Local Bounty: Years of hard work pay off for owners as Hummingbird Hills Winery in Charleston flourishes (with 8 photos)

Ken and Kimm Schick are the owners of Hummingbird Hills Winery in Charleston.
PHOTOGRAPHER:
Ken and Kimm Schick are the owners of Hummingbird Hills Winery in Charleston.

CHARLESTON The aptly named Hummingbird Hills Winery in Charleston offers visitors a bird’s-eye view of the local countryside.

The bucolic scene is part of what drew owners Kimm and Ken Schick to the area more than 20 years ago.

At the time, they each owned businesses in New Jersey — Ken ran a contracting firm and Kimm owned a deli — and they were looking for a relatively inexpensive place to retire. They found it in Montgomery County, where they bought about 200 acres of land that had once been used as a dairy farm. It’s surrounded by two New York state forests, Charleston and Lost Valley.

It took years to renovate the property, which included not only a dairy barn but also their home. The Schicks did nearly all the renovation work themselves while maintaining their businesses in New Jersey.

“We commuted from New Jersey back and forth; 250 miles one way … we would spend every free moment we had here,” Kimm said during an interview earlier this month. “He [Ken] did all the [work]. He planted all the fields. We had some help from friends here and there along the way.”

They opened the winery in 2010, offering nine wines. For the first few years they ran the business while commuting. Then in 2013, they moved to their Charleston property and poured all their energy into Hummingbird Hills Winery.

The Schicks grow all their grapes, harvesting on average about 15,000 pounds per year. Elderberries and apples are also grown on the farm, and the couple continue to do the bulk of the harvesting themselves, though friends and family lend a hand during the busiest season.

[ngg src=”galleries” ids=”65″ display=”basic_imagebrowser”]“We do have some friends come over and help for a couple hours or a day or two. They’ll come and help because [it’s] not easy. We don’t like to overstay our welcome with our friends,” Kimm said.

The recipes are thanks to Ken, whose family made wine for friends when he was growing up.

“I’m actually a third-generation winemaker. I started making wine with my father and my grandfather when I was around 6,” Ken said. “Some of the recipes we have here came from my family.”

That includes Lion’s Tooth Blend, a dandelion wine recipe passed down from Ken’s grandfather. The recipe for the elderberry wine is from his grandmother.

But over the years Ken has come up with plenty of original recipes, including a few quirky ones like Goofy Garlic Ginger, a cooking wine he started making a few years ago. He says it’s become one of the winery’s more popular picks.

Hummingbird Hills also produces several more traditional whites and reds. But their fruit wines, such as Blackberry Burst, Strawberry Delight and Sunny Apricot, tend to fly off the shelves of their tasting room.

“We do a lot of fruit wines,” Kimm said. Most of the fruit comes from their farm or other local producers.

“Probably 85% of everything we use is New York state-grown, so we’re very proud of that,” Kimm said.

Hummingbird Hills doesn’t use pesticides or chemicals and they try to keep the processes simple. Ken bottles, labels and corks every one of the 6,000-plus bottles sold each year.

Before the pandemic, the winery not only had its tasting room operating at full force but was also was hauling its wares to farmers’ markets and events across the greater Capital Region.

“Before the pandemic we were still doing like 15 [to] 20 events off-site per season,” Kimm said. That equated to about $40,000 worth of business.

When all those events were canceled in 2020 and they had to temporarily close their tasting room, they didn’t think the business was going to survive.

“When [the pandemic] started, we thought, ‘We’re never gonna be able to sustain this. We only have so much to fall back on,’ ” Kimm said. “Then, all of a sudden, the floodgates opened.”

People turned out for curbside pickup or ordered Hummingbird Hills wine online via the platform VinoShipper, and the winery ended up having one of its most lucrative years yet.

“[At one] point we sold in one month probably more than we [usually] did the whole year,” Ken said. “It was unbelievable. People weren’t just buying one bottle, they were buying cases.”

Friends and family also helped them out when it came time to reopen the tasting room amid a major shortage of sanitizing supplies.

“Luckily, we had friends and family that every time they were out, if they saw something they grabbed as much as they could and gave it to us,” Kimm said.

The tasting room, which they expanded to two bars in 2019, was kept busy for the past two years by people who were looking for safe ways to venture out during the pandemic.

“People [were] coming out in droves because they wanted to get out of the house,” Ken said.

With how busy wine production, the tasting room and online sales have kept them, the Schicks don’t imagine they’ll go back to their full schedule of off-site events anytime soon, and instead want to focus their attention solely on the winery.

It might give them a chance to slow down, put up their feet and watch for some of the hummingbirds that gave the place its name.

“We love the hummingbirds, and one of our [favorite things] was when we came up, eventually we would stop working. We’d just sit outside and have a glass of wine, and [have] the hummingbird feeders up,” Kimm said.

During one such respite, one hummingbird protested when a feeder was getting too low on food, and the bird started flying toward Ken’s face. After that, Hummingbird Hills Winery seemed like the perfect moniker.

Today, the resident hummingbirds remain vocal about their meals.

“Now what they do when they know we’re inside … if that feeder is getting low, they’ll go [tap] on the window,” Ken said.

Even on a windy afternoon in early April, when the views from the winery were more gray than green, there remained an Arcadian sense about the place.

“It’s not Napa Valley, but it’s ours,” Kimm said.

Hummingbird Hills Winery
The winery is located at 1442 Burtonville Road in Fultonville.

Tasting-room hours are 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, or by appointment.

For information, visit hummingbirdhillswinery.com.

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