Rekindled Passion, Unexpected Opportunity

The COVID pandemic like many of us pushed me outdoors. October 2020, during a visit to a friend's horse farm, my childhood love for horses was reignited. After a 35-year hiatus from horseback riding, I found myself in Ocala, Florida, buying Marley, an 10-year-old quarter horse. Everything felt perfect. We found her a beautiful stable near our home in Boca Raton, Florida, and I spent practically every day riding or simply hanging out with Marley. I was smitten with this four-legged friend!

There was no way I could leave Marley in Florida for the summer. So, I needed to find a nice stall somewhere between Philadelphia and the Jersey Shore, where we spend our summers. Disappointed with available options, I discovered a stroke of luck. The historic 70-acre Stafford Farm, just a couple of miles from where I grew up, had been up for auction a few months prior, and no one had placed a high enough bid.

Here's the twist: while owning a horse farm had never crossed my mind, I'd spent the past 25 years dreaming of owning a winery. Despite its rundown condition, this historic, preserved property zoned for agriculture, sparked a new dream: a horse-themed winery with flower gardens and a farm-to-table restaurant. My 45-year business career has taught me one valuable lesson: a great location is half the battle for a business that relies on on-site traffic. National data confirmed this – we couldn't find another winery catering to our demographic - 150,000 people within a 12-mile radius.  Additionally, being just 12 miles from Philadelphia, the fifth-largest city in America, was an undeniable advantage. On March 5th, 2021 I purchased the farm.

The journey wasn't easy. It required a significant investment, securing approvals, learning and doing things that I could have never imagined doing let alone at this stage of my life.   But with perseverance, this unexpected opportunity has become a reality. On April 10, 2024 we opened our doors to the public as Saddlehill Cellars, Vineyard, Winery & Farmhouse Kitchen 

Shortly after acquiring the property, we were fortunate to find Peter Szerdahelyi, our talented Winemaker. Peter's expertise and passion have been instrumental in crafting the exceptional wines that are quickly gaining recognition.

In January, Daniel Stern, our Executive Chef, joined the team. Daniel has created a unique and delicious farm-to-table menu that perfectly complements our wines. The positive feedback on the wine pairings has been incredible!

The response from the community has been truly heartwarming. We've welcomed not only seasoned winery enthusiasts but also a whole new generation of guests discovering the world of wine for the first time. It's been incredibly rewarding to see Saddlehill Cellars becoming a destination for people of all ages and backgrounds.

Our commitment to quality has been validated by industry professionals, with our wines receiving high praise for their quality. We've also been fortunate to receive significant media coverage, showcasing our success story.

Saddlehill is experiencing tremendous growth, creating 75 new jobs and averaging over 3,000 guests per week. This success also comes with some challenges. Recruiting enough staff to keep pace with the rapid growth has been an ongoing effort.

We take all feedback seriously, both positive and negative. We're happy to report that 80% of our online reviews have been 5 stars! We're continuously improving our offerings based on guest feedback. For instance, a few menu items required recipe adjustments, and we're actively expanding our staff to ensure exceptional service across the board. Our spacious indoor tasting room with high ceilings can get lively when full, accommodating 175 guests. While some enjoy the vibrant atmosphere, we understand others may prefer a quieter setting. To address this, we've installed acoustical panels under the tables to help absorb sound and are working with an acoustical engineer for additional methods to create a more comfortable experience for all.

We also appreciate all the feedback we've received on our family area. While the large majority of families love and appreciate the dedicated space for younger guests, some coming with children under 12 have expressed feeling separated from the main tasting areas. We want to assure everyone that creating a welcoming environment for families is a priority at Saddlehill Cellars. The concept behind the family area is to offer a space where parents can relax and enjoy the scenery while their children have a safe and fun place to play. However, we understand how this might feel like segregation, and we're always looking for ways to improve.

Another point of discussion has been our policy of restricting guest access to certain areas of the property. Unlike some other NJ wineries, our farm is home to various animals, including horses, alpacas, and sheep. We also have working farm equipment in operation. To ensure the safety of both our guests and animals, we kindly ask visitors to remain in designated areas. We understand that this may be a limitation for some, but we firmly believe it's the most responsible course of action.

We're constantly learning and evolving at Saddlehill. We're committed to providing a welcoming and enjoyable environment for all our guests, while staying true to our vision of a farm-to-table winery experience nestled in the heart of New Jersey.

Stay tuned for more updates on our exciting journey!

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