Great wines, big names in NH for Wine Week

Union Leader Correspondent
January 15. 2013 5:27PM

What started as a hobby for Amy LaBelle, a corporate attorney by day, quickly became a way of life as LaBelle Winery bloomed. With her husband and co-owner, Cesar Arboleda, LaBelle turns out thousands of bottles of award-winning wines in their Amherst winery each season. (COURTESY)

AMHERST -- For winemaker Amy LaBelle, meeting Merry Edwards, a pioneer who paved the way for women in the wine industry, is an incredible opportunity. But what makes it even better is she'll be sharing the experience with people from all over the state during the eighth annual New Hampshire Wine Week.

Wine Week, presented by the New Hampshire Liquor Commission, will be held Jan. 21 through 27 and will feature the largest wine tasting north of Boston along with numerous events to shine the spotlight on the Granite State's burgeoning wine industry.

Throughout Wine Week, more than 40 wine celebrities, winemakers and industry experts from around the world will be in New Hampshire, headlining several events statewide.

Edwards, owner of Merry Edwards Winery in the Russian River Valley region of California, will be spending her time at LaBelle's new winery on Route 101 in Amherst.

Edwards began her winemaking career in 1974 after graduating from the University of California Davis.

"We're so excited to be hosting Merry," said LaBelle. "She's a pioneer, one of the first women to leave UC Davis and open her own winery. In those days, women were lab techs, not owners or chief wine makers. She changed all that."

As one of the first female winemakers in New Hampshire, LaBelle said she faced her share of obstacles in the industry. Like any newcomer to a tight group, she had to prove she was serious about her dream and in it for the long haul.

"There's always an advantage to being underestimated," said LaBelle, who runs the winery side-by-side with her husband Cesar Aborleda. "I don't think people expect a lot from a wine made in New Hampshire, but when they come in here and try it, they're amazed and blown away."

Adding to the early skepticism LaBelle faced was the fact that she was focusing on fruit wines, not traditional grape wines (though the latter are part of her repertoire now).

"Men come in and say they don't drink fruit wine," said LaBelle, "but then they taste is and you can see the revelation starting to happen. That's usually when I remind them that grapes are fruit."

LaBelle said that winning her first international wine award assured her a seat at the table of New Hampshire winemakers, and she's continued to go on and win more awards including best of show at the Eastern States Regional for her Triple Berry Port.

For a little bit of sisterhood, LaBelle said she looks to other female winemakers including Virginia Carter of Walpole Mountain Winery, and of course, to Merry Edwards.

On Wednesday, Jan. 23 at 6:30 p.m., Edwards and LaBelle will offer a special wine tasting seminar at LaBelle Winery. The formal sit-down tasting will feature Pinot Noirs from Olivet Lane, Georganne, Klopp Ranch, Coopersmith, Flax Vineyard and Meredith Estate - all wineries in the Russian River Valley. Tickets are $75 per person and space is limited to 25 participants.

Then at 8 p.m. the same evening, LaBelle and Edwards will host the East & West Coast Women in Wine Dinner. The event provides the opportunity to sample award-winning New Hampshire wines made by both LaBelle and Edwards. The dinner will include four courses, each paired with a unique wine. Tickets are $95 per person plus tax and gratuity.

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