MEMBER FEATURE: Amy LaBelle, winemaker and owner, LaBelle Winery
It’s all about chemistry.
Some of us may remember experiments in middle school that involved constructing a volcano out of playdough and then creating the great eruption using vinegar and baking soda. It was pretty exciting to see the effect. The same happens when a tasty wine hits your tongue. If you have tasted any of Amy’s wine, you will know that she has found a lovely balance that leave our taste buds delighted.
We are very happy to have Amy and her team at LaBelle Winery as NHBSR members. It is really all about chemistry- whether you are talking about good wine or the connections amongst people, such as what you will find amongst the NHBSR community.
We sat down with Amy recently to learn about how visiting a winery during her vacation in Nova Scotia was the moment of clarity that began what would become a wine odyssey over the next twelve years. At the time of her vacation Amy was a corporate lawyer for Fidelity Investments in Boston, which she enjoyed but knew wasn’t her life’s calling. Amy began by experimenting making wine in her brownstone in Boston, which as we understand involved climbing lots of stairs with the necessary and often heavy supplies. Her first batch was not necessarily good, but was passable, giving her the confidence to keep trying.
She learned through her mistakes and continued to perfect her process and at the same time began to create a business plan for her dream, much of which we see at the present day LaBelle Winery. This didn’t happen overnight- in fact it took 12 years (or 4083 days) from idea to inception. During this time Amy kept her day job with Fidelity as she had enormous law school debt that she needed to take care of, while using evenings and weekends to continue her winemaking. In 2003 her job moved her to NH, which also put her closer to a potential location for her winery when the time came. In 2004 it was at Fidelity that she met her husband, Cesar, who had just started and was given a desk outside her office because his group’s space had run out of room. Dating at work was not something Amy considered, but as she shared with us, he was literally put in front of her so she saw the gift. In the wine business you’d call this a “perfect pairing.”
Amy says that she gave Cesar full disclosure on what her plans were for building a winery and he didn’t run away. Cesar is her biggest and best supporter and now oversees the production and distribution at the winery. At the beginning they were making wine at Alyson’s Orchard in Walpole, making 400 gallons in the first year. The next step led them to build a barn behind their house. Amy shares this was a wild time for them—they had their first son, Jackson- who would inevitably wake up and cry over the baby monitor (which reached the barn) when they were in the middle of making a batch of wine. As we learned, wine waits for no one, so Amy would go get Jackson and Cesar would carry on with the wine making. From their barn they were able to increase production to 18,000 gallons a year and had 200 retailers.
In 2010 they were ready to present their vision of the winery to a bank to get the necessary funding. It was the height of the recent recession and so banks were nervous about investing in the hospitality business. In this case it wasn’t third time is a charm, but fifth time is a charm. Perseverance and belief in your work pays off. Amy and Cesar began building the winery in 2011/2012 at their location on Route 101 in Amherst. Today they are producing 80,000 gallons a year and have over 300 retailers and have grown from 25 to 115 employees. They have 3 acres of vines on their property which equates to about 1999 individual vines. As we learned 1 vine = grapes for 1 bottle of wine. We also learned that the grapes are on the vine in the fall, so they live through the winter months just like us and are stronger for it.
Sustainability was at the forefront of her mind when Amy began to design the winery. You will find these thoughtful considerations in the structure and how it’s sited to capture the best use of the sun to the making and bottling of the wine —and everything in between. This mindset and a mission that aligned with that of NHBSR is one of the reasons she joined as a member. The building is non-traditional and is made of SIPs (Structural Insulated Panels) construction which are more efficient that traditional building materials. The building is sited to capture the best use of the sun and the operable windows allow them to regulate the temperature. As much as they were able to they employed US artists for the interior features such as the tables. The wine production area is sited and built in such a way that the natural temperature of the area is the required 55 degrees. Making wine obviously requires water and so Amy is very conscious of limiting the use of water through low water nozzles and the use of steam cleaners for the big drums. The grapes themselves come from their own vines, along with grapes from NH, New England and NY. No chemicals are used in the making of the wine and they bottle the wine in eco-friendly bottles, which are made of less glass than you’d find in many wine bottles. Don’t let the lighter weight fool you into thinking you are getting a lesser wine! Instead thank them for saving on glass. In addition to the grapes, they grow an acre of their own vegetables each year, sourcing the rest from organic and local farms where they can.
Amy’s vision for LaBelle Winery focuses on creating an excellent wine, but it goes beyond that. She’s working to create a gathering place for the community, where people can gather, learn and grow through programming as well as through community connections. She and Cesar have hopes of expanding LaBelle Winery’s offerings across the street from where they are now, which would be an artisan’s culinary village that includes an inn, distillery, spa and a restaurant.
If you haven’t been to the winery yet we encourage you to pay a visit – you’ll find a bistro serving lunch and dinner, yoga classes, wine tastings, as well as fun community events for families. NHBSR’s Sustainability Slam will be held at LaBelle Winery on October 20th, so please consider joining us!
Amy welcomes the chance for conversation with anyone who may have questions about LaBelle Winery. She can be reached at the winery by phone (603) 672-9898 or by email firstname.lastname@example.org