Seven Birches Winery

Mark LaClair, poses behind the wine-tasting bar June 24 at the Seven Birches Winery at the RiverWalk Resort at Loon Mountain. 

LINCOLN — Seven Birches Winery owner Mark LaClair says his company has the distinction of being the only commercial winery anywhere to be located within a luxury condominium/hotel property. Now it’s added another distinct feature: a vineyard in the backyard of the RiverWalk Resort at Loon Mountain.

LaClair and company spent the past year planning, analyzing and testing what varieties to plant before settling on four cold-hardy, fast-growing hybrids developed at the University of Minnesota that will be used to complement the whole-fruit grapes that Seven Birches obtains from around the U.S. and world.

In total, the winery planted 76 vines, 64 of them hybrids and 12 Concord grapes.

“I love to drink wine and the wine culture,” said LaClair, 46, who grew up around Syracuse, N.Y.

During a June 24 interview at Seven Birches, LaClair talked about the serendipitous way by which someone who was a property manager and marketing-company owner in Lincoln became an acclaimed vintner.

Seven Birches Winery

Owner Mark LaClair in the heart of the Seven Birches Winery at the RiverWalk Resort at Loon Mountain.

According to 146 Trip Advisor travelers, Seven Birches is the highest rated winery/vineyard in New Hampshire, receiving five out of five stars. It is also, LaClair noted proudly, the No. 1 ranked TripAdvisor thing to do in Lincoln and No. 8 out of 255, in the entire White Mountains region.

“We are 120 percent focused on giving a great experience to our guests,” said LaClair.

He credited the broad vision for the RiverWalk Resort at Loon Mountain to its president, Dennis Ducharme, who is also president of InnSeason Resorts, owner/operator of Pollard Brook.

In 2001, LaClair managed Pollard Brook, which is about 4 miles east of RiverWalk, and later opened LGA Media Group. When the latter became successful, LaClair started making wine at home in Plymouth, where his lives with his wife, Stephanie, and their daughters Jocelyn and Hannah. He made enough wine to be able to give it to family and friends, always asking them to try it and to give him feedback, invariably eliciting a similar response that “it’s not bad.”

Seven Birches Winery

Mark LaClair the owner of the Seven Birches Winery at the RiverWalk Resort at Loon Mountain, stands in his newly-planted vineyard behind the resort.

“Not Bad” became the first label for what would become Seven Birches Winery when it initially opened at the Windy Ridge Orchard in North Haverhill. The plan had been for the winery to remain at the orchard, said LaClair, but he soon decided that given the orchard’s short season, it might behoove him to find it a new home that attracted visitors year-round.

In speaking with him about Ducharme building Phase I of the RiverWalk, LaClair remembered that Ducharme, half-jokingly, said “’Wouldn’t it be cool to build a winery at the resort,’ and we laughed and then we thought it was a good idea.”

Since 2016, Seven Birches has grown significantly and is now at maximum capacity, said LaClair, a situation that won’t be remedied for about three years, when Phase II of the RiverWalk is built.

When Phase II is finished, the 2,000-square-foot winery will expand to 10,000 square feet, said LaClair. It will produce upward of 10,000 cases of wine annually, mostly European varietals such as chardonnay, pinot grigio, reisling and cabernet sauvignon as well as fruit wines including apple, blueberry, strawberry and peach.

Currently, Seven Birches produces 3,000 cases of wine per year, nearly all of which is sold at its two tasting rooms in Lincoln; about 10 percent of sales are done via the Internet. Production rose from about 1,000 cases in 2016 to 2,000 cases a year later. LaClair said Seven Birches’ revenues are up about 38 percent in 2019 compared to 2018.

Seven Birches Winery

A newly planted grapevine at the Seven Birches Winery at the RiverWalk Resort at Loon Mountain.

Among the many things for which the winery has acquired a good reputation is its “barrel club,” said LaClair, in which a member can customize the wine that he or she will later drink before it’s made.

That said, the customer has to commit to buying at least a quarter barrel of wine, which translates to six cases or 72 bottles. The more of the barrel that a customer buys, the more say they have over what it contains. A full barrel, which will yield 24 cases, costs about $9,000, said LaClair.

The “barrel club” has been well received, said LaClair, with the winery making wines for several weddings, corporate clients and for families who grew up making their own wines, but no longer do so.

“It’s fully custom,” said LaClair, “right down to the label, the bottle and the cork. Everything is to the member’s specification.”{/div}{/div}