Creating an elevated culinary and wine experience for New Hampshire
Owner and winemaker Amy LaBelle moves through the winery and vineyard, straightening chairs in the bistro and checking in with staff to make sure they have everything they need. She’s so in her element, it’s hard to imagine the struggle it took to build LaBelle Winery & Bistro.
In the lead-up to opening the new facility, Amy faced the challenge of securing financing during an economic lull while working full-time hours as an attorney and raising two small children. “That was a really hard year. I don’t know how I got through that, except that I have Cesar, who is amazing and so supportive,” Amy says of her husband Cesar Arboleda, also an owner and cellarmaster at LaBelle.
“What kept me going was my utter and complete belief that this was needed in New Hampshire and that people would come. I felt that the people of New Hampshire deserved an elevated culinary and wine experience,” Amy says. LaBelle Winery & Bistro delivers that experience with gusto. A full-service restaurant serves French inspired bistro fare with a strong local-foods program. Visitors can taste 31 of LaBelle’s 41 wines, purchase products from her Winemaker’s Kitchen line, or attend one of LaBelle’s monthly culinary classes. “We’re really teaching people how to use wine in their everyday cooking,” Amy says.
Respect the fruit
“Fruit wines get a really bad cut, and rightly so because a lot of the fruit wines on the mass market are awful,” Amy acknowledges. Her methods for fermenting fruit wines mirror those of grape-based wines. “Grapes are fruit too…if you treat the fruit with respect just like you treat the grape with respect you get the same elegant outcome.” Amy has also created a line of culinary wines made with vegetables. The line includes a jalapeno wine, perfect for spicing up fajitas or spaghetti.
That doesn’t mean Amy’s left the grapes behind. Her current favorite is a cold-weather hardy grape called Petit Pearl. “Northern reds are sometimes a little bit wimpy, not as robust, and this grape overcomes that problem,” she explains. Petit Pearl provides the backbone for LaBelle’s Amherst Vineyard Red, which won best red in the Best of New England wine competition in 2017.
What’s next for LaBelle Winery & Bistro
As her business has grown, so has Amy’s vision. A distillery is the project she’s most excited about. “I want to make a bourbon that’s unique to New Hampshire and LaBelle,” Amy says, though she’s interested in producing all kinds of spirits. The distillery is just one piece of a greater plan to create a village of artisan culinary producers, including an inn to “make this even more of a destination.” There’s also the possibility of a parcourse, or fitness trail, to give locals and visitors a space to exercise and enjoy nature.
LaBelle Winery is located at 345 Route 101 in Amherst, NH. The winery and the bistro are open Monday and Tuesday 11am-3pm, Wednesday-Saturday 11am-9pm, Sunday 10am-5pm. Guided tours are available from 12pm-5pm on Saturdays and Sundays.