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Thistlethwaite Vineyards
Kathy Sullivan

Thistlethwaite VineyardsSummary: Thistlethwaite Vineyards, located on a fifth-generation farm, is in the Southwestern corner of Pennsylvania. It is about an hour of travel time from Wheeling, West Virginia and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to the winery.

From a distant view of the Thistlethwaite winery, the 19th century farm and vineyard is picturesque with bright white and red buildings near the 1850 two-story brick home. The farm property was purchased by the Thistlethwaite family in 1892. Today the fourth and fifth generations have planted the vineyards and built the winery. Up close, while visiting the tasting room and going past the vineyards, visitors can enjoy a look at a family with close ties to the land.

In the tasting room, we first met Rick Thistlethwaite who was friendly and knowledgeable about the wines and the history of the Thistlethwaite family farm. The family name of Thistlethwaite goes back to England and Scotland. The thistle is the national flower of Scotland. Rick explained that a thwaite is a land area where thistles grow.

Originally the farm was filled with cattle, sheep, horses, and chickens. Field crops included corn, wheat and hay. Today the hay is cut and given to a local charity that supports care for animals. The idea of turning the family farm into a vineyard and winery began when Rick stopped at a local winery. He commented that the people at the winery were so friendly that it caused him to want to plant a vineyard. Eventually Rick’s son, Jamie, visited the same winery and also wanted to plant a vineyard.

Thistlethwaite VineyardsWith a smile Rick said that he told Jamie that he would help plant the vineyard but then it was up to his son to take over. Sixteen years later Rick is still participating in the vineyard and winery. Rick helps in the vineyard and mows the lawn with an inclination to keep expanding the perimeter of the lawn. The owners are Rick, Rick's wife Annette, Jamie and Jamie’s wife Duann (Duann and Jamie pictured left). Buildings have been restored and renovated into a tasting room, an event room and a winery.

Before the idea of a vineyard and winery came about, Jamie and Duann were planning to move to Seattle. Beforehand Rick contacted Jamie and said that Rick and Jamie’s grandfather were thinking of leaving the farm, a traditional western Pennsylvania farm, to Jamie. Jamie and Duann were excited at the prospect of owning and living at the farm. However, Jamie was sure he did not want to do traditional farming including raising cattle. He told us that with a traditional farm, one never has the opportunity to take a day off or a vacation. Adding a vineyard and winery to the property gave Jamie the opportunity to keep the family farm without the traditional farm operation.

Once the idea of a vineyard and winery was planted, Jamie and Duann spent four years in Defiance, Missouri where Jamie studied winemaking and worked at Sugar Creek Winery. Jamie also spent time making wine at Christian W. Klay Winery in Chalk Hill, Pennsylvania. Eventually the Thistlethwaite winery tasting room opened in 2008.

Thistlethwaite VineyardsVineyards

The vineyards are located on a higher elevation and overlook the farm. The average growing season is 130 days. The grapevines are planted using the VSP trellis system. To take advantage of the sun, the rows run North to South. The vineyard acreage of five acres includes several grape varieties: Chambourcin, Villard Noir, Cabernet Franc, Marechal Foch (pictured showing the buckshot stage), Leon Millot, Traminette, Vignoles, Vidal, and Seyval. At one time, the family planted Riesling; however, they lost the Riesling due to the cold temperatures in the vineyard.

Thistlethwaite VineyardsThe winery is located down the hill from the vineyards. It makes for a lovely setting.


Thistlethwaite VineyardsCurrently Thistlethwaite is producing 1,000 plus cases of wine. With his background in winemaking in Missouri, Jamie has brought modern winemaking techniques to this small winery. In the winery building, one can see tanks, barrels, a press and other winemaking equipment. Notice the beams supporting the floor above. One can see the hewn marks made by an adze. While Jamie is the art behind the winemaking, Duann adds her expertise as the science behind the winemaking. While talking about winemaking and blending Jamie noted that “It’s just like cooking… start with good ingredients.”

Tasting Room

The tasting room has a gleaming, smooth cherry counter with comfortable seating. A selection of gift items are available in the tasting room. A wine shirt caught my eye with this quote, “This wine is making me awesome.” The cherry wood for the counter was harvested from the Thistlethwaite property. In the same building, an event room was added. At the end of the event room a large painted wall depicts the family’s dogs and three stray kittens discovered near one of the barns. The event room was renovated with beechwood and cherry wood from the farm property.

Thistlethwaite Wines

Thistlethwaite VineyardsWhile visiting with Duann and learning more about Thistlethwaite, we tasted several of their wines. Parker’s Premium Blend was a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Chambourcin. The Cabernet Sauvignon was sourced from California and the Chambourcin is from the Thistlethwaite onsite vineyard. This 2014 vintage was a dark ruby color. The wine offered juicy red cherries and blackberries. The wine had mild tannins with a full body. It was crisp and fruity. Pairing suggestions included: beef, poultry, pork, game, dark chocolate and cheeses. Chambourcin was a translucent red color with notes of red cherries. There were mild tannins and it was medium/full-bodied. The finish was crisp and fruity. Pairing suggestions included: fish, beef, veal, pork, lamb, grilled vegetables and pasta.

Colonial White was made with a proprietary white blend. This yellow colored wine offered tropical fruit salad notes including melon, pineapple and banana. The finish was fruity and crisp. Colonial Red was produced to be a semi-sweet barrel-aged red wine. The wine was a translucent purple/red color with an intense berry fruit aroma. The taste was sweet with notes of blackberries and black raspberries. The wine was medium-bodied. The finish coated the mouth, was sweet and lingered. Consider pairing this wine with a rocking chair. Suggested food pairings included: grilled meat, chicken, nuts, dried fruits and dark chocolate.

Vignoles is considered a “magic grape” because it is a great wine for blending. The wine was a brilliant yellow color with a crisp aroma. The taste was very sweet and full-bodied. This is a “wine that makes you smile.” It is also a 3P wine, good for the patio, porch or pool. Suggested food pairings included: salads, fruits, light snacks and desserts. Very Berry Good 2015 is “like a new era port.” This is a proprietary blend. The color is a slightly translucent purple. Look for notes of raspberries and plums. Duann suggested trying this wine with a cracker for a berry cobbler taste.

Thistlethwaite Vineyards is a winery that is intent on providing the best Pennsylvania wines possible. Be sure to visit the tasting room and discover the wines and the Thistlethwaite story.

Thistlethwaite Vineyards
151 Thistlethwaite Lane
Jefferson, PA 15344

GPS: N39º 57.288’ W80º 04.461’



Article written June 2016





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