Doug Moorhead Receives Lifetime Achievement Award
Eastern Winery Exposition recognizes Pennsylvania wine pioneer
The son of an Erie County grapegrower, Moorhead graduated from the Penn State University in 1956 with a degree in pomology and then served with the U.S. Army in Germany, where he discovered German Rieslings and other vinifera wines. When he returned to the U.S., he went into partnership with his father.
During harvest in 1958 he met Bill Konnerth who had come to the Moorhead farm to buy grapes. The two became friends, began to grow grapes for wine and purchased French hybrid vines from Philip Wagner in Maryland and vinifera vines from Dr. Konstantin Frank in New York. In 1960 they organized the Erie County Wine Club and soon began to buy winemaking equipment from Europe for club members and themselves. Four years later, they founded Presque Isle Wine Cellars to sell both juice and winemaking equipment and supplies. At the time there were few places in the East that sold equipment for small wineries, and their customers came from many states.
Challenging the law
Moorhead and Konnerth wanted to open a winery, but Pennsylvania law at that time required wineries to sell wine to the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, which sold in the state stores, instead of selling directly to winery visitors. They realized that for any kind of small winery industry to develop in Pennsylvania, new legislation would have to be passed. As a first step, they got the Erie County Fruit Development Committee to appoint a Wine Study Committee, with Moorhead as the chairman. In this role, Moorhead went to Harrisburg and met with Dr. Leland H. Bull, then-secretary of agriculture, to explain the concerns of grapegrowers for developing value-added alternatives to commodity Concord grapes, which were in over-supply.
As a result, Penn State received $75,000 over 10 years to fund a winegrape research program in the Erie region. Secretary Bull also helped set up the State Grape Marketing Advisory Council in 1967, with Moorhead as the chairman. The council developed language for a limited winery bill that would legalize small Pennsylvania wineries making wine from local grapes.
Although the PLCB strongly opposed any changes to liquor legislation in Pennsylvania, Act 272 (known as the Limited Winery Act) was finally passed July 17, 1968, the last day of the legislative session. Act 272 permitted holders of limited winery licenses to make table wines only from Pennsylvania-grown grapes in an amount not to exceed 50,000 gallons annually and sell those wines directly to consumers and other board licensees, including restaurants.
Having anticipated the passage of the bill, Moorhead and Konnerth broke ground for their winery in 1968 and were ready for harvest the next fall. Presque Isle Wine Cellars and Penn Shore Vineyards, another Erie County winery, both received their licenses on the same day in 1969 and opened in 1970. Konnerth retired from the business in 1974, and Moorhead’s wife Marlene became his partner in the business.
Several years later, Moorhead was a member of the group that founded the Pennsylvania Winery Association and served as that organization’s president and on its board of directors for many years. In the early 1990s, when discussions were under way between Penn State and Cornell University about how to divide resources for grape research in the Lake Erie region, Moorhead chaired the industry advisory committee of the Lake Erie Regional Grape Program. He held the view that state borders were unimportant because the industry and its issues were the same throughout the region, no matter where the state lines were drawn.
He also has been a long time director of the National Grape Cooperative, which owns Welch’s Foods; was an adjunct professor in the culinary department at Mercyhurst College in North East, Pa.; is currently a director of WineAmerica and The Pennsylvania Grape Marketing Board; and serves on the EWE conference advisory board. Moorhead also farms his 170-acre family-owned vineyard in addition to working at the winery and supply business.
The Eastern Winery Exposition continues with sessions today and Friday at the Lancaster County Convention Center in Lancaster, Pa. For more information, go to EasternWineryExposition.com.