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Deer Creek Winery Provides Unique, Memorable Experience for Family & Friends

Monday, March 14, 2022 @ 12:03 AM

Posted by exploreClarion

1D4A5999_PPM_1200SHIPPENVILLE, Pa. (EYT) – When Rhonda Brooks’ husband, Denis, was laid off from his engineering job in the Great Recession of 2008, the couple changed the trajectory of their careers.

(Photos and videos by Dave Cyphert of ProPoint Media Photography)

“We would camp here and he decided in ‘07 to plant several hundred raspberry bushes because we thought they would grow on the land,” she told exploreClarion.com, referring to the land that would soon become the future site of Deer Creek Winery and its associated bed-and-breakfast accommodations. “We never had alcohol in our house at all, and he decided to try and make some raspberry wine instead,” she said. “We’re like, ‘Hey, this is pretty good,’ and once he lost his job, the idea came to him about starting a winery.”

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When it first began in 2009, Rhonda said the vision was to keep Deer Creek Winery small.

“We were just going to have this little winery,” she said. “That’s where he (Denis) was going to work until our youngest was out of high school, and then we would move up here on the land. We had no intentions of it growling like this when it first began.”

Deer Creek’s strategy for growth at the beginning was opening other locations in malls and strip malls, with their first foray in that directing coming early in the winery’s history with a kiosk at the Clarion Mall.

“One of the girls we had picking raspberries for us – her dad was the manager of the Clarion Mall. He talked us into putting up a little kiosk for Christmas sales. That was a new experience because there was a lot of paperwork with the LCB to get locations and how they have to be set up, and, of course, that’s more staffing over there.”

Currently, Deer Creek has locations at South Hills Village Mall, Hermitage-Kohl’s Plaza, McCandless Crossing, Beaver Valley Mall, and The Mall at Robinson. They previously had locations at the Clarion Mall, the Cranberry Mall, and the Clearview Mall.

Opening retail locations served the Brooks until they were introduced to the book, The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It, written by author Michael E. Gerber.

“It’s a business book. Its basic premise is that if you run a business, and the business can’t run without you, then it’s just another job with no paid vacation. If you have to be there, it hasn’t really gained you anything,” said Brooks. “We started thinking about that and started setting systems in place and building an org chart to working ourselves out of the every day of the business.”

Brooks said they realized they drew customers when they had live music and food. When they began having musicians play and offer food on a regular business, more people began coming to Deer Creek.

“We started looking at other wineries and realized where they make the wine was their main location while it was our smallest location of sales. We started looking at what we could do to bring more people here,” she said.

They realized they needed to focus on the winery itself and make it an enjoyable place to go spend an evening. One way she did this was by upgrading Deer Creek itself and changing the décor.

“My marketing person was like, ‘You have to put in windows or French doors to go out into the open space. You have to get rid of the sharp lines. You have to get white, outdoor curtains.’ She changed my colors all around to black, white, red, and gold where before I was more Mediterranean,” said Brooks.

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Additionally, Deer Creek needed to expand its space.

“By the fall of ‘13, we had standing room only, which it wasn’t big, but at the time, it’s all the space I had, and we had brought simple foods and started live music. We were running out of space,” said Brooks.

In 2014, Denis Brooks built the “Vinos Den” section of Deer Creek, adding a lounge area to the winery. That area soon filled up, so Deer Creek expanded again with a covered porch area.

“I can remember one day, in particular, we were working on the gas line, a customer came in, and they weren’t from the area. They were like, ‘Do you know there’s not a bed-and-breakfast in the area. We had to stay in a hotel.’ So, we thought, ‘Huh, we need to build anyways. Maybe a bed-and-breakfast is the way we should go.”

This interaction eventually blossomed into the Deer Creek Inn and Manor, the two bed-and-breakfast establishments owned by the Brooks. The Inn shares a building with Deer Creek Winery, which was built by Denis and designed by Rhonda and her daughter. Construction on the inn began in 2016 and was completed by 2017.

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Customers began flocking to the winery for the experience she could provide them, Rhonda said.

“They want to be able to do something, and they want to relax and be taken care of,” Rhonda said about her customers. “My husband especially had a vision to have live music and people sitting around, enjoying a glass of wine with friends and family because were are not about over-indulgence. We are not about partying. We are about taking the time to relax and rejuvenate because time is just too precious and too short.”

Deer Creek makes mostly sweet wines, Rhonda explained, a decision guided by a commitment to make the wine accessible to the average consumer. The “real catalyst” for more wine sales was when Deer Creek began to make mulled wine.

“It’s kind of like the art of making wine,” Rhonda explained. “We did have a winemaker that came and helped Denny with the first couple of batches, but we wanted to make wine for the typical person, not a connoisseur. We are 80% sweet wines. The real catalyst – I personally believe – back in 2010 when I was going to wine festivals one other winery had a mulled wine. I caught on to that and was like, ‘Oh my goodness, what can we do with that?’ We started doing that on a big scale.

“Everybody loves mulled wine, whether you know it or not.”

Deer Creek’s Leadership Team sets the winery’s selection.

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According to Rhonda, the marketing team rotates wines every two to three weeks, bringing new ones or older ones out.

Creating new wines is a difficult process she added.

“There’s a process. You can’t come up with a new wine and start selling it. You need to register the recipe. You need to get the label approved to federal standards. Sometimes we have ideas that never go to market.”

Rhonda said the experience that Deer Creek provides is likely never going away.

“What the pandemic has taught people is to value family and friends and value spending time together and making those experiences.”


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