Bryan Rhodes remembers his first foray into wine-making in the late 1980s. "I used to make it in my basement in a garbage can," he recalls. "I'd leave a bottle for the postman as a gift, and it would always come back unopened."
But nobody's returning the wine Rhodes and his dad, Gary, have been making since 2004 at Volant Mill Winery, about 9 miles off I-79 in Lawrence County. "We carry a number of varietals all made with our own locally grown grapes," explains Rhodes. "We surprise a lot of people when they taste it."
In fact, the wine has sold so well in the small tourist community of Volant that Rhodes is hoping to expand his market. Currently, the most convenient place to get the wine is Rhodes' retail outlet near Cranberry Township. But Rhodes hopes to get the wine into Pittsburgh restaurants and state stores.
The winery's best seller is its award-winning Volant Red. Volant Mill also makes a sweet Riesling, and a number of fruit wines.
Wine runs in the family: Rhodes' father has been harvesting grapes and making wine for 20 years. Gary Rhodes was the chief wine-maker for Wilhelm Wineries and also sold his grapes to other wineries.
When Bryan, a mechanical engineer, saw jobs in his field drying up, he decided to work alongside his father. They moved into their current location because "it was the only shop in town with concrete floors," and started bottling wine by hand.
Today they bottle their wines in two locations: at the shop in Volant, and in a production facility at the vineyard. This year, they expect to produce about 96,000 bottles of wine, all available for less than $20 each.
One of those bottles may be worth a road trip, or at least a detour.
"We love for people to come and try our wines," says Rhodes. "Some people are intimidated by wine and wine-tastings, but don't be. And don't let anyone tell you that you have to drink one kind over another. I say, buy what you like and serve it with what you like."
1229 Main St., Volant. 724-533-2500
535 Adams Shoppes, Mars. 724-591-5699