Wine and Whiskey Fest brings Pennsylvania wine makers, distillers to area
WILKES-BARRE TWP. — Winery and distillery representatives from around the state converged on the inaugural Wine and Whiskey Fest Saturday at the Mohegan Sun Area.
The event, split into early afternoon and early evening sessions, drew close to 800 people, said festival promoter Dottie Miller.
Miller said she and her husband, Bob, have been doing trade shows for vaious industries since 2001, but they morphed into a strictly wine fests in 2014. Everything sold at Saturday’s show was Pennsylvania-based and the shows the Miller’s promote are only in Pennsylvania.
“We go from Erie, to Altoona, to Wilkes-Barre,” she said.
The couple got their start in Pittsburgh at PPG Paints Arena (Consol Energy Center at the time) — home of the Pittsburgh Penguins — and knew about the Penguins connection to feeder team based in Wilkes-Barre Township.
“It’s a whole experience,” Miller said, noting the shows offer a way for friends, couples, or even brides and their attendants to spend the afternoon together.
Friends and self-described wine connoisseurs Paula Nichols, Jolene Miraglia and Samantha Woodard were attending for a girls’ night out. Nichols, of Wilkes-Barre, and Miraglia, of Shavertown, attend wine festivals in the Poconos and came out because of the proximity of their homes.
“It’s nice it’s so close,” Miraglia said.
Woodard, of Nanticoke, was enjoying her first go-around at a wine festival.
“It’s a nice time,” she said.
Kishor Chokski, of Kilimanjaro Distillery, brought his moonshine and vodka to the event. Kilimanjaro was one of two distilleries at the event.
The Allentown-based distillery has only been in production for seven months, but Chokski said Miller called and convinced him to set up a table at the event.
Chokski, who came to the United States from East Africa 12 years ago, had done distillery work there. When he came to America, had other jobs, but he admitted his heart and head weren’t in them; they were in distilling. So, he and his daughter, Niky, decided to start Kilimanjaro.
And the Chokskis try to keep whatever they can local.
“Our apples (for apple pie moonshine) are from Lancaster,” he said.
He had heard of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton area and had passed by on his trips to Canada, but he had never visited until now. And he liked what he saw of the people in the Wyoming Valley.
“Everyone is so nice,” he said.
On the aisle behind Chokski, Juniata Valley Winery, of Mifflin, showcased several of their vintages. Juniata was one of a dozen wineries represented at the festuval.
Juniata owner George Hazard said he enjoys the “challenge” of making wine on a larger scale.
“It was how to take a hobby of five-gallon to 1,000-gallon batches,” he said as he explained his family was always making food when he was a child. Having worked in and around agriculture his entire life, Hazard said, the wine business would be able to support his family while keeping him connected to the land.
He enjoys the creativity that owning his own business allows — from choosing assortments of grapes to the design of the labels that go on the bottles.
“I’m a bird watcher … I have birds on all my fruit wines,” he noted.
Juniata Valley Winery also participates in beer festivals, but Hazard said there is a more “relaxed atmosphere” at a WineFest. Miller agrees with him.
“It’s a nice experience,” she said.
Reach Melanie Mizenko at 570-991-6116 or on Twitter @TL_MMizenko.