“Grape Stompers Wanted”.
I received the above call to people with big feet and good balance in a link promoting the 4th Annual White Mountains Crush Festival (Oct. 25-27). Naturally, I was intrigued. So I telephoned Mark LaClair, owner/winemaker of The Seven Birches Winery in Lincoln, N.H., and was instantly fascinated by the details of his #StompLikeLucy weekend that draws up to 500 participants to the RiverWalk Resort Hotel at Loon Mountain.
“It’s a terrific weekend and people come from as far away as Quebec and England to participate,” said LaClair, a self-described “hobby home winemaker” who, encouraged by friends and family, took his passion to a new level in 2010 when he launched Seven Birches Winery at Windy Ridge Orchard and moved it in 2016 to the luxurious RiverWalk resort. “(The crush) is a celebration of the harvest and people have a lot of fun. There’s food and drink, educational workshops, barrel tastings, and a closing night wine dinner. Of course, the stomping of the grapes is still the main attraction.”
This year’s crush of 500 pounds of grapes takes place Saturday, Oct. 26 from 12-noon to 4 p.m. The public is invited to attend and/or register for festival events (go to: www.whitemtncrush.com).
When LaClair told me he crafts Bordeaux-style wines from select grapes sourced in America and overseas, I was sold on a trip up north to Seven Birches. My first impression? Wow, what a cool site. The tasting room is bright, spotless and very relaxing. An outdoor veranda with table seating offers stunning views of the nearby mountains (and seasonal foliage) and overlooks the resort’s two swimming pools.
LaClair, 46, is a Northeastern graduate who still runs a marketing company. More and more, however, he, his wife Stephanie and their two teen-aged daughters are pleasantly being drawn into a growing winery operation. Next spring the resort will break ground on a $30-million expansion plan that includes building a larger winery that will triple Seven Birches annual output from 3,000 cases to 10,000.
While Lincoln, N.H., is not Bordeaux, Tuscany or Napa Valley, LaClair’s wines equate to magic in the mountains; they’re crafted with passion, precision and, most importantly, quality in mind. Plus they taste delicious.
LaClair said, “I try to make wines that are better than the sum of their parts, right here in Lincoln. It’s a taste of New Hampshire. The wines are balanced, pleasing and easy to drink.”
LaClair’s “minimalist” approach in his small, gleaming modern winery pays homage to the fruit.
“I believe the fruit itself should shine through. I do not overmanipulate the grapes … The wine’s aromas and flavors are true expressions of the varietals,” he said.
Seven Birches, which sells direct to consumers online (www.sevenbirches.com), is located 2 hours from Boston via I-93 to Exit 32 (Woodstock-Lincoln). It’s well worth the trip.
My tasting notes are as follows:
Alto Pinot Grigio, $21 – High-altitude Chilean grapes go into this lemony crisp and apple-flavored white. Extended sur lies maceration adds a biscuity note to the finish.
Solstice White Chardonnay, $22 – A clean, unoaked, smooth Chardonnay boasting peach and nectarine notes. Ends dry with chiseled minerality. California grapes.
Riesling, $23 – New York State grapes deliver a refreshing, off-dry, medium white accentuated by tropical fruit flavors.
Bella Vita, $26 – LaClair’s tribute to Italy’s Chianti region is nicely done in this 96 percent “New Hampshire” sangiovese. Dark cherry and savory on the palate, it finishes with a delicate, satisfying tannic grip.
Pinot Noir, $27 – Done in classic, lean Burgundian style, this ruby-colored wine excels in bright red cherry and cranberry flavors. Good acidic balance puts this high on the food-friendly menu.
Merlot, $28 – I tasted this blind and was stumped as to the varietal. Delicious with plenty of rich, blue-fruit character.
Cabernet Sauvignon, $26 – A medium-bodied red with flavorful dark berry depth enhanced by a tender, oaky touch of vanilla spice. Soft and velvety on the palate. A solid effort.
Red Sunset Blend, $31 – A very impressionable 50-50 Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot blend that scores high marks for its fleshy plum and licorice flavors, elegant texture and harmonious tannins. Live free and drink this at dusk by the firepit.