Spilling the Grapes

Speaking to Elaine Pivinski is a barrel of fun. As the owner of Franklin Hill Vineyards in Bangor, Pivinski understands that sometimes success requires intuition, and she loves when something doesn’t work.

From advice to aspiring business owners, to sharing her wine-induced superpowers, Pivinski is happy to spill the grapes.


What got you interested in the winemaking business?

I’m a product of the sixties and my children’s father wanted to live on a commune after we went to Woodstock. We ventured out to live off the land by ourselves. Coming from Montclair, New Jersey we looked for land in Pennsylvania. We found a 35-acre farm with a house on it for $50,000.00.

Penn State and Rutgers both told us to grow apples, and Cornell invited us up in 1972 and suggested grapevines. No one was growing them. We were the first in my area and almost the state.

They sold us enough vines and the first planting was 1976.

What’s a typical day like for you at the vineyard?

The vineyard is always active. In the winter we prune. Now in the spring we are raking the vineyard, tying the newly pruned shoots, weed spray, and maintaining the equipment.

Where do you find inspiration for your wine flavors?

Bonnie Pysher is my head winemaker of 35 years. She loves the addition of flavorings because she realizes there are so many different palates and we don’t want to do the traditional blends only.

She is a pioneer, experimenting with wines and what tastes good. She has designed masterpieces.

What’s your favorite wine and dessert pairing?

My favorite dessert and wine pairing is chocolate cake, mousse, or truffle with Red Head. This wine is a blend of Merlot and Chambourcin. We put it on a vanilla stave, which gives it a crème brulée flavoring.

Where do you hope to see Franklin Hill in ten years?

Hopefully, I’ll slow down, but Adam Flatt, my son, has been the visionary for the last ten years so he has his pulse on all new things and ideas.

What’s your advice to anyone who wants to start his or her own business?

If you want to start your own business, first of all you have to know who you are. If you have a phenomenal personality, that is, you can get along with others, and if you have a personality that doesn’t get too stressed out and you know you work well with others then you can start your own company. You have to be focused, you have to have a vision, and you have to keep on the pulse about it. I think that half of my success is that I’m very intuitive and I know what people like.

Every time I have a negative thing happen to me I just know I was warming up for success. I always love when something doesn’t work because I know it gives me the opportunity to try another direction.

If you were a type of wine, which would you be and why?

I would be Vidal Blanc. It’s the middle of the road. I’m not too dry and I’m not too sweet. I’m consistent and I’m the backbone of all the other wines and that’s how I look at myself.

What’s the most bizarre flavor of wine you’ve dreamt up?

I think one of our craziest ones is the March release Envy. It’s a green wine we do for Saint Patrick’s Day and it has the taste of a sour apple, which is delicious.

If there was anywhere in the world you’d love to sit and enjoy a glass of wine, where would it be and who would you be with?

I would love to be alone at my farmhouse for a full day and I’d like to just be with myself. There’s always something going on. Just to be alone, it’s so magical for me because it only happens four times a year.

If drinking a glass of your favorite wine could give you superhuman powers, what would those powers be?

Calmness. I am a risk-taker. I am always thinking ahead and that’s because of my son, he is so visionary. It would nourish me. In other words, taking the time to have a glass of wine would make me sit back and reflect and be calm. And that is a superpower you need to take care of all the other things of business.

The answers are there. When I’m quiet, I’ll get answers.

What are you looking forward to the most about the warm weather?

To see greenery and to see flowers. I’m absolutely in love with the cold weather but there’s something magical about spring. It’s the rebirth. It just basically puts you in a very good mood. You know, winter has its purpose. It puts you to sleep at five o’clock at night because it gets dark and it wants you to slow down, but in spring you get energized to stay up later and enjoy your surroundings. And I love, love living where I get the four seasons. A lot of people my age start moving to Florida because they hate the winters. I absolutely love it all.

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