Building a Dream
They just don't come true without hard work
Walk into the new LaBelle Winery on Rte. 101 in Amherst and you are immediately enveloped in the aroma of a dream come true. Giant gleaming stainless steel tanks are infusing the air with the by-products of fermentation – the release of the earthy smell of yeast doing its job.
LaBelle Wines have gained a good market share in the past few years. Apple blend wines, fruit wines and grape wine blends, both off-dry and dry have garnered attention from the New Hampshire marketplace and beyond. Most recently they took top honors for their Three Kings at the Eastern States Exhibition, the International Women's Wine Competition and the INDY International Wine Competition.
The addition of three 3,100-gallon tanks triples production capacity to an astounding 30,000 gallons in this new facility and more importantly there is room to grow.
The space itself is gorgeous, with soaring ceilings, housing a vibrant tasting room with tall cases filled with LaBelle products and a grand reception room. Amy LaBelle and her husband Cesar Arboleda have put it all out there. "I didn't want to skimp; I wanted this place to have the best of everything," says Amy.
The couple brought in well-known restaurant interior designers, the Peter Neimitz Group, to fit and finish the interior. Carefully balanced windows bring the outdoors in; a soaring ceiling builds grandeur and lifts the eye to the intriguing lighting orbs, part-traditional chandelier and part-modern sculpture. Already the space is much sought after for wedding receptions. Beyond weddings, Amy has a host of events planned for the room and the adjoining spacious patio space. Artisan fairs, tasting dinners and more are on the docket.
On a side note, Amy says that the most asked question is: Will the sledding hill be preserved? Amherst residents have long known of the under-road passage to the sledding hill that now abuts the LaBelle property. The answer is yes. In fact, Amy plans to invite sledders and their parents over to gather around the LaBelle flaming caldron and partake of hot chocolate and more. She really wants to offer the area a community meeting place and not just a retail outlet.
For food service, LaBelle Winery has partnered with Gibbet Hill Grill of Groton, Mass. Gibbet Hill is another family-run operation with similar goals and beliefs. They grow most of their seasonal produce on-site and Angus beef can be seen grazing the hills. They will provide catering service in the full-scale production kitchen at the new LaBelle facility. The space and equipment would please any commercial chef.
The small café in the tasting room is called The Terrace and offers light bites perfect for sampling wine as well as beer and cocktails. Soups, sandwiches and desserts are provided by the Black Forest Café, but to Amy's specifications.
The gorgeous building is surrounded by former farm land and several of the 11 acres on the property have been planted with grape vines. It will take three years to see any production from them, but buying grapes, mostly from upstate New York, and buying fresh fruit in season locally has been and always will be the manner of production. The fresh grapes are brought in at harvest and processed on the crush pad in the back of the winery. Amy says it was a bit nerve-wracking to get the facility approved for the 2012 harvest season but it happened.
Blueberries on their way to becoming wine.
Photo courtesy of LaBelle Winery
The lower level houses an array of stainless tanks for fermenting wine. Amy invited me to climb a 12-foot ladder and look in the top. It was full of blueberries in a stage of fermentation. Not much of a math wiz, I can envision as many blueberries in there as stars in the sky. Fresh blueberries are nice but the act of fermentation is pure magic. It's more than the distillation of fruit, it's the marriage of friendly yeast, fruit sugars with the quite nice by-product of just enough alcohol to lift and meld the flavors. It's the taste of summer in a sip.
The fruit wines and fruit wine blends are a big part of the production here and the center of a winemaker's art. Amy says the dry cranberry is their biggest seller and always sells out over the holiday. Semi-dry fruit wines include the new Shimmer, a sparkling Riesling and dry apple blend fermented in the bottle. Other fruit and grape wine blends include Halcyon, with 90 percent Riesling grapes and 10 percent apricot wine. The apricots are from Alyson's Orchard in Walpole and the grapes from Walker's Fruit Farms in Forestville, NY.
A series of LaBelle wines are considered dessert wines that are sweet but not cloying. These are perfect for sipping after dinner or they can be added to Prosecco for a sparkling cocktail or even reduced to make a flavorful sauce for duck breast or salmon steaks. Or they can be the perfect accompaniment to chocolate, especially the Red Raspberry.
Yes, Amy LaBelle has built her dream. It was in June of 2007 when I first interviewed Amy and learned of her decision to become a winemaker after her first visit to a winery in Nova Scotia. She knew then and she followed through. What had started in her kitchen had moved to the family home and barn in Amherst. She and her husband have taken the next step and the future can only be brighter.
Amy was recently asked to host Merry Edwards as part of the Wine Week in New Hampshire this January 23. Edwards was the first woman winemaker, an icon in California and an idol of Amy's. This event is truly a meeting of old and new traditions in winemaking. Amy has built it and they are coming.
Happiness can be found in more than a glass of great wine, it's found through hard work, support of a loving family and sticking with your visions. Amy – here's wishing you and yours the best of futures.
LaBelle's Award-winning Wines
- Blanco: 100 percent peach from Alyson’s Orchards
- Three Kings: 57 percent red raspberries, 21 percent blueberries, 22 percent Marechal Foch grapes
- Chambourcin: 100 percent Chambourcin grapes
- Apple Cranberry: 60 percent apple wine, 40 percent cranberry wine
- Granite State Apple :100 percent hybrid and heirloom varieties with NH maple syrup
- Gewürztraminer: 100 percent gewürztraminer grapes
- Riesling: 100 percent Riesling grapes
- Halcyon: 90 percent Riesling grapes, 10 percent apricot wine
- Granite State Red: 80 Marechal Foch grapes, 20 percent blueberries
- Americus: 50 percent Cabernet Franc 50 percent Noiret