When the tangled and all-but-abandoned Jabberwocky Tree Farm in Canton serendipitously fell into the possession of the Swaldo family, they saw it as a place to create a nice, in-town family getaway. Within a year, the concept ballooned into Gervasi Vineyard, a 55-acre estate where hundreds of thousands of people celebrate, congregate, dine and drink.
Its growth from a rickety old barn — old as in 1820s, barn as in former home of cows — and farmhouse on an overgrown mess of land to 48 overnight rooms, a vineyard, winery, spirit/coffee house, bistro and other eateries is the result of visitor requests, employee input, reading the demographic tea leaves and a willingness to listen to everyone.
Scott Swaldo, the Gervasi general manager who oversees all operations and development, says that when his father, Ted Swaldo, stepped away from ASC Industries, a business he co-founded, he was looking for something to do in retirement. When his sister’s friend’s husband died unexpectedly, she planned to put the property on the market but instead offered Ted a look around. He and Scott toured the property, and both were struck by its potential.
Ted bought it on a handshake in December 2008. That same friend casually mentioned that she thought the property would make for a cool winery, with a vineyard replacing the nest of trees. The idea piqued Ted’s interest.
“What he liked about it was that it was something the family could do together,” Scott says. “Wineries are kind of generational, they’re things you hand down and stay in the family. I think he felt like it was something the community would enjoy, and it could become part of the community — not knowing the scale of what it’s become now, but still feeling like this could be something.”
By March 2009, Gervasi Vineyard was under construction.
As the endeavor became more serious, the workload increased. Scott was helping as a volunteer, picking out the light fixtures and starting to think about a menu, when it became clear it was turning into something bigger. So he left his position as senior vice president of operations at ASC and stepped in to run the operation full time.
Scott worked with an architectural firm that drew up design elements for the barn, which stimulated more ideas
“Now it’s not this just rustic, clunky barn,” he says. “It’s a beautiful space. People are going to want to stay here. They might want more than snacks. They’ll want to have dinner. The beauty of the restoration started to tell us we should think bigger.”
By March 2010, the property — including a tasting bar, winery and gift shop — was open to the public.