Friday, January 27, 2012

Union Leader: New Hampshire Wine Industry Improves With Age

Peter Oldak, owner of Jewell Towne Vineyards, president of the New Hampshire Winery Association, tests some of the wine produced at his winery in South Hampton. Jewell Towne was New Hampshire’s first commercial winery, opening for business in 1994. Today there are about 30.

Granite State vineyards have proven much in 20 years
Union Leader Correspondent
Published Jan 18, 2012 at 10:25 am (Updated Jan 18, 2012)

WHEN YOU THINK of wine country, New Hampshire probably isn’t the first place that comes to mind.

But like the vines of the hybrid grapes developed to withstand the state’s cooler climate, New Hampshire’s wine industry has flourished over the past decade.

Some 30 vineyards have cropped up since Jewell Towne Vineyards owner Peter Oldak decided to go from amateur to commercial.

Oldak, president of the New Hampshire Winery Association, planted his first grapes in 1982 and began making wine at his South Hampton vineyard in 1985.

His passion for wine-making led Oldak to turn his winery into a commercial business in 1994.

It was the only winery in the state at the time, but the idea that wine could be produced and sold in a state known more for apple orchards than vineyards caught on.

“Along the way we started to show that grapes could be grown in New Hampshire and quality wine could be made. As it was shown, more people started planting grapes and developed wineries,” Oldak said.

Flag Hill Winery and Distillery followed by opening its doors in Lee two years later. Many more wineries opened between 2000 and 2008, often with guidance from Oldak, who is seen as a leader in the state’s wine industry.

Today, wine connoisseurs can find locally produced wine just about anywhere in the state, from Sweet Baby Vineyard in Kensington in the south to The Vineyard at Seven Birches in North Haverhill overlooking the Connecticut River Valley.

“A lot of people interested in starting wineries have come to me. We’ve been working together in trying to develop the industry. We don’t look at each other as competition.

What we do see as the real competition is California, South America and Europe. A bottle bought from us is one less imported from a foreign land,” Oldak said.

Jewell Towne Vineyards produced 7,000 cases of wine last year and is now sold in more than 150 restaurants and stores, mostly in New Hampshire but some in Massachusetts.

Zorvino Vineyards in Sandown has also seen success. The winery produced 800 cases when it opened seven years ago and is now up to 6,000.

“We opened at a time when the wine industry in New Hampshire was just starting to get rolling,” said Tom Zack, Zorvino’s wine director.

In addition to grape wines, Zorvino has also entered the fruit wine market, using local pears, blueberries, apples, and other fruit. It even produced its first pineapple wine just before Christmas.

“We sell as much fruit wine as grape wine,” Zack said.

While it has 1,200 grape vines on its 80 acres, Zorvino also imports grapes from California and South America, allowing it to continue making wine beyond the fall season.

One advantage that Zorvino has over other smaller wineries is a function room that’s often rented out for weddings. The room is another way to introduce its local wine to consumers.

With more people looking to buy local and interest in wine-making growing, Oldak said he thinks the industry will continue to expand. “We’re seeing a lot of people in corporate America who want to get out of that rat race and want to use the land they have and this allows them to be an (integral) part of it,” he said.

“A winery seems to be the solution that comes to mind.

It’s an escape and a chance to do something that’s different and creative.”

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