After 22 years, Jason Harris has evolved from a homebrew guru to a winemaking wizard.
The co-owner of Keystone Homebrew Supply in Montgomery Township (his wife, Deb, is the other partner) opened the business in 1992 in the old Montgomeryville Mart with a mission that remains strong today – guarantee great service to those interested in the craft and guarantee a good product in the end.
That mission remained true through Keystone's time at the Mart, gained popularity during its frontage on Route 309 near North Wales Road, and has expanded into something more at its current location at Doylestown Road/202 and Montgomery Avenue.
Keystone's guarantees are so much so that it has become a trusted source and resource in the North Penn area and beyond in the homebrew market. Now, it looks to strengthen its mission with its new winemaking division, Stone & Key Cellars.
This Saturday, Harris and company celebrate the public grand opening of its new winery at its 345 Doylestown Road, Montgomeryville location from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. The event features moon bounce, food, soda, beer and Padlock Series wine.
“Three-and-a-half years ago, (Jason) expanded into this location with the intent of opening a winery,” said manager Lou Balli. “It has come to fruition. Now, we'll be open to the public. We've been bottling and labeling to get ready to sell for the first time.”
Harris called the progress “amazing.”
“It's great to work toward something, and when you get to a point where you are accomplishing what you want, it's a great feeling,” he said.
In October 2013, Stone & Key Cellars started production, importing grapes from Italy, Chile, California and Washington for its various wines. Meanwhile, it added onto its building to make room for the winery, an expansive, open facility with walls lined with stacks and stacks of barrels. It has a new on-site refrigeration system and a new loading dock, as well as 55 more parking spaces outside.
The floor area not used up by forklifts and spools has been made into a casual seating area, with a bar and two bathrooms. Upon entry, your eye is drawn to the three huge chalkboards behind the bar, advertising its varieties and prices, and its new product – Solebury Blend Barrel-Aged hard cider.
“We've been doing this for a long time. We have served homebrewers for the better part of our existence,” Balli said.
Balli said the winery is a new way to allow all kinds of people to make wine, especially those who do not have the knowledge, space or equipment.
“The wine is made here under the guidance of our staff,” he said.
Harris said Stone & Key offers something unique to the community – A way to get involved in the production of their own wine.
“They can make a decision on what grapes they want, if they want to blend anything else in, and what the custom label will be for their product,” Harris said. “It's personalized.”
“You interact with people that work here who help and suggest and put you on track to make a good product,” Harris said.
For those who don't want to crush grapes with their feet, and are too afraid that they don't know enough, enter Keystone.
“We give them information to be successful,” Harris said. “We guarantee the wine. If you make a barrel of wine, you get a barrel of wine when you're done.”
Customers/amateur winemakers buy the wine at the start of the program and follow through to the end.
“We can make determining factors on what the process is and when you do it,” he said. “It's a collaborative process to make a batch.”
Name a brewery or bar in the area, and chances are, they were taught their craft by Harris. Now, some of those students have become masters, including Rob DeMaria at Prism Brewing Co. in Upper Gwynedd, Scott Rudich at Round Guys Brewery, John Stemler of Free Will Brewing Co. in Perkasie, and John Remington and Ken Buonocore of Conshohocken Brewing Co.
“It's great to see guys get passionate about beer and wine and take it to the next level,” Harris said. “I'm happy to be a part of it.”
The name “Stone & Key” has its roots in a joke: With “Keystone Winery” already taken, Harris took to something that gets a good laugh among his employees.
“One day, they were joking that we should open a new location and call it 'Stonekey,'” Harris said.
Harris expects the first year in business to be a hard one, but he is crossing his fingers that Stone & Key Cellars can seal deals to sell its wine to bars and restaurants in the area. Its hard cider can be found for sale at Round Guys Brewery in Lansdale, Blue Dog Tavern in New Britain, Blue Dog Pub in Towamencin, and Iron Abbey in Willow Grove. There are talks to get its cider on the menu at Iron Hill Brewery in Horsham Township.
“You can't have instant product,” he said. “It's all expense, with essentially no income.”
Then, one day, you turn the corner.
“You see the fruits of your labor,” Harris said. “Pun intended.”
Keystone Homebrew Supply and Stone & Key Cellars are open seven days a week. There are two locations: 435 Doylestown Road, Montgomeryville, PA, (215) 855-0100, and 128 E. Third St., Bethlehem, PA, (610) 997-0911. Hours for the Montgomeryville location are Monday to Thursday 10 a.m.-7 p.m., Friday 10 a.m.-9 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m.-7 p.m. and Sunday 11 a.m.-5 p.m.