Sunday, November 08, 2009

New Hampshire Business Review Interviews

(Photo by Cindy Kibbe)
Amy Labelle, right, and her husband Cesar operate LaBelle Winery in Amherst, which currently offers 16 different kinds of wine.

Q&A with: Winemaker Amy LaBelle
By Cindy Kibbe
Friday, October 23, 2009
New Hampshire Business Review

Autumn is a busy time for most winemakers, but it's an even busier time of year for LaBelle Winery in Amherst as it begins production of not only grape wine, but wines made from apple, blueberry, raspberry and even jalapeno peppers.This autumn is especially hectic as winemaker Amy LaBelle, 38, who still puts in hours as a corporate attorney at Fidelity Investments in Merrimack, along with her husband Cesar Arboleda, 37 — LaBelle Winery's business manager and a former IT professional — and son Jackson, 2, welcome newborn son Lucas into the winemaking business.

Q. How did you get your start in the winemaking business?
A. In 2001, after I graduated from law school, I was on vacation that summer in Nova Scotia and took a side-trip to a winery that was making blueberry wine. I looked around this tiny little place and said, “Oh my gosh! I think that I'm supposed to be doing this.”When I got home, I purchased many books about how to make wine and I read them all. By the end of August, I made my first batch of blueberry wine in my little brownstone in Boston.During that year, I made many gallons of wine — I made apple, I made cranberry.

Q. When did you start commercial production?
A. 2005 was our first commercial season. For most of the first two seasons, we partnered with Alyson's Orchard in Walpole. We made tons of apple wine that year — 400 gallons. 2007 was the first year we made wine here [in Amherst]. Now we're up to just under 3,000 gallons. That's actually mid-size for a New Hampshire winery. It's very small on a world scale.We currently have 16 flavors out. That's a lot to manage for a small winery.

Q. How does New Hampshire's state-run liquor operation affect your distribution plans?
A. The Liquor Commission here is kind of interesting. They carry us in 12 of their stores, but they make that decision. The winery association has been working with the commission trying to get a little more exposure in the stores and a little better shelf placement.I think the one thing that will really make the difference is customer pull-through when they start requesting our wines at the liquor stores that don't carry some of our other kinds.

Q. How does a new winery get into a grocery store like Hannaford or Shaw's?
A. That's really hard. For us, it certainly involves decisions on how we want to be perceived, what stores we think match up with our marketing and our branding.Thus far, we haven't wanted to be in grocery stores because we've been focusing on more of the boutique stores. That's not to say we won't expand out further as our customer base gets bigger.It also is a factor of capacity and production. You cannot run out.

Read more of Amy's Interview at: