Monday, October 10, 2011

What a Harvest!- Flag Hill Winery, Lee New Hampshire

Grapes have been grown on the site of what is now Flag HillWinery & Distillery in Lee, NH for over 20 years. The way proprietor Frank Reinhold told it this past Saturday, this was the biggest harvest they’ve seen in those years. Flag Hill’s first commercial vintage was in 1996, with vineyard acreage and annual production steadily increasing since.

On a beautiful hot & sunny day, reminiscent of summer and not Columbus Day weekend, 225 volunteers fanned out in the vineyards picking Cayuga White and Marechal Foch grapes, totaling about 5 acres. Frank was keeping score and we broke a couple records. The first acre of Cayuga was cleared in 19 minutes! We also cleared more acreage in the time it required than ever before. The volumes harvested for each were in 1500-2000 gallon range, something they were expecting based on the great growing season and the amount of fruit hanging on the vines. In his opening remarks Frank used the phrase “freakin’ lot of fruit” to describe the task at hand. As I understand it that is a technical phrase used by experienced winery owners during harvest in good years.

( First acre of Cayuga almost picked clean! )

Picking was so busy in the first couple of hours that full lugs started stacking up and pickers had to wait for the roundtrips to winery for freshly empty lugs to keep working. There was lots of socialization in the vineyards as we all worked, and I consistently heard kind words about Flag Hill, from people’s favorite wines, Vignoles came up a lot, to quality of the food at the restaurant and finally how great the staff is.

( Lots of worker bees, and regular bees too! )

You see, this was the 17th annual Flag Hill Harvest Festival and this annual tradition draws many loyal Flag Hill fans. They really do get to know the people, the wines and the food of Flag Hill. As we assembled in the morning there were games and music, and after the job was done there was revelry over glasses of Flag Hill wine and plenty of that excellent food to refuel the legion of pickers. I had never participated in the harvest festival before, having fallen way down on the wait list in past years, and while the work was hard the enjoyment of meeting new people and seeing the amount of buzz they represented for a local winery made it well worth it.

Margot and I are pretty sure wine from Flag Hill was the first wine from New Hampshire we ever had, but we can’t remember when and where for sure. We’ve visited the winery several times for tastings, sipped our way through the first annual Live Free & Wine Festival, held at Flag Hill in 2010, and got our first taste of the food at a New Hampshire Winery Association dinner a few years ago. In 2007 when were celebrating our 10th wedding anniversary we stopped at Flag Hill for a tasting and to pick up some wine to enjoy over our weekend away. I have a couple favorites, including the Marechal Foch and the Flag Hill White, a gently oaked light white wine. Flag Hill has expanded its product line in the years we’ve been getting to know them, which now includes vodka, liquers, port style wines and lots of local fruit wines. During his lunchtime address Frank Reinhold mentioned that the bourbon whiskey is in the barrels and will be released all its own time. I’ve been looking forward to trying this new product for some time!

One of the interesting twists of the Harvest festival I was looking forward to was the release of the celebratory wine made from the 2010 harvest, named Les Pieds Sucre. The wine was made from a blend of Marechal Foch and Niagara. It is a slightly sweet red blend with a pleasant fruity nose from the Niagara grapes, and a healthy share of acidity and structure from the Foch. It was the perfect wine to toast the efforts of the group and to a great harvest for a beloved local winery.

At lunch I met the Lynch & Sell families scoping out Flag Hill, the site of the wedding of their children Sean & Megan next September 8th. Working the harvest was certainly a great length to go to learn something about the facility, but being able to try the food and wine afterwards clearly left them with a positive impression. I was flying solo this day so the lucky break for me to meet and enjoy lunch with them as they talked about their future plans was a true joy. Sean and Megan reminded me of Margot and I, oddly opposite though, and the big laugh was that Megan is “very specific”. There’s nothing wrong with that, really there isn’t!!! Best wishes to Sean & Meghan on their new life together and to both the Lynch and Sell families as they look forward to many happy years ahead.

( Tom, Donna & Sean Lynch with Megan, Karen and Garry Sell )

After lunch there were more activities including a grape stomp, yes with people’s feet, t-shirt painting and an up-close view of grapes being processed and pumped into the waiting tanks. The grape stomping created lots of laughs and there were plenty of folks who wanted to get purple and red feet painted on the back of their shirts to commemorate another exciting harvest.

( Stomp those grapes! )

As I watched the vineyard and winery staff scurry around tending to all the must being pumped out of the crusher I could only imagine how many more long days they still have ahead to get the harvest completed and the wines well on their way to the finished state. It’s times like these that I appreciate the work that I go through to make my own wines, but feel lucky that I’m just dealing with 6-10 gallons per batch!

This week is Regional Wine Week and I will be publishing articles on wines local to me all week. Tomorrow I will share my visit to Prospect Hill Winery in Lebanon Maine. Later in the week I will share tasting notes on wines from Vermont, Massachusetts and my home state of New Hampshire.

I urge everyone to get out an celebrate the wines of their region this week. You might be surprised to find more than you expected or something new and interesting to try.



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