McConnelsville barn becomes winery, store
That’s where for the last three years Rick Shriver, 63, has worked to revamp the place where he spent his childhood baling hay into that will soon be a place of wine, music and handmade goods. The plan is to open a winery and Amish goods store there.
“I hired a kid through the Job and Family Services’ summer program to help this last summer,” he explained as he swept the newly installed subfloor of the barn of Willis Hill Farm. “I got to teach him some electrical work and how to handle wood, it was great really for both of us.”
Ian Denney, 16, of Chesterhill, said the experience taught him to enjoy working with his hands.
“I didn’t like to do that before, but when he interviewed me he said there was some electric work he needed to do. I was taking an electronics class at school and thought it would be interesting,” said Denney.
“And I’m not usually outside so it was nice to get outside and work with him. Plus, I had never picked blackberries before in my life.”
Shriver added that the work the pair accomplished became a source of pride not only for himself but for the youth.
“He got excited to really see the fruits of our labor and told me he couldn’t believe how great the floor looked done,” he said.
Shriver has been working on the barn restoration for about three years, all in the hopes to move his winemaking from his home into the barn.
“People are moving away from big box store shopping and toward experiential buying of sustainably produced and responsibly produced materials and products, all the things I’m hoping to do here,” he said.
“It’s as much about the experience, that’s why I’ve built this stage in here. I want you to enjoy music with your glass of wine and shop the high-quality Amish rugs, quilts, furniture, handbags and other merchandise.”
And though family illness pushed back Shriver’s plan to have the place open by last fall, he hopes by the end of this summer to definitely have things up and running.
“My son is having an anniversary get-together of sorts with all the guys he used to make music with and some of the guys I used to jam with and we’re going to have it in here,” said Shriver. “That’s in the spring so I plan to have the main floor and the bar done by then, though the kitchen and bathroom may not yet be ready.”
Even so, he said all of the kitchen appliances and fixtures are already purchased and ready to be installed once water is run to the barn and the kitchen structure is completed within the eastern end of the barn.
“It will basically be a box within a box for the kitchen,” he explained. “Then downstairs will be storage from end to end of the wines and hard ciders.”
The recipes Shriver works from were handed down for generations, and many are still made with fruit vines and trees planted on the family farm by his great-great-grandfather Bill Willis.
“They’re fruit wines but they’re not sweet,” he explained, noting that the yeast added to the fruit mixture consumes the sugars to produce the alcohol. “And I don’t back-sweeten them afterwards but I make a lot of peach, pear and blackberry wines, though I personally believe the black raspberry wine is the best. And I may add ginger or cinnamon flavoring to the apple hard ciders.”
He said he’s used the project to learn a third new trade of construction in retirement, one that he feels will yield not only a mid-spring through early winter destination, but will also draw people to the McConnelsville area.
“Why not take a Saturday to head to the winery?” he said. “I’ll be a lot smarter when this project is done with all of the engineering and problem solving I’ve had to come up with. But I still to this day am debt-free on the project.”