Sonoma County. Napa Valley. New Hampshire. It’s not often that those names appear next to each other, but Mark LaClair is doing everything he can to put New Hampshire winemaking on the map.
Mark runs The Vineyard at Seven Birches, a small winery in North Haverhill – just a few miles east of where the Connecticut River separates New Hampshire from Vermont. Located on the same property as the Windy Ridge Orchard, Seven Birches uses the orchard’s seasonal produce to make incredible blueberry, apple, and pumpkin wines.
Mark will debut four of his new wines at the Wine Days of Summer wine tasting here at Loon Mountain on August 24. We recently sat down with Mark to pick his brain about North Country winemaking, his plans for the future, and why tastings like the Wine Days of Summer matter.
Loon Mountain: Mark, how did you get into winemaking?
Mark LaClair: My hobby, my passion for many years was making wine. I’d make wine at home and I’d bring it to a party or give it away as a gift to friends or whatever, and they always told me ‘You know, that’s not bad.’ In fact the very first label I put on a bottle of wine was ‘Not Bad Wine.’
Loon Mountain: What kids of wines do you make?
Mark LaClair: We make 10 varieties right now: four reds, four whites, and two fruits. Obviously the fruit wines are apple and blueberry, because those are what are grown here. The grapes right now we bring in from either South America in the spring or from the California, Oregon coast in the fall.
Loon Mountain: Your extremely popular pumpkin wine is also coming back this fall. How do you make wine from pumpkins?
Mark LaClair: Three years ago we had a pumpkin wine, and all of it sold out in about 10 days. It’s extremely labor-intensive wine to produce, because you have to peel the skin to get down to the meat.
Think about carving a pumpkin to make a jack-o-lantern and the work required to do that. Now imagine taking the skin off as well.
Loon Mountain: You’ll be at the Wine Days of Summer tasting on Aug. 24. Tell me about the new wines you’re releasing there.
Mark LaClair: This year I’ll be releasing four new wines at that event. That night I will release the Cabernet, the Merlot, the Riesling, and the Chardonnay. After that night they’ll be available in our tasting room and everywhere else. We’re kind of using that as a bit of a launch pad for those four new wines.
Loon Mountain: You attended Wine Days of Summer last year. What did you think of the event?
Mark LaClair: It was just the right size for a winery to be able to actually talk to the people that are tasting their wines. Some wine tasting events you get this huge long line and so you pour wine and you really can’t talk to anybody because the person behind them is waiting for theirs. At Loon it was great, just the right pace, just the right number of people.
Loon Mountain: You import grapes from outside of New England. Any plans to start growing your own grapes?
Mark LaClair: We actually have the space allocated for it but we’re taking our time and doing homework and planning to plant a vineyard. It’s quite complicated; there’s a lot of variables. This is a New England climate, and it gets very cold. Also we have elevation here, so you have to be very careful about what vines you plant because if you plant the wrong ones, they’ll die.
Loon Mountain: With all those challenges, it seems tough to actually make wine in New England.
Mark LaClair: New Hampshire itself is a burgeoning wine state. There’s 30 plus commercial wineries now in New Hampshire, and most people don’t know that.
We have wine trails. We’re on the Connecticut River Valley Wine Trail, because we’re so close to the Connecticut River Valley here. There’s the Lakes Region Wine Trail, and there’s also the Seacoast Wine Trail.
Loon Mountain: Any parting words?
Mark LaClair: The biggest message that I would want to get out about the wines is that you’d be surprised how good they are. You don’t have to go to Napa, California to get a great wine. Somebody around you is probably producing a very good wine. You just have to get out and try it.
To reserve your glass for Wine Days of Summer, visit loonmtn.com or call 1-800-229-LOON.