Good News from A Great City Haverhill, MA
When The Heartbeat of Haverhill considers all the surprising assets Haverhill has to offer, the multi award winning Willow Spring Vineyards and winery at 840 West Lowell Ave. is somewhere near the top of each list no matter what the season. http://www.willowspringvineyards.com/
Over several visits (supervised and unsupervised), The Heartbeat of Haverhill learned: Willow Spring Vineyards’ prominent red barn winery is open for samplings and tours from 12-6pm only on Sundays and Wednesdays, by appointment on other days and is available to rent for events needing the perfect rustic location. Why such limited access?
Well, this is a small vineyard with 1,000 vines covering approx. 2 acres. The yield from the vines (when not decimated by birds) is approximately 400 gallons or about 2,000 bottles.
Two thousand bottles of award-winning wine in-house grown and fermented varieties (Seyval Blanc, Heritage Red, and Pink/Blush were featured during our last visit) can be sold very quickly, so the proprietors (basically the entire Parker Family) opt to spread out the sales over shorter open hours. But like creating a line outside of Studio 54, this tactic increases demand though the micro production and quantity remain the same to ensure quality. This is a precision operation where Jim Parker and his appropriately named daughter, Brandi, study and debate the final tastes, experiment with different wine-making methods and various aging processes.
The Parkers know this will be an ever evolving process where they can learn from a variety of sources. One source of information was the Haverhill is Happening social activity group that visited last winter. Together they tasted a Vignoles wine straight from the stainless steel vat. The wine was weeks away from bottling and yet everyone in the crowd loved it as it was and strongly recommended NOT sweetening the wine. Jim Parker recognized a valid focus group when he saw one and kept the wine as the crowd requested.
The Heartbeat of Haverhill sampled the wine on Friday and drew two quick conclusions: – the crowd made a great recommendation because the wine is now a favorite, and, we needed to pick up a bottle before it sold out especially since CBS Boston just a few days before touted Willow Spring Vineyards as one of only five (5) small Massachusetts Wineries worth a visit. http://boston.cbslocal.com/top-lists/pack-a-picnic-5-small-mass-wineries-worth-visiting/#.U5N_4LkAApt.twitter
Owning a vineyard and winery is not for the weak hearted – it takes passion and dedication. The hours are long and many obstacles can threaten your livelihood. A 40-hour work week would feel like a vacation. A week after buying the property with the long-term vision of rehabbing the ancient barn, a letter came from city hall condemning the property and requiring immediate action. The Parker family dug in its collective DIYers’ heels and made the barn a showcase.
In 2012, birds decimated more than 50% of the grapes, starting first with the heavier reds, before cleansing their beaky-palates with the whites. Obviously the birds cared nothing for wine tasting etiquette which dictates that one moves from the lighter wines to the more robust (white to red). How very gauche! WSV fought through the immediate bird crisis by purchasing some grapes in 2012 from a wholesale grape producer in western New York state and a wholesale supplier in Hartford, Connecticut to make a Malbec and Pink (WSV’s blush). For the long-term WSV installed an upgraded netting system which canvasses the entire two acres of vineyards under netting. This new netting system proved to be 95% effective resulting in a banner year for the WSV grape harvest in 2013 and the Parkers relied on a small team of volunteer harvesters who were fueled by homemade, homegrown tomato sandwiches as they plucked grape clusters from the vines.
A recent ribbon cutting ceremony brought several dignitaries to the winery including State Senator Kathleen O’Connor Ives who read a declaration from the Senate and promised to promote Willow Spring Vineyards as a tourist destination. State Representative Linda Dean Campbell who read a proclamation from the Massachusetts House. Outgoing Greater Haverhill Chamber of Commerce President Sven Amirian, State Representative Leonard Mirra, Haverhill School Committee and City Council members and crowds of well wishers including State Representative Diana DiZoglio.
It was an unseasonably cold, heavy raining day when the ribbon was cut, but after a few sips of wine, delectable nibbles from the creative buffet presented by Two Chefs Catering, and time spent connecting with all the happy people in attendance, the weather felt much warmer by the time we left.
Ours was a short visit.The Heartbeat of Haverhill looks forward to the day we can return to Willow Spring Vineyards just to sit back on the sprawling deck overlooking the vineyard with a glass of Vignoles, and watch one season slip into another, sip by sip.
(c)2014 by Alison Colby-Campbell