The father-son duo of Bob & Mario Mazza made local and state news this past Father’s Day weekend.
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PA Wines – Fathers and Sons in PA Wine Land
Posted June 1, 2018
PA Wine Land is filled with family-owned vineyards and wineries. In honor of Father’s Day, we chatted with some father-son teams about working in tandem, making the decision to go into the business, and how to keep relationships strong in the face of so much togetherness.
John Nissley and his son, Jonas Nissley: Nissley Vineyards
The story of Nissley Vineyards in Lancaster County is actually one that involves three generations of fathers and sons. Back in 1971, grandfather, Dick Nissley made wine as a hobby. One day, he begged his son to try his homemade product.
“My question was, ‘Well, if you think it’s so good, why don’t you sell it?,’” recalls that son, John Nissley. “He replied, ‘Can you do that?’ I said, ‘Yes, they passed the Limited Wineries Act in 1968.’”
So, in the mid-1970s, Dick and John planted the grapes that would become Nissley Vineyards, one of the state’s first commercial wineries. Almost 50 years later, as John’s generation — which also included his three sisters, Joyce, Judy, and Mary Lee — were looking to retire, grandson Jonas Nissley stepped up to the plate.
“When every member of the family works in the business like ours does, and everybody also lives on the property, it is almost impossible to separate the business from life,” says Jonas. “Our family has worked very hard over the past 40 years to establish one of the most respected wineries in the state, and I could see that I would be disappointed in myself ten years down the road when I looked back at the decision not to come home and continue it. There are no other children on the Nissley side of the family besides me, so really, there was no one else to take the reins.”
John, who worked with his father, and now works with his son, has decades of experience navigating these complex but ultimately rewarding waters.
“The best thing is that in your heart you know working together is the right thing,” he says. “I let Jonas make his own mistakes and also make his own victories. At the same time, encouragement applied at the selected time can make a big difference.”
John Skrip II and his son, John Skrip III: Clover Hill Vineyards & Winery
“When I was little — about 12 years old — I remember wanting nothing to do with the winery,” recalls John Skrip III, second-generation winemaker at Clover Hill Winery. “If I was in trouble at school or at home, one of my punishments was to work in the vineyard. I would get all the ‘glamorous’ jobs: cleaning the picking shears, pruning, gathering berry samples, and washing harvest lugs to name a few. Even if I wasn’t in trouble, I still had to work. It was tough, the other kids in my class were hanging out or playing sports, and I was on winery duty.”
Fast forward to today, and John Skrip III happily toils along with his sister, Kari, at Clover Hill, a beautiful property nestled in the Lehigh Valley. The vineyard was founded by their parents John and Pat Skrip, who bought the 25-acre tract of land at auction and planted 1,000 grapevines as a hobby. The plants flourished, and as the vineyard grew so did their family.
“In 1985, I was working full-time-plus in a construction company which I owned,” recalls John Skrip II. “When I came home from work, I tried to spend some time in the vineyard. The vineyard was my pressure release. The vines didn’t talk back to me. But family is and was of prime importance, and so I always made time to play with the kids and to be there for them. It was important also to have dinner together most nights and to hear from each of the kids as to how their day went.”
What was originally envisioned as a retirement project for the couple became the family’s main livelihood. Meanwhile, John Skrip III left for college at Penn State to study Marketing, still intent on avoiding the wine industry.
“I remember going to a job fair with my suit on and resume in hand,” he says. “It was at that moment that I realized I didn’t want to be in a suit every day for the rest of my life. At the same time, a light bulb went on and I realized that there was a really cool job in the vineyard and winery waiting for me.”
After graduation, John Skrip III headed to California State University, Fresno to study enology, then started his career at Clover Hill. That was 25 years ago. Working with his father is a big reason why he stayed.
“It is very rewarding to work with your family,” he explains. “It is a great feeling to accomplish something with your family, to share in the hard work, and to enjoy the rewards together. We can say anything to each other, so even though our family business meetings may have a ‘spirited tone,’ we say what’s on our mind and get it out there for discussion.”
Bringing in the younger generation has also been good for business. When John Skrip III took over in 1993, the winery expanded its vinifera program, planting varieties such as Sangiovese, Cabernet, Merlot, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay. In early 2000, they released their first sparkling wines. They also started making port and ice wines, and have launched two Vihno Verdes (a crisp, light Portuguese-style wine with a spritz), ideal for summer.
Now looking to add to the father-son mojo is John Skrip IV, currently studying enology at California State University, Fresno.
Bob Mazza and his son, Mario Mazza: Mazza Vineyards
“When I decided to come back to the family business, my dad gave me some of the best advice,” recalls Mario Mazza, a second-generation winemaker at Mazza Vineyards, on the shores of Lake Erie. “‘Go make mistakes with someone else’s money first.’”
That guidance led Mario to a masters degree in Oenology at the University of Adelaide in Australia, followed by a couple of years in the down-under wine industry. Despite the lure of beautiful beaches and an enticing job offer, Mario always knew he wanted to come home to help build something with his father, Bob Mazza.
“I had the chance from a young age to work alongside my dad – anything from vineyard planting to putting a new roof on the winery,” he says. “In hindsight, I realize it gave me a great appreciation for the effort that went into building the business.”
Bob wasn’t surprised his son decided to come back to the winery.
“We’ve been working together since he was probably seven or eight years old,” recalls Bob. “He was hanging around the winery, helping out when he could. When we had additional locations in other areas, like Pittsburgh, he would come down on weekends and help me stock stores. It was a natural progression that he would come into the business.”
Since they teamed up, the winery has flourished.
“I think that I’ve been able to help us grow as an organization and with regards to the quality of wines we are producing,” says Mario. “That being said, I could have never accomplished that without the amazing business that my dad built and his willingness to give me enough latitude to make decisions and changes. While I often get credit for our expansion into the distilled spirits and craft beer spaces (with Five & 20 Spirits & Brewing), the reality is that my dad, even after decades in the business, was as enthusiastic and supportive of those moves as I was. It’s been pretty cool to see him re-energized by some of the new projects we’ve worked on together — I think we tend to feed positively off of one another.”
Over the last three or four years, Mario has taken over the day-to-day management of Mazza Vineyards.
“I guess that’s a good succession plan,” says Bob. “He’s running the business, and I’m there if he needs me, but I’m not there to get in the way. Mario is a very driven, very confident, very thorough, and very organized. Not to say that I’m not any of those things, but he takes it to a different level.”
Karl Zimmerman and his sons, Bill and Ben Zimmerman, Shade Mountain Winery
Karl Zimmerman, patriarch and co-founder of Shade Mountain Winery in Middleburg, has not one, but two sons (in addition to two daughters who also work in the family business). Mom and Dad live on the property, and all the kids are within a 20-minute drive. With 70 acres of vineyards, it’s a good thing the next generation decided to join up.
“That’s something that differentiates us from other wineries,” says Bill Zimmerman, the third child and oldest son. “We grow all of our own grapes. We do all of our own winemaking. We do all our own bottling and processing. Everything is done by us, here.”
After a few minutes on the phone with the Zimmerman men, it’s clear they share a matter-of-fact manner and sly sense of humor. But they don’t all share the same taste in wine, which has turned out to be a competitive advantage. While Bill prefers dry varietals like Cabernet Franc, Ben was the creative force behind the winery’s popular Mint Iced Tea table wine (a combination of iced tea and mint wine that they recommend serving over ice).
“We try not to have just one strong style of wine,” says Bill. “In our area, we have all sorts of demographics and you get all sorts of different people. You get people who like dry wines, people who like sweet wines, people who like fruit wines. We sell 58 different wine varieties and they range all over the place. People who don’t even drink wine will come in and they’ll end up buying something because they’ll find something that they like. That’s kind of how our family is — everyone is different and likes something different so that probably helps out with the goal of variety.”
According to Karl, having his sons working at the vineyard keeps the whole family close.
“It’s a great joy,” he says. “It enables me to have a lot of quality time with the grandchildren, and take them fishing and do a lot of fun stuff. It’s great to have everybody around.”
And how about those grandchildren? A third generation of Zimmermans’ at Shade Mountain is not out of the question.
“They’re still pretty wee,” says Karl. “I’d like to think so, but fates work in strange ways. We’d hope so.”
Erie Times News – For These Erie Workers – Dad is Also the Boss
By Jim Martin
Posted Jun 17, 2018 at 12:01 AM
Updated Jun 17, 2018 at 6:15 AM
David John DeMarco, like the other fathers featured in this story, counts himself as lucky that he’s had the opportunity to work alongside his children in the family business.
David John DeMarco, one of the owners of Modern Dental Group in Erie, always felt that he might have disappointed his father, the late John J. DeMarco, M.D., an Erie obstetrician, who delivered more than 12,000 babies.
His father had hoped that he would follow in his footsteps, he said.
DeMarco, 59, said he made it a point never to choose a career for any of his five children.
“I think it would have been counterproductive,” he said. “I think every child has to do their own thinking and they have to like what they do.”
But DeMarco, like the other fathers featured in this story, counts himself as lucky that he’s had the opportunity to work alongside his children in the family business.
Such arrangements, although relatively rare in modern American life, were once commonplace in an economy built on agriculture.
The tradition remains strong among the Amish, where children often grow up expecting to take over the family farm or business.
“Tradition isn’t a strong enough word,” said Andrew Troyer, owner of Troyer’s Rope Co. and Bird’s Paradise in Conneautville. “In our Amish community, it’s a very precious thing.”
Troyer, 61, who has worked alongside two of his daughters in the business, said the operation is now led by his son, Adam, and two of his sons-in-law.
In his view, this is life as it should be.
“It leads us together for serving the Lord,” he said. “We are to train up our children in the way they should go.”
The family business
David and Lisa DeMarco’s children were left to make their own decisions.
Ultimately, sons David James DeMarco and Chris DeMarco would become dentists, while daughter Lisa DeMarco would become a dental hygienist. All three work for Modern Dental owners David John DeMarco and his partner, Shawn Casella.
Sons David, 33, and Chris DeMarco, 30, confirm there was never the slightest pressure to join the family business.
Their decision might have been rooted, strangely enough, in not only the work they saw their father do, but a shared love of fixing and restoring cars.
“We have always been a mechanical family, and dentistry is a blend of engineering and medicine,” David James DeMarco said. “As dentists, we are actively fixing things all day long.”
Like her brothers, Lisa DeMarco, 23, always liked working with her hands. When a year of college left her with no idea what she wanted to do, she decided to spend a few days shadowing a dental hygienist at her dad’s office.
“I loved it,” she said.
Her friends are less than envious, she admits. But she doesn’t care.
“I have been here almost two years, and it’s been awesome. I have looked up to my dad forever,” she said. “He is one of the smartest people I know. He has been the most supportive guy in the whole world.”
For her brother, David, working with his father and Casella, another trusted mentor, has given him a chance to learn from their experiences without the fear of admitting what he doesn’t know to a potentially judgmental employer.
“Having him as a mentor, but also a father — I can call him about work and talk to him about cases and how to hone your skills,” he said. “That is something I never would have had at another practice. Because of our relationship as a father and son, I am always comfortable asking.”
Working together has also given him a better understanding of his father as a man who often worked long hours during the week when he was a kid, but along with his mother did everything possible to set aside weekends for their family.
While three of the five DeMarco offspring work together, it’s not uncommon for them to spend a portion of the weekend together or with their parents.
“He lives two blocks from me,” David James DeMarco said of his father. “We fish. We are all kind of high energy, so we spend time building fence, mowing lawns and doing weekend projects.”
If 30-year-old Chris DeMarco had any hesitation about joining the family dental business, it didn’t last long.
“I think there are always thoughts that creep into your mind, but we all get along,” he said. “We are all pretty busy and there is not much time to get in each other’s hair.”
And there is something special, he said, about being surrounded by trusted mentors, especially his father, to teach him the finer points of his life’s work.
“He is an awesome mentor,” Chris DeMarco said. “He has always been very mechanical. People don’t realize how much this translates to this.”
David John DeMarco, who chose not to follow in his father’s footsteps, seems equally proud of his two sons who chose different careers. John DeMarco is director of The Presque Isle Partnership while James DeMarco is in real estate development.
For his part, the elder DeMarco counts himself as fortunate on this Father’s Day for his family of five children, all of whom live in Erie.
“I’m really lucky,” he said. “They all hang out together. It’s amazing.”
Call it a bonus that he sees three of the five on a daily basis, passing them in the hall as they go about their shared work.
There are practical benefits to the arrangement. DeMarco said he and Casella have mentored his sons together, answered their questions, made them better at their craft.
“We need the young blood as much as the young blood needs us,” he said.
More than that, he said, he realizes that there is something unique about the relationship he has with his children.
“That is so special,” he said. “I am working with the people I love.”
Sharing what he knows
The same can be said for Erie contractor and developer Donald Crenshaw, the 55-year-old owner of Crenshaw Brothers Construction, which has been working recently on the 40-unit Parade Street Commons.
While his daughter, 26-year-old Camille Crenshaw, runs the property management side of the business, the older Crenshaw works daily with his 24-year-old son, Aaron, whom he describes as a foreman supervisor or superintendent who is learning the business “from the ground up.”
Aaron Crenshaw is less clear about his title, but clear that as the son of the owner he’s supposed to do whatever needs to be done.
“Boss’s son — that is my job title,” he laughed. “I do literally everything. It’s very challenging. He (his father) often loses track of the line between son and employee. I will do anything. It’s all in love so I don’t complain.”
Donald Crenshaw, who learned the refuse business from his father — before the family turned to construction — doesn’t deny for a moment that he pushes his family further and harder than it might be fair to push an employee.
But he makes no apologies.
“If my old man was tough on me at the end of the day, I think it’s the best thing that can happen,” he said.
For Donald Crenshaw, working with his children isn’t about having someone to push around; it’s about having someone with whom he can share what he knows.
And it’s about an endless number of second chances.
“Nobody is tougher than Dad at the end of the day,” he said.
“But it’s tough love the world is not going to give you. If you can learn it and listen to the old man, you’ll always get another chance.”
For all his joking about the 60-hour work weeks, the time spent ordering materials, pouring concrete, surveying worksites and the lines his father tends to cross, Aaron Crenshaw said he doesn’t have any complaints.
“He keeps me working,” he said. “He keeps molding me.”
Call me Dad
Mazza Vineyards, one of Pennsylvania’s earliest wineries when it was licensed in North East in 1972, has grown into one of the state’s largest with both a brewery and distillery operation and multiple locations in Pennsylvania and New York.
While the business is owned by Robert and Kathleen Mazza, their son, Mario Mazza, 38, serves as vice president and general manager while their daughter, 35-year-old Vanessa, handles social media and tasting room training.
Mario Mazza, who returned to the business 13 years ago after earning a degree and training in Australia, finds himself handling many of the day-to-day decisions since his father started operating the restaurant at the North East Marina.
For the older Mazza, stepping back has been a conscious decision.
“He is pretty much running it on a day-to-day basis,” Robert Mazza said. “That has given me the opportunity to step away and I’ve given him quite a bit of latitude to take it in a certain direction.”
Working with his son has been “gratifying,” Robert Mazza said, noting that the business has enjoyed some of its strongest growth in recent years.
“There have been some challenging moments. We will call them spirited disagreements,” Mario Mazza said.
When those disagreements involve business they sometimes call on the services of Don Moore, a business consultant, who happens to be an old family friend.
The younger Mazza said he feels prepared to run the business.
But he knows something else. The father he loves is also one of the best mentors he could find.
“I’ve had the great fortune to come into this great business opportunity,” he said. “I really have a lot of respect with what he was able to do with nothing.”
Mario Mazza said he realizes one of his father’s greatest gifts might be difficult to acquire by simply watching.
“I continue to realize he has a great ability or vision to see what can be possible that most of us miss,” he said. “I am hoping that is genetic and the light switch gets turned on at some point.”
And how does this father feel about coming to work with both his son and his daughter?
“It’s very gratifying,” he said. “It’s also good to see there is some succession planning that is going to be occurring. We worked our entire lives to build this.”
When it comes to his son, Mario, however, he registers one complaint.
“You are father and son, but in the workplace it’s a little bit different,” he said. “One is the boss and the other is a subordinate to a certain extent.”
But Robert Mazza, who remains president of the company, reluctantly admits he wishes his son would stop calling him Bob.
“It’s still Dad,” he said. “I would rather hear Dad than Bob.”
Troyer, whose company sells rope and birdhouses across the country, said sales have grown since his son Adam took over as “the lead horse.”
But Troyer, who remembers his 16-year-old son watching over his shoulder, said that’s not what he likes best about a lifestyle that finds him working with his family with the promise of grandchildren entering the business one day.
It brings to mind a word and a sentiment the Amish are urged to avoid.
“You are talking to what the worldly people would call a proud daddy,” Troyer said.
But Troyer doesn’t consider himself a worldly person.
“I would say blessed,” he said.
Jim Martin can be reached at 870-1668 or by email. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ETNMartin.