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NEW BRIGHTON Couple shares fruit that life has to offer



Published: Sun, May 20, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



A small seed planted in 1952 grew into what is known as Lapic Winery.

By CATHY SECKMAN

VINDICATOR CORRESPONDENT

NEW BRIGHTON, Pa. - How do you shop for wine? Do you run into a convenience store the day before a special event, snatch up a nice looking blush and call it done?

Buying wine can be a lot more pleasurable than that. It can be a leisurely, self-indulgent experience in which you learn a little and enjoy a lot.

Paul and Josephine Lapic of New Brighton have been indulging the wine-loving public for 24 years, ever since they opened Lapic Winery in a tiny tasting room set amid four acres of Concord grapes.

"My husband was always interested in grapes," Josephine recalls, "and when we moved here in 1952, he planted some Concords. Then he planted a little more, and a little more. You know, you can only make so much grape juice and grape jelly. We started dabbling in wine making."

Getting started: From a humble beginning in the basement, where they battled fruit flies and made some mistakes, the Lapics accumulated knowledge and equipment, little by little. In 1977, they were ready to take the plunge into commercial wine making.

By law, anyone who makes more than 200 gallons per year must get a license and deal with the Liquor Control Board. They opened the winery doors in May 1978 with 1,700 gallons of wine to sell.

"It was really a family operation, just Paul and I and whoever we could get our hands on," Josephine says. "I used to come out here at night and glue the labels on by hand."

Today, Lapic Winery sells 10,000 gallons a year, most of it right from the tasting room to individual customers.

The Back Door Restaurant in Fallston, Pa., is the only local restaurant to stock Lapic wine for its clientele.

Service with a smile: Occasionally the family sets up a kiosk in a mall during a holiday season, selling up to 700 gift baskets. Normally, though, they prefer more personal service.

"We have our regular customers who come in every month for their case of wine. We chat. I explain wine tasting and give out samples. I like the friendliness, and so do they," says Josephine. "It's things like this that make the business go."

There are more than 60 wineries in Pennsylvania, she notes, "but we were in on the ground floor. Some of them have come and gone, and we're still here."

Besides Paul and Josephine, who are basically retired, the winery employs their sons, Paul and Michael, their grandson, Jonathan, who works during his breaks from Penn State University, and wine maker Craig Rowland.

Only a small portion of the grapes needed to produce Lapic wine are actually grown on the property. Through an agreement with the Pennsylvania Wine Association, the Lapics buy grapes from a 350-mile radius in an organized effort to encourage grape-growing in the state.

The procedure: When the grapes arrive in the fall, Rowland oversees the mixing, filtering and racking with only minimal processing. Some people who are allergic to additives in wine, Josephine says, can drink Lapic wine with no problems.

Wine is stored in stainless steel tanks in temperature-controlled rooms for as much at six to eight months until it is ready for bottling. An octopus-like machine in one back room can fill, cork and cap eight bottles at a time, then trundle them out for boxing.

The Lapics must account to the Liquor Control Board for every gallon they produce. "If we have a bad batch, for instance, and tell them we're going to destroy 25 gallons, they'll take our word for it. But if we tell them we have to destroy 250 gallons, someone will come around to check. You just learn to deal with them; that's all."

Paul and Josephine spend most of their time right at home, tending the vines and the customers with equal care. They couldn't have imagined that Paul's casual interest in grapes would lead to a self-sufficient winery that has endured nearly a quarter century. But they're satisfied, and they still enjoy their work. Sometimes at night they have a glass of wine. "You can imagine how it is," Josephine says with a smile. "We always think our own tastes best."




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