After many years of traveling, visiting vineyards, and tasting wines from all around the globe, in 2007 the couple decided to come back to Pennsylvania and start their own vineyard and wine production. With skill and patience Walt sourced the very best grapes from around the country. Then, using his unique blend of winemaking know-how, extensive research, and technical and scientific background, it wasn’t long before Walt was developing popular, complex, and sophisticated wines. Fast forward to the present, and they now develop wines at their California and Pennsylvania locations.

    The staff at the winery is also extremely knowledgeable and enthusiastic about this unique and tranquil place. Pete Tranchita, the sales manager, has armed me with a thorough education on the proper way to taste wine, as well as insights on each of the wines they produce. “Our wine is just the grape—there is no bitterness,” he says, adding, “it’s all natural.” In fact, Vinoski’s winemaking process is different from most wineries. “All our wines are made using only ‘free run’ juice from the tank. We do not press the wines to gain more bulk wine; therefore our wines do not have the astringency, histamines, or harsh tannins developed during pressing.”

    Castle-front

    All of their dry wines are made at their Lodi, California, location while the sweet ones are made at the Belle Vernon winery. Wine tastings are available during regular business hours for $10 per person for the Choice Tasting, and $20 per person for the Premium Tasting. Their best seller is Isabella, described as “fruit forward aromas of cherry and strawberry with a pleasantly smooth mouth feel.”  Coming down the pike is an exciting new release from the winery: Sparkling Isabella. Pete eloquently explains that letting the wine “linger and rest on your palate is when the soul of the wine comes out.” Many of the wines have won prestigious awards. With 17 different wines to choose from, there is something for everyone. Prices are $15 and up to purchase a bottle.

    As we continued to tour the estate, Julie Pryor, the controller who has been with the winery since its opening, told me that they have many “regulars” for their popular weekend entertainment nights. Given the expansive and picturesque patio peppered with tables capped with red umbrellas, it’s easy to see that this is a place meant to be enjoyed. There are no cover charges or fees, but if one would like to reserve a table on the veranda or patio, it’s a $100 fee, which is then refunded upon arrival in the form of a gift card—which will be useful for buying wine in the shop to enjoy while there, food, or merchandise. Reservations are not necessary but are recommended on the nights when live entertainment is on the calendar. There is a broad variety of acts, and depending on the night, there could be jazz, country, classic rock, or anything in between. Julie says it is important to them to support local bands and performers. Though there is currently no restaurant onsite, there is an outdoor wood-fired pizza oven, food trucks on Saturdays, and snacks to be purchased inside the wine shop—and fare can also be brought in. Picnicking on the grounds is quite popular, and guests may bring their own blankets, lawn chairs, and picnic baskets and set up anywhere on the acreage. Due to their license, no alcoholic beverages other than Vinoski products are permitted onsite. Guests also love the latest addition to the property: a giant 22-foot corkscrew sculpture that was designed and commissioned by Walt and fabricated by Minds Eye Metal Art. It was installed this past June and is already a huge draw in itself.

    Back inside The Castle, Julie shows me many beautiful rooms, each one with a different ceiling and crown molding. Every window looks out onto the scenic landscape. Up the curving, dramatic staircase is a new addition to the winery: the spa, where licensed massage therapist Dave Nemchik offers a variety of massage techniques, aromatherapy, body scrubs, and more. He formerly worked at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort and Spa. The upstairs setting is serene, quiet, and perfect for relaxation. Prices start at $50.

    The Castle is also a fairytale-like venue for weddings and other private events such as bridal showers, corporate events, family reunions, and more. The upstairs includes a bridal preparation suite big enough for the bride, her bridesmaids, and then some. Inside can accommodate up to 100 guests, and outside, approximately 300. Chance of rain? Not to worry, they have a tent big enough to welcome everyone.

    Estate-corkscrew

    Another important mission of Walt and Roxanne Vinoksi is their charity, the Vinoski Foundation. Per their website, it is “100% efficient, meaning that all funds are distributed. The Vinoski Foundation is a private 501(c)(3) charity that advances its mission by supporting those in need whether they be individuals, programs, or other 501(c)(3) charities. The Vinoski Foundation initiatives are local as well as global, supporting educational opportunities, organizations, and individuals.” Ten percent of their gross wine sales go to the foundation.

    It’s clear that this is just the beginning for Vinoski Winery and all that it offers. Take a jaunt out of the city and visit a one-of-a-kind, inspiring place. Vinoski Winery is located at 333 Castle Drive, Belle Vernon, PA 15012 (Rostraver Township in Westmoreland County; 724-872-3333; vinoskiwinery.com). Hours of operation are Tuesday through Thursday, noon-6:00 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, noon-10:00 p.m.; and Sunday, 11:00 a.m.-6:00 p.m.

    Katie Salvi is a freelance writer, artist, and proud mom to her 12-year-old son. A graduate of Carnegie Mellon University and a native New Yorker, she now resides in Pittsburgh with her husband and son. She loves exploring new and unusual places in and around town.

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