LOWVILLE — With its landscaped gardens and panoramic views of the Black River Valley meeting mountains and sky, Tug Hill Vineyards has become a go-to venue for weddings, gatherings, meetings and events in Lewis County.

New this year? The owners.

Established in 2007 by Susan E. and Michael F. Maring, the 40-acre estate in West Lowville will continue its wine tastings and Sunday brunches with Jon and Taren Beller at the helm.

As of Jan. 1, the Marings passed the glass to the Bellers with a final message on the Vineyards Facebook page.

“Out with the old and in with the new,” Mrs. Maring wrote, “From the bottom of our hearts, Mike and I would like to thank all of our wonderful family, friends and staff for all of your love and support through the years.”

She also thanked all of their “visitors” over the years saying “we are forever thankful for the opportunity to have served you.”

Mr. and Mrs. Beller worked with the Marings for about 10 months last year to learn the ropes and start thinking about what they may want to do to make the place their own.

“We’re going to build upon what Mike and Sue have built, but we do want to concentrate on having more events — weddings and things like that — and I want to plant more apple trees. We have plans to come out with hard ciders and things along that line,” said Mr. Beller, “It’s going to be kept essentially the same but we’re going to make small changes here and there.”

In the past, the Vineyards were closed in the winter, but the Bellers will remain open with the hope of attracting winter recreation enthusiasts for dinner on Friday and Saturday nights and brunch on Sunday.

“You wake up, you have brunch and you go sledding for the day. That’s what we’re going for,” Mr. Beller said.

During the summer, they will try to have live music and more local food dinners in between events and weddings.

Generally, they hope to have more food options and, with the access their other businesses, provide, more farm-to-table options and locally produced food.

Mr. and Mrs. Beller are also co-owners in his family’s dairy, Beller Family Farm on State Route 126 halfway between Carthage and Croghan, and the Black River Valley Natural Creamery in Lyons Falls.

The new owner said all of the Vineyards staff is remaining in their positions, including Head Winemaker and Distiller Derek Card and Head Cook Jenna Flemming. Nick Roes, who worked at the Vineyard in the beginning while he was still in high school, returned to become the general manager.

“We are going to help out, but we have a wonderful staff that knows a lot more than we do,” Mr. Beller said.

Downstairs inside the event hall and restaurant, the Bellers are renovating to make it “more of a lounge, less of a wine store” in which people can relax by the fire with drinks. Eventually they hope to add “grab and go” food to add to the mix.

Despite the many challenges for restaurant survival created by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Mr. Beller said he and his wife realized the Vineyards offered the “farm-to-table” opportunity they had been seeking for years.

“We’re confident that the local community will support us and that things will turn around and we’ll open back up again,” said Mr. Beller.

To minimize COVID-19 risks, in addition to following social distancing and mask rules, wine tastings are now done with “wine flights” or a set of four wine samples in individual containers.

With the help of the Lewis County Development Corporation grant, the couple has started a snow shoe trail and an outdoor warming station. While there are a few pairs of snowshoes people can borrow, visitors are encouraged to bring their own shoes and enjoy the grounds.

They also have alternate plans in case they can’t open for a more “normal” business stream like before the pandemic.

If weddings and events don’t return this summer, Mr. Beller said they will follow the Marings’ lead and open for dinner more often.

“We want to have more community events and family events. We want to open it up to the whole community more,” Mr. Beller said.

The 40-acre estate started reaping a grape crop of its own in 2009, with an 1,800-pound harvest from 10 acres of grapes. According to its website, Tug Hill Vineyards now plants 20 acres of cold-hardy hybrid grapes which results in about 2,500 cases of wine annually.

The estate crafts a wide variety of wines from dry to sweet, light to full bodied and have expanded to distilling brandy-based liqueurs.

Tug Hill Vineyards are currently open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday and Thursday through Friday and from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sunday for wine tasting.

Sunday brunches are expected to return in February.

For more information, call 315-376-4336.

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Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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