Nate Snelbaker was born and raised in Columbia, PA, a small riverside town in Lancaster County. Growing up, he dreamed of a career in music, but the universe had different plans. In 2013, Snelbaker started at Fine Wine & Good Spirits as a part-time clerk to help pay for classes at Harrisburg Area Community College.
“I was lucky that I was placed at the Jonestown Road store in Harrisburg, which is one of our Premium Collection locations,” he recalls. “I began assisting the Wine Specialist, doing odd jobs, and soaking up as much knowledge as I could by reading labels and asking questions.”
Snelbaker took all the wine education classes offered by the PLCB, and then passed the Society of Wine Educators’ Certified Specialist of Wine exam. He currently works as a Wine Specialist at the Hershey Square Fine Wine & Good Spirits in Hummelstown, PA.
“I’m hoping to stay here for as long as I can,” he says. “I love the fast pace and sheer volume of product, plus I think I’ve become quite attached to my customers here. If you’re in the area, come in and see me. I’ll be the one in the green apron!”
How did you get interested in wine and decide to take this career path?
In all honesty, I’ve wanted to be a wine professional since I was a teenager. The show Frasier was a staple in our house and I always wanted to fit in with intellectuals, talking about the finer points of sherry and port. Unfortunately, I was diagnosed with a pretty serious sulfur dioxide allergy and my mother pointed out that wine would definitely be off the table for me.
I ended up working in grocery stores for a while before I was offered a position at Fine Wine & Good Spirits. I ended up gravitating toward the wine, even though I couldn’t imbibe. Then I talked to my doctor — long story short, wine doesn’t contain enough sulfur to trigger my allergy. Meanwhile, in the process of monitoring for reactions, they found early-stage cancer, which was removed before any damage could be done. So in a very real sense, passion for wine saved my life.
What is your advice for someone new to exploring local wines?
The best thing to do would be to seek out wine festivals in your area. FlavorFest at Mount Hope Estate is an excellent starting point for those in the central part of the state. At events like this, you can try out wines from many local establishments without having to drive long distances — though PA is brimming with more than 200 wineries, so in many ways, we are spoiled for choice.
What local varietals would you recommend for a west coast or European wine drinker?
I see many French-American hybrid grapes, like Vidal Blanc, Traminette, and Chambourcin, that produce fantastic wine, and some wineries have had great success with French and German varietals like Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Riesling, and Grüner Veltliner. From a viticultural standpoint, PA is more successful with cool climate grapes, so Chardonnay and Pinot Noir can be produced as well. As time goes on, I’m sure winemakers will continue to experiment, but these are the grapes I see as most likely to thrive here.
With the holidays coming up, customers will be thinking about holiday meals. What would you suggest as an unexpected Pennsylvania wine pairing for Thanksgiving dishes and other hearty seasonal fare?
I’d suggest a dry Chambourcin for those who prefer reds because of its lighter body and spice notes. It is important to avoid overpowering poultry with heavy, tannic reds.
If you prefer whites, I would try an off-dry Traminette. The touch of sweetness helps the wine pair well with many traditional Thanksgiving side dishes, be they spicy or sweet.
In the spirit of keeping things local, do you have favorite local meats, cheeses, or other foods that you enjoy pairing with specific PA wines?
I grew up in Lancaster County, so my local food influences tend to be Pennsylvania Dutch. I remember many a Sunday dinner involving Hog Maw, which is a pig stomach filled with potatoes and sausage. If I were pairing this with wines, I would suggest something sweet to counteract the spicy nature of the dish. Spring Gate Farm & Vineyards Renove for red or Benigna’s Creek Sunshine, a sweet Vidal Blanc. You could also try another local favorite, whoopie pies, with a Port-style wine or a local ice wine like those offered by Mazza Vineyards. Generally, when pairing wine with dessert, the sweeter the wine, the better, and you can’t get sweeter than those two styles.
What PA wine would you recommend as a gift and why?
One of my favorite Merlots is from Karamoor Estate. I was doing a blind tasting in my sensory evaluation class at Harrisburg Area Community College and they paired this against what shall remain an unnamed, very popular Merlot we sell in our stores. I’ll have to admit that at that time I had a bit of bias, and was sure that the Karamoor must be the California Merlot because of the raw power and heft of the flavors when compared against the thin, wimpy industrial red from the west coast. It was a real eye-opener.
What are your favorite PA budget, mid-range, and special occasion wines?
Pennsylvania offers some really great budget sweet wines like the Benigna’s Creek Sunshine or Allegro Winery’s Punk Pink Catawba. The drier white wines tend to be more expensive, so this is where you would find Traminette and Gewürztraminer. For special occasions, I would look to the Ports or a dry, oaked red from Karamoor Estate or Waltz Vineyards.
What are your go-to local suggestions for the following varieties from your store?
Dry red: Merlot
Dry white: Riesling
Sweeter white: Vignoles
Fruit-forward white: Niagra
Dessert wine: Mead
You can meet Nate at the following Fine Wine & Good Spirits:
Fine Wine & Good Spirits
Premium Collection Store 2211
Hershey Square Shopping Center
1158 Mae Street
Hummelstown, PA 17036