By JACK SHERZER
The famous quote attributed to Confucius says, “Choose a job that you like, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”
In 2003, Adam Bartles was planning on graduate school when, burned out on academia, he decided to return home. On a whim, he sent an unsolicited application to Appalachian Brewing Co. in Harrisburg and unwittingly took the first step toward a new career.
Fraternity brothers Thomas Yozzo and Chris Moyer talked for 20 years of businesses they could open together. As the market for hand-crafted beer and spirits exploded five years ago, the friends agreed on the perfect venture: a distillery.
It was 1967 and Myles Anderson had just earned his doctorate in counseling psychology when his wife, Myrna, told him he needed a hobby and gave him a book on winemaking. Fast forward 25 years and friends, loving the wines Anderson and a fellow professor made, convinced the pair to open a winery.
Matthew Hall worked for a beer distributor while earning his business management degree and enjoyed success as a salesman for a large Philadelphia beer distributor following graduation. But as he got to know the people manufacturing the beer he was selling, the appeal for the hands-on side of the business grew.
All five started on different career paths, but they share two key characteristics: the courage to take a risk and desire to forge a career out of what they enjoy most.
An unexpected offer
“I had decided I wasn’t going to graduate school and had moved home to Elizabethtown. One day the thought popped into my mind that maybe I would like to make beer,” says 34-year-old Adam Bartles of his decision to apply to Appalachian Brewery after earning his English degree. “I’m still not sure why they called me in.”
New employees at small breweries usually start at the ground level regardless of experience, and Bartles was no exception. He began in the packaging area, building cardboard beer cases and helping to run the bottle-labeling machine. He made it a point to get involved in as much of the operation as he could and within two months he made his first batch of beer – a thousand gallons of ABC’s dark Susquehanna Stout.
Bartles realized he would need some formal education to rise in the brewing industry and turned to Chicago’s top-rated Siebel Institute, where he completed three weeks of coursework. He then spent six weeks at an independent, family-owned brewery near Munich. His unpaid apprenticeship included a room at the brewery and breakfast.
While in Germany he applied to Victory Brewing Co. in Philadelphia. “I knew I could experience a career with Victory and wouldn’t have to make another move,” says Bartles, who started in 2007 as an assistant on the bottling line.
“Despite my education and experience, I started on the bottom rung. By the end of 2007, I was able to operate all the equipment and run all the processes. Then I started training other people,” says Bartles, Victory’s director of operations. “Brewing is very much an apprenticeship. You have a head brewer and assistant brewers and you need to work your way through.”
As director of operations, Bartles is involved in all aspects of the company, which last year saw demand for its beer grow by 30 percent. The company recently opened a modern facility in Parkesburg and is building another brew house in Kennett Square. Bartles says he looks forward to developing new beers and helping the company continue to grow.
“I’ve been following my passion,” Bartles says. “I never would have guessed this is how things would turn out.”
Turning business dreams into reality
During freshman year at Bloomsburg, Chris Moyer was doing laundry when he spotted the duffle bag Thomas Yozzo was using and said, “Hey, military?”
From that first discussion about Moyer’s National Guard experience and Yozzo’s Coast Guard service, the two went on to become Theta Chi fraternity brothers. Both graduated in 1992, Moyer with a degree in accounting and Yozzo with a degree in sociology.
From there the friends traveled different paths: Moyer working as a sales manager for Oracle’s business with the Department of Defense and Yozzo served as a police officer in Newburgh, N.Y., where he retired with 20 years of service. The men married, took numerous family vacations together and started dreaming of one day sharing a business.
“As the kids got a little older we would end up around a campfire, and we would talk about bison farms or golf courses – always doing something with our hands,” says Moyer, 44. The friends started thinking about the explosion in craft beers and liquors and, as Yozzo approached the 20-year mark with the police department, they decided their business venture was now or never.
In July 2013, they bought the small farm and apple orchard in Clermont, N.Y. that became Hudson Valley Distillers. From the start, they wanted to create a natural product using local ingredients. In addition to apples from their farm, the barley, rye and other raw materials come from farms within five miles of the distillery.
“That was a goal for us, we wanted to get back to our roots,” says Yozzo, 45.
“Spirits are an agricultural product and the purer you get and closer to the source you can be, the better your product is going to be,” Moyer adds.
Their first product was vodka. “It’s the biggest selling spirit in the country and you don’t need to age it. For a small business that has to invest a tremendous amount of money, the thought of having to put something aside to age for several years is really impossible,” Moyer says.
On average, the distillery makes 1,000 bottles a month and alternates between making fruit-based and grain-based liquors. Moyer’s wife, the former Jennifer Theiss ’92, also works in the business and the men say they would love to have their children get involved.
If there’s a message in what they’ve done, the men say it’s to follow your dream. “People are really intrigued with the notion that Tom and I knew each other for 26 years and started this business. We’ve had a number of people tell us ‘You motivated me to do X.’ Our story is we had this idea and worked like crazy to make it happen – it’s the American Dream,” Moyer says.
“You need to step out of your comfort zone,” Yozzo adds. “Try something new and go for it.”
From home brewer to master brewer
While at Bloomsburg, Matthew Hall worked for an area beer distributor and, after graduating in 2007 with a degree in business management, he took a sales job with a large Philadelphia beer wholesaler. Hall had started making his own beer during college, and his interest in brewing grew as he visited breweries as part of his job.
“I would talk to the guys working there, the brewers and the bottling guys, and they were very excited and very happy about what they were doing,” Hall says. “There was an overall excitement with the growth of the craft beer industry – they had a product they could stand behind and be proud of. I thought that was the ultimate connection of labor and love.”
Hall began applying to breweries, but soon realized there was a lot of competition for openings. Like Bartles, he took a beer-making course at Siebel Institute, spending time in Chicago and Germany.
Within two weeks of returning home, Hall, 29, was hired by the Yards Brewing Co. in Philadelphia, starting in 2010 at an entry-level position in the packaging department. He made less money than he made in sales and had to move in with his parents in Bucks County, but he loved what he was doing. For the past two-and-a-half years, he’s been a brewer.
“I can’t imagine myself doing anything else,” Hall says. “At the end of my shift I can pour a beer, enjoy it and think, ‘I was a part of making this happen.’ I also love seeing other people enjoy the product. There are not many industries where people are excited about what you’re doing.”
A command performance
The world of winemaking wasn’t even a passing thought when Myles Anderson ’62 graduated from Bloomsburg with a degree in elementary education and psychology, then stayed at BU for another three years to teach. Even after his wife, the former Myrna Bassett ’62, gave him a book on winemaking and he began experimenting, there was little to foreshadow the success to come.
Anderson became dean of students at York College and both dean of students and a vice president at Gonzaga University in Spokane and Regis College in Denver before joining the faculty at Walla Walla (Wash.) Community College as a counselor and psychology professor in 1977. The position allowed him to return to his teaching roots and to found the Institute for Enology and Viticulture at the community college in 2000. This college program provides students with hands-on experience in the production of grapes, winemaking and wine sales.
At the community college, he met Gordy Venneri and the two started making wine in the Anderson’s backyard, much to the delight of their friends. This was at the time that the wine industry in Walla Walla was budding. “We had fun and gave our wine away to friends and acquaintances. Then people encouraged us to go commercial so they could buy it,” Anderson says. “At first we planned to do just a small business and not have more than 1,000 cases a year – enough to pay for our hobby.” That has all changed.
The winery, Walla Walla Vintners, opened in 1995. The first bottles were sold in 1997 and the operation first turned a profit in its seventh year. Today, the winery sells around 6,000 cases of various red wines a year and is still a family business – the Andersons’ daughter, Meagan, and their son-in-law, Judah, are very much a part of the winery.
“It’s a business that’s very expensive and challenging to operate,” says Anderson, 74, who continued to direct the wine program at the community college full-time until he retired in June 2014.
Although California is known for its wines, Anderson says Washington has incredible soil for growing grapes – a fact that has resulted in a booming wine industry. When Anderson’s winery opened, it was the eighth in Walla Walla; now there are 900 in the state, with 175 in Walla Walla alone.
“I had no idea when we started that we would go this far,” says Anderson. Though the winery is well established, he says the key to success is to never stop paying attention to the wine quality and the customer. The Andersons were delighted to donate the wine for their
50-year reunion at Bloomsburg in 2012.
“We know that we’re not just in the wine business, we’re really in the relationship and pleasure business,” he says. “We make sure we stay in touch with our customers on a regular basis and provide beautiful wines they would normally not be able to get anywhere else.” •
Jack Sherzer is a professional writer and principal partner with Message Prose, a communications and public relations firm in Harrisburg.
For John Braganini, the art and business of crafting wine is a family tradition.
“We grew up thinking of wine as food,” says Braganini ’75, president of Great Lakes Insurance Agency Inc. and a member of BU’s College of Business Advisory Board.
Today, Braganini, along with six other family members, is part owner of St. Julian Winery, founded in Ontario, Canada, in 1921 by his grandfather, Mariano Meconi, and relocated to Michigan in the 1930s. Named for the patron saint of the founder’s birthplace in Italy, St. Julian is Michigan’s oldest and largest winery. It produces more than 50 varieties of wine and ships 150,000 cases annually, as well as another 100,000 cases of beverages, such as non-alcoholic champagne.
About 90 percent of the wine is sold in Michigan, but it is also available in other areas of the Midwest. Braganini says sales are increasing 4 to 6 percent a year, but “it’s getting harder to get on the shelves. You have to either get bigger or smaller.” In response, St. Julian Winery is pursuing a direct-to-customer sales model through their website, www.stjulian.com.
But quantity has not come at the expense of quality. St. Julian’s consistently produces wines — both sweet and dry — that win awards in Michigan and throughout the United States. Braganini is particularly fond of his pinot grigio while St. Julian’s Albarino, a white grape typically grown in Spain, is the first of that variety made in Michigan. •