courtesy Merrimack Valley Magazine
January 26, 2009
By Emilie-Noelle Provost
In the dark days of New England’s winter, we long for a slice of July, the warm scent of ripe peaches, the bright berries of summer sparkling with dew in the morning sun. And although today the trees still hang heavy with ice, there is reason for hope: Amy LaBelle of LaBelle Winery has found a way to bottle the essence of summer itself.
Tucked away in a barn in Amherst, New Hampshire, LaBelle makes delicious, creative wines from a variety of fresh, locally grown produce including apples, Seyval Blanc grapes, blueberries, raspberries and cranberries. They craft cooking wines as well, from such exotic ingredients as heirloom tomatoes and jalapeño peppers – products always in demand by local chefs.
A corporate attorney by trade, LaBelle began making wine in 2001 after visiting a winery in Nova Scotia. Always a wine lover, it was then, she says, that she discovered her life’s true passion. After experimenting with winemaking at home, LaBelle enrolled in a winemaking course at the University of California Davis, working hard to develop and perfect her skills.
LaBelle Winery is a family affair in the truest sense, owned and operated by Amy and her husband, Cesar. Together they have built the business up from 400 cases during its first year to where it is today at over 15,000 – and they still can’t seem to make enough to keep up with demand. Friends and family members often lend a hand with bottling, a job that nearly always requires extra help.
It isn’t just locals who appreciate LaBelle’s wines, which are not too sweet and are bursting with fruit. In a field of 300 entries, LaBelle won five medals – including Double Gold, Best of New Hampshire and Best Small Winery – at the 2008 Eastern States Exposition, the largest wine competition in the Northeast. They also boast three medals from the 2008 Indiana State Fair Fruit Wine Competition, where they went up against producers from 15 different countries.
When asked which of her wines is her favorite, Amy LaBelle smiles. “I think my favorite thing, the thing that gives me the most joy, is knowing that something I created brings happiness to people. That my wines are enjoyed around holiday tables, during special times in people’s lives, is the best reward of all. I feel very lucky to have discovered my life’s passion. I want to share it with everyone.”
Those wanting to try LaBelle’s wines will find them available at many locations throughout New Hampshire, including several State Liquor Stores and the Nashua and Amherst farmers’ markets. A full listing of retailers is available on their Web site. LaBelle also accepts advance orders for wines by the case, which they recommend for some of their more popular varieties such as New Hampshire Wild Blueberry and Granite State Red, both of which tend to sell out quickly. For more information on LaBelle Winery visit www.LabelleWineryNH.com or call (603) 828-2923. Winery tours are given by appointment only.