Wine lovers, rejoice! New Hampshire’s wine industry seems to be steadily growing, increasing from virtually nothing a few years ago to about 30 vineyards, wineries, and meaderies which are currently listed as members of the New Hampshire Wine Association. Considering our challengingly short, cool growing season, this growth is really amazing!
The newest addition to the seven vineyards and wineries now located in the Lakes Region (an eighth vineyard, Stone Gate Vineyards in Gilford, just announced its “retirement”), can be found on West Shore Road in Bristol. Newfound Lake Vineyards, which opened for business in late September of last year, offers customers a selection of hand-crafted red and white varieties made from the grapes grown in the four-acre vineyard, as well as fruit wines produced from locally grown fruit.
Owner Heidi von Gotz Cogean says she purchased the land used for the vineyard almost 30 years ago with the idea of keeping it in agricultural use. “I wanted the land to be used for agriculture, as it was always used for agriculture since the original king’s grant,” she explained. “The land was owned by several generations of the Adams family, and I purchased the land from Forrest and Mary Adams in 1985. They operated a dairy from their farmhouse home across West Shore Road. The site of the current vineyard was planted in wildflowers for 10 years in preparation for the grapes.
“Agri-tourism is important to the state of New Hampshire, and a vineyard combines sustainable agriculture, puts tax money back into the state treasury, while the locally made product is enjoyed by tourists and locals alike,” Heidi added.
Heidi is no stranger to the wine business. “My great-great-grandfather had a large vineyard in Germany, but later generations were happy to make wine and schnapps just for the family from the abundance of grapes and fruit trees that grow in the southern German province of Swabia,” she explained. “My cousins advise me, but initially they were skeptical that grapes could be grown in New Hampshire.” Heidi also gained knowledge when she studied in Germany, as well as taking online classes with the University of California at Davis, and attending seminars produced by Cornell University.
It was while pursuing her MBA from Plymouth State University that Heidi decided she wanted to go into the wine-making business. “Dr. Duncan McDougall assigned a project on a winery that had all sorts of problems,” she says. “I had already been making wine in three-gallon glass carboys. When I earned an ‘A’ on the project and the winery became successful with my recommendations, it was clear to me that I could do the same.
”The MBA program at PSU gave me the confidence to step outside the 9-5 routine to find a way to benefit the Lakes Region and the Newfound Region agriculturally,” Heidi continued. “Everything pointed to wine. The project just clinched it for me.”
The vineyard, now in its fourth year, grows hardy, cold-weather hybrid varieties developed by the University of Minnesota. “We grow two white varietals, Edelweiss and La Crescent, and a red, Marquette,” Heidi said. “These are cold-hardy hybrids developed by the University of Minnesota. They are hardy to 30 degrees F below zero.”
She added, “But we also try to have something unusual, such as Carménère, originally a French grape grown in Burgundy, now grown almost exclusively in Chile. We also specialize in wine from fresh local fruit, blueberry, rhubarb, and cranberry, which will always be on our menu.”
Describing the process of producing wine at Newfound Lake Vineyards, Heidi explained, “Grapes are harvested at the peak of ripeness and brought into the winery where they go through the electric crusher/de-stemmer machine and fall into the large maceration tubs. For red grapes, the juice is allowed to sit with the skins for a week to 10 days. The rich red color is extracted from the skins. White grapes skip this step. Yeast is pitched into the tub and the fermentation process begins. The yeast eats the natural sugar in the grapes and the by–product is alcohol.
“The next step is to load the hydraulic press with the must, as it is called. The membrane bladder in the middle of the press is filled with water. As the bladder expands, the grapes are gently pressed and the juice begins to flow. The juice is pumped into the stainless steel vats where it ages and mellows. Some of our red wine is aged in French oak barrels. The barrel contributes oak to the aroma and flavor of the wine that is preferred by many red wine drinkers.”
Heidi notes, “Wine certainly takes its time to become well-aged and mellow. Red can take two years before it reaches peak flavor. The fruit and white wines do not take as much time as red.”
In addition to running the vineyard, Heidi has a full-time job in Lebanon reviewing contracts for Timken Aerospace, as well as volunteering in the adaptive ski program at Waterville Valley. Heidi credits her mother and friends for giving her a helping hand in maintaining the vineyard and other wine-related chores. “My Mom, Ilse Cogean who lives close by in Alexandria, is always ready to pitch in and does a good job labeling bottles and punching down the fruit in the maceration vats. My dear friend, Christopher Coache, and various family members are often hard at work mowing, pruning, tying vines, pumping wine, cleaning tanks, and yes, occasionally tasting and analyzing the wine.”
Heidi is hoping to expand the winery on the property in the future. “The winery resembles an old-world European building,” she says. “It is 30’ x 40’ with a 15’ x 15’ corner as a cozy tasting room with a large pine slab bar cut from a local tree by the Sharps of Ashland and crafted into the 12-foot-long bar by carpenter Dave Gammon of Laconia. As the business grows, we would like to build a full-sized tasting room on top of the winery.”
Heidi notes, “We support the local economy whenever we can; Derry Riddle of Venture Print in Plymouth created the label graphics.”
In its first year, Newfound Lake Vineyards produced about 36 cases of wine, which were sold out by Thanksgiving. The winery opened for business just in time to participate in the Lakes Region Barrel Tasting Tour in early October and Heidi says that, over the course of the weekend, more than 400 people visited to sample the wine. She is hoping to produce about 360 cases of wine in 2014.
“It is hard work to be a grape farmer, work the grapes into wine, and be patient enough until it becomes an outstanding wine,” Heidi says. “The hardest part is having the patience, of course! I once heard some good advice, to pursue your passion in life. I hope to share my passion for wine with all the folks who stop in to the tasting room. A winery is a very special place and we hope folks agree, and come and visit often.”
Newfound Lake Vineyards is located at 567 West Shore Road in Bristol, and it is open from May 1 to Nov. 15 on Fridays from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m, and weekends from noon until 5 p.m. Winter hours are by appointment. For more information, log on to www.newfoundlakevineyards.com, email Heidi@newfoundlakevineyards.com, or call 603-455-0182.