New Hampshire Producers Stand Together

Wineries have tripled in three years, pair with dairies to promote trails

by Hudson Cattell
Jewell Tasting
Jewell Towne is New Hampshire's oldest operating winery.
Concord, N.H. -- New Hampshire has a short history in wine production, but a very long one in the dairy and cheese industry. To state agriculture and tourism marketing personnel, linking wine and cheese together in a series of wine and cheese trails was an exciting concept, and a potentially great way to promote tourism in the state.

Two years ago, Gail McWilliam Jellie, director of agricultural development in the New Hampshire Department of Agriculture, Markets & Food met with members of the New Hampshire Department of Travel and Tourism to discuss ways that agriculture and tourism could work together. With the idea of creating a wine and cheese trail, Jellie went to work to make it happen.

In 2005, New Hampshire had only four or five wineries; today the number is 15. The growing wine industry organized the New Hampshire Winery Association in 2006, and Jellie was able to work with the organization to set up the wine part of the trail.

Getting the dairy people together was more of a problem. Many of those in the cheese industry did not even know each other. The answer was to create the New Hampshire Cheesemakers Guild, which now has 10 licensed members.

By the spring of 2008, not one but three wine and cheese trails had been organized in different parts of the state, and visitors to New Hampshire now are encouraged to visit nine wineries and seven dairies. The "Savor the Seacoast" trail is located in the coastal climate of southeastern New Hampshire; "Meander the Merrimack Valley" trail begins at Amherst near the south central border with Massachusetts and goes north to the lake country in the central part of the state; and "Along the Apple Way" trail goes north along the state's western border.

The Department of Agriculture and the Department of Travel and Tourism supported the new trails by publishing a brochure, "New Hampshire's Wine & Cheese Trails," which describes the dairies and wineries on the three trails and provides contact information and directions to how to visit them.

Jewell Winery
Zorvino Vineyards in Sandown resembles a classic New Hampshire B & B.
The wine and cheese industries are segregated as far as tastings are concerned, partly because of the way wine is regulated, and partly because the dairies do not have tasting rooms as such, although visitors can sample their products. Tourists traveling along the wine trails can taste both wine and cheese, but not at the same place.

A second, revised brochure will be published in the spring of 2009. There is no charge to become a trail member; more wineries and dairies are expected to be listed in the new edition. Wineries whose tasting rooms are open only by appointment are also members of the trail.

It is unusual for this kind of state marketing support to be given to an industry so young, where two-thirds of the state's wineries are less than three years old, have five acres of grapes or less, and are busy increasing their wine production.

"But there have been many factors that have put wine on the radar," says Dr. Peter D. Oldak, president of the New Hampshire Winery Association, who with his wife Brenda opened Jewell Towne Vineyards  in 1994, the first of today's 15 wineries to open. There had been two earlier wineries, notably John and Lucille Canepa's White Mountain Vineyards starting in the 1960s and Bill Damour's New Hampshire Winery in the 1980s, but both were out of business before Jewell Towne Vineyards opened its doors in South Hampton. The second winery to open was Flag Hill Winery in Lee, established by Frank W. Reinhold, Jr., and his wife Linda in 1996.

The town of South Hampton has four historic districts; Jewell Towne Vineyards is named after the historic district where it is located. The state line between New Hampshire and Massachusetts runs through the middle of the Oldaks' 6-acre vineyard and their wine labels carry the wording "New Hampshire 50% & Massachusetts 50%." Wine production is just over 4,000 cases made from vinifera and hybrid grape varieties and includes ice wine and a port.

For many years, Oldak was an emergency room physician while working on his vineyard and winery, but he also found time to take a leadership role in the industry's development. It was important to him to interest others in growing grapes and making wine. Over the years, he has brought in University of New Hampshire students as interns during the summer, paying them $9 per hour for 35 hours per week. While the interns staff the Jewell Towne booths in eight farmers' markets (out of the 54 in the state), they also work in the vineyard or winery. The program is popular, and this year there were 28 to 30 applicants for two open spots plus applicants from schools in other states.

"One of the things I'm really proud of," Oldak says, "is that we're developing a program for channeling students from this area and giving them experience in the grape and wine industry. We're also influencing the university to adapt its core curriculum to include science courses for students interested in winemaking." One of his past interns went to the University of California at Davis and is now entering the industry.

Oldak was also instrumental in starting The New Hampshire Winery Association. On Jan. 25, 2006, New Hampshire's licensed and developing wineries met with representatives of the New Hampshire Departments of Agriculture and Tourism and the New Hampshire State Liquor Commission (New Hampshire is a monopoly state) to discuss the future of the New Hampshire farm winery industry. While the principal goal was to create an organization to represent the diverse interests of current and future wineries, additional goals include working with the Departments of Agriculture and Tourism to develop agritourism, and with the State Liquor Commission to improve relationships.

The association adopted its by-laws and was officially formed on Sept. 29, 2006. Among its accomplishments are partnership in the development of the Wine and Cheese Trails and working with the State Liquor Commission to the point where most of the farm wineries have shelf space in the state liquor stores. The association successfully proposed legislation that included "grapes" and "viticulture" as part of the state's definition of "agriculture," to help people who were planning vineyards or wineries but were meeting zoning resistance from their selectmen.

In New Hampshire there is a state-sponsored marketing program called "New Hampshire Made," with more than 700 producers of New Hampshire products and services as members. Retail stores along I-95 opened to sell members' products, a website was established, and marketing programs introduced.

Organizations became partners, or "standing committees," including The New Hampshire Winery Association, The New Hampshire Farmers' Market Association, and The New Hampshire Farm to Restaurant Connection to develop programs and events. In late March or early April each year, thousands of people attend the Made in New Hampshire Expo. Last year, five wineries had booths, and they constituted their own wine trail within the expo. People who visited all five booths received a special gift.

Three years is a remarkably short time for a new industry to increase its numbers from five to 15 wineries, let alone increase public awareness and government support to this extent. New Hampshire has a wide range of difficult climates, with winter low temperatures from 0°F to minus-40°F. In the north, cider and apple wines are the principal products; in the center of the state, fruit and grape wines are produced, and in the south most of the wines are made from grapes.

Flag Hill Winery, the second winery to open, was renamed the Flag Hill Winery & Distillery (flaghill.com) in 2004, and its first product, General John Stark Vodka, was released in December of that year. Other liqueurs have been produced and the first apple brandy will be introduced just before Christmas in 2008. Flag Hill has 21 acres of vineyards, and in addition to 4,000 cases of wine, produces 2,000 cases at the distillery. Flag Hill is one of two state wineries with a restaurant. An indoor dining room seating 70 is combined with the Ferguson Davis Tavern, and an outside dining area seats 250 in a tent in the summer. Flag Hill also operates a fully licensed catering service.

If the industry expands at its present rate, and other wineries achieve the growth of Jewell Towne and Flag Hill, Frank Reinhold's assessment of the future of the industry will more than be fulfilled: "Peter Oldak and I have led the charge to get doors open, and the more that open, the better it will be for all of us. It will be a big change."
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