Eric Swendrowski started Oregon Hill Winery in Morris, PA in 1983 when he was 18 years old, becoming the youngest licensed winemaker in the United States. In 1987, when Eric started dating his high school, sweetheart, Karon, she joined him in running the business. In 2000, she became his wife and official co-owner. Eric’s passion for winemaking, coupled with Karon’s support, established the winery as a regional favorite.
As the business grew, Oregon Hill Winery gained recognition, winning more than 50 national and international medals for its wine and Sparkling. However, in 2017, Eric suddenly passed away, leaving Karon with a business she didn’t know how to run. “Eric made all the wine,” said Karon. “When he passed away, I had no idea how to do anything. It was all a huge learning curve.”
Karon had to decide if she was going to sell everything and walk away to start over again, sell the operation to another winery that could take over operations, or find a winemaker and continue operating the business in her family name. With a drive to carry on the 34-year legacy of her husband, Karon ultimately decided to step in and run the winery.
Once she found a winemaker and friends to support her journey, Karon had an opportunity to expand operations to a second location in McElhattan, PA. She knew this was an opportunity to grow the business, but before proceeding, Karon sought advice from the Clinton County Economic Partnership, who ultimately referred her to the SBDC. With guidance and support conducting a market analysis, Karon had the information and resources she needed to open the McElhatten location
A few months later, Karen was given an opportunity to open a third location in Wellsboro, PA, one of the locations she considered before deciding on the McElhatten location. While she had no intentions of opening a third location, she fell in love with the site and decided to pursue it. In August 26th of that 2018, she opened the doors at her Wellsboro location and has operated all three locations ever since. With something unique at each location, her loyal customers are willing to go to every location because of all they have to offer.
Karon recently reconnected with the SBDC for marketing support. “[The SBDC] shared resources you guys offer that I wasn’t even aware of,” said Karon. “Most recently [they] helped with the website and advertising, showing best practices and recommendations, and referring me to other service providers like the Pennsylvania Wilds.”
This summer, Oregon Hill will host a 40th year celebration, called “Sips and Sound,” on July 22. And with plans to expand the operations, Karon is boldly leading the winery into a successful future that honors her husband’s legacy and makes her two daughters proud.