by Jim Beauregard
courtesy The Union Leader
It has all come together — the brand new LaBelle Winery is open on Route 101 in Amherst, and the 11th of this month saw the official ribbon cutting on a festive, clear and crisp day.
Amy LaBelle and Cesar Arboleda have worked long and hard to make their dream a reality, and they have created a beautiful place — rolling hills, vines, and of course, the winery, in a building designed to be a combination of tradition and innovation. It was a day of joy, friendship and secrets revealed (see below).
You can’t miss it if you’re traveling 101 — it’s right next to Bragdon Hill (fear not! — you can still go sledding in the winter). As you come to the 11-acre property you see the winery rising from the top of the hill, and then your eye travels down to the vineyards — several of them — along the south and southwest facing slopes, perfect aspects for growing vines.
The winery was built with many different kinds of activity in mind, and when I stopped in with Wendy two days after the ribbon cutting to try a flight of wines in the new tasting room (with a delicious cheese plate), the winery was already hosting its second wedding. So, it’s a place to think about for weddings and any other function (they can host up to 300 guests in four event spaces). And, for sipping wine.
Next year, the winery will host classes on winemaking, viticulture, wine appreciation, and cooking. And this month’s grand-opening events include a cocktail reception tomorrow, Oct. 18, starting at 6 p.m., the Grand Opening Gala on Saturday, Oct. 20, also at 6 p.m., and a brunch on Sunday, Oct 28, starting at 11:30 a.m.
Anyone interested in investigating further can email the winery at info@LaBellewineryevents.com.
Or, you can just stop in and see for yourself:
LaBelle Winery Seyval Blanc, $14.99. Needless to say, the grapes grown on the LaBelle hillsides have to be able to withstand the cold of a New England winter — and they will. What’s the trick? Science and Seibel. Seibel (pronounces Zy-bell) is a French grape developed a little over a hundred years ago by France’s Albert Seibel that continued to be developed into grapes that could survive in cold climates, making local wine production possible further north and further away from ocean influences. Its descendants include Dechaunac, Chancellor and Vignoles, as well as the Seyval Blanc:
The LaBelle Seyval Blanc is clear and bright with a golden hue and a crisp nose of white fruit. The palate is just off-dry, with excellent acidity (classic for this varietal), medium body, well-balanced components, and bracing flavors of white apple, pear, and beautifully balanced background herbal notes with a long pleasing finish.
LaBelle Winery Cranberry Fruit Wine, $15.99. Red with ruby hues of medium intensity, a nose of cranberry, yes, and also a good dose of strawberry. The palate is prominent in intensity, with some tartness from the cranberries, and background red fruit here too, with well-integrated components of alcohol, tannin, body. Made from New England cranberries. Pair with grilled or roasted poultry, and, of course, Thanksgiving turkey.
– – – – – – – –
There were several speakers at the ribbon cutting, all of them involved with the creation of the winery, including Cesar and Amy. Cesar spoke about the path that led him to this day: He was born in Medellin, Colombia and came to the United States at the age of 7, quickly learned English, and went on to graduate from the University of Massachusetts. He began a career in information technology, which led him to Fidelity Investments, where he met a Fidelity corporate attorney by the name of Amy LaBelle. The end result? He and Amy, along with their two young sons Jackson and Lucas, have realized a dream.
It was clear to me that Cesar, while working countless hours to make the winery a reality, never lost his sense of balance. He expressed this to Amy with a beautiful simplicity at end of his speech, when he looked at her and said, “Sometimes we will grow the grapes, and sometimes we will drink the wine.”
Amy spoke too, and began by telling the more than 100 people in attendance that it had been a mere 4,083 days from her first small batch of blueberry wine to the opening of the winery. At long last, she is now able to refer to herself as a “former” corporate attorney, who, with Cesar, is devoting her energies full-time to the new winery.
Their venture began in a small barn in their Amherst backyard, with the production of 400 cases a year. The last time I visited that barn, when their “Americus” wine was on the way to release, Amy and I had to wind our way through stainless steel tanks and other winery equipment, often walking sideways to squeeze through, in a space they had already outgrown. Now she and Cesar make more than 10,000 cases of wine a year.
Oh, and secrets: As great as it was, I think this day on the hill wasn’t, first and foremost, about wine. Yes, there was plenty on hand to celebrate. But did you know that LaBelle winery isn’t named after Amy LaBelle? I didn’t know either, nor did anyone else until the ribbon cutting ceremony, when Amy turned to her parents, Carol and Francis LaBelle, sitting just a few feet from her, and told them that the winery was, in fact, named after the two of them, in thanks for the love and support Amy had known from the beginning, love that showed her how to find her dream and make it real.
That’s what the day was really about. Whether you drink red or white, dry or sweet, or even if you’ve never touched a drop — everyone one present knew that that kind of love builds great wineries, yes, but first it builds great people, in this case a daughter who knew all along that that kind of love is meant to be shared.