Sarah and Galen Troxell met in a college chemistry class. They both got an A, but left with something far more valuable than a deeper understanding of chemical bonds.
After getting married, the couple spent many years in the corporate world — she as a chemist, he as a mechanical engineer — before moving back to his family farm in Schuylkill County, PA. There they launched Galen Glen Winery, which produces excellent German styles such as Grüner Veltliner and Riesling.
‘Tis the season for romance, so we chatted with the duo about their experience living, loving, and working together for more than 30 years.
Were there any experiences you had when you were first together that laid the groundwork for eventually opening a vineyard together?
Galen: My company was owned by a German parent company. Sarah would come with me on trips to Germany. We went to a couple of wineries together, and even though they were large wineries, they were all family wineries. It was an appealing way of life.
Sarah: It was a beautiful part of Germany that looks very much like our farm now. We stayed in small villages where wineries were right in town — as they are in most of Europe — and that’s the first time I’d ever seen that. It was an amazing experience. [Wine] was so much a part of the culture. The restaurants were fantastic and they all featured local wine and local beer. The winery was just a couple of doors down, and the vineyard surrounded the village.
Does working together ever lead to challenging moments?
Galen: Generally speaking, Sarah is the winemaker and I’m the winegrower. In the wine world, during harvest, there’s usually a bit of tension between those two entities. Pretty classically, winemakers want to hang the fruit longer and get it riper.
Sarah: I become very focused on quality and Galen becomes very focused on preserving the vineyard — making sure the vines aren’t too stressed and that they have enough time to recover before winter. It can get rather tense, but it always seems to work out. And we’re still married!
Are there times when being a couple is an advantage?
Galen: Because we’re a husband and wife team, there’s no disconnect. It’s not a corporate winemaker and a corporate grower who don’t ever talk to each other.
Sarah: We talk wine every day, all day. We drink wine every day, all day.
Galen: No — we don’t drink wine every day, all day (laughs).
Sarah: No. But every night with dinner.
If you’re going to crack open a special bottle for a special meal, what’s on your table?
Galen: For me, it’s pork schnitzel and Grüner Veltliner.
Sarah: Galen makes his own schnitzel, so that’s something all of our family, even our extended winery family, looks forward to it. I call him “Thor of Schnitzel-Hammer,” because when that [mallet] comes out and he starts making schnitzel, everyone waits, and the Grüner is pouring. He just made it for our staff of 50 this past weekend. It’s a big procedure, but it was all consumed rather quickly! We have three grown children and if they get wind that their father is making Schnitzel, they magically appear at our house.
What advice would you give a couple thinking about opening a vineyard together?
Sarah: I always tell people that it’s not really how you handle the success, it’s how you handle the failure. It will test your fortitude, it will test everything about who you are, and your marriage. Failure is always an opportunity to learn, and you have to look at it that way. For example, this week’s bit of adversity at our winery is that one of our main water lines is broken. There’s no water in the wine cellar or the farmhouse, and my 85-year-old father-in-law still lives there. So, we’re going to dig up all of the water lines with a backhoe as soon as the snow melts.
Galen: It’s kind of cliche to say, but if you’re going to go into the wine business, you have to be a MacGyver. Or have two trucks of money.
Sarah: We’ve both gotten really good at troubleshooting and staying calm. My other rule is that if no one is seriously injured or dying, it’s not worth getting upset about. Take a step back. You have to put everything in perspective and try not to take anything too seriously, because no problem is insurmountable.
I’m sure not every couple is perfectly suited to opening a business together.
Sarah: We’ve had many friends tell us that we’re a really good match. They’ve seen us together over the years, and seen us work through a lot of interesting situations and failures, and still come out happily married, still looking forward to the next day with each other. I always tell people that my favorite reason we started the winery was so I could work with my husband.