LEE — Frank Luksevish didn’t know much about fruit wines before he attended this week’s two-day tasting and training session for workers at New Hampshire’s state liquor and wine outlets.
“I’m learning a lot,” Luksevish, an employee at a state liquor store in Keene, said after sampling a wild blueberry fruit wine produced by Flag Hill Winery & Distillery in Lee.
Luksevish was one of more than 200 employees from the state’s 77 liquor and wine outlets who spent Tuesday and Wednesday at Flag Hill learning about wines, ciders, meads and spirits made in New Hampshire.
The training session was hosted by the New Hampshire Liquor Commission to better educate workers on the local products sought by not only Granite Staters but many tourists looking to bring a piece of the state’s blossoming wine and spirit industry home with them.
“A very important segment of our sales strategy is to hand sell and you can’t hand sell if you don’t have the product knowledge,” said Gordon Heins, wine merchandising and education specialist at the state Liquor Commission.
The training — the first to focus solely on New Hampshire wines and spirits — gave six of the state’s top-selling producers an opportunity to speak about their products, how they’re made, flavor profiles and offer a bit of history on the brands.
Manufacturers represented were Flag Hill, Candia Vineyards of Candia, LaBelle Winery of Amherst, Farnum Hill Ciders of Lebanon, Jewell Towne Vineyards of South Hampton, and Moonlight Meadery of Londonderry.
“One of the things that we recognize is that our employees need to be educated on anything that we sell in order to take the sales to a different level. We’ve done it with wine and we’ve done it with spirits, but we’ve never really done it specifically for New Hampshire wines and spirits. The goal is to make sure that the New Hampshire Liquor Commission employees — the sales force on the floor — recognize the New Hampshire products for what they are and can convey that to the consumer,” said Joseph Mollica, chairman of the state Liquor Commission.
Frank Reinhold, owner of Flag Hill, said the industry has grown since his winery in Lee was one of only two when it opened in 1990. There are now more than 30 vineyards and more are on the way.
Flag Hill is the largest in the state, producing 4,000 cases of wine and 4,000 cases of spirits each year.
Sales of bottled wine and spirits produced in New Hampshire were close to $800,000 in fiscal year 2013. According to state liquor officials, that’s 18 percent higher than last year.
“When you go to another state and you travel around you always look for local products, whether it be in a grocery store or somewhere else. To have a liquor store where somebody says, ’Not only have I tasted these local products, I can tell you a little bit about them,’ I think the tourist gets the sense of, ’Oh, I can buy this as a local product and have a degree of confidence that it’s going to be drinkable when I get home.’ That, to me, is a terrific deal,” Reinhold said.
Louisa Spencer, co-owner of Farnum Hill Ciders, attended the training session to give workers a better sense of real cider – not the kind that pairs up well with doughnuts in the fall but an alcoholic beverage fermented from particular apples.
“There’s such a thing as cider country the way there’s such a thing as wine country. We’ve got some of the best apple land in the world in New Hampshire,” said Spencer, whose cider first hit store shelves at the state’s liquor stores 10 years ago as interest in the cider industry began to grow.