Hardwick Vineyard & Winery
By Jenny Miller Sechler
Published in the CISA November 2013 ENewsletter
Ten years ago, it would not be easy to spend a leisurely weekend afternoon in western Massachusetts listening to live music and sampling the offerings at the local winery. That’s because ten years ago, when Hardwick Vineyard & Winery first started producing and selling wine, only 20 farm wineries were open for business across the Commonwealth. “We were ahead of the curve for once,” jokes John Samek, Hardwick Winery’s founder and wine-maker. Now, the winery is part of a burgeoning local wine business that has found a particular home in the western part of Massachusetts. The winery produces 5,000 gallons of wine in six varieties every year, and every leisurely weekend afternoon visitors can enjoy samples in Hardwick Winery’s beautiful, bright, mortise and tenon framed barn.
It all started with a mansion, explains John. John and his wife, Audrey, moved to Hardwick in 1984 to run a dairy farm, and for years drove past the old Giles E. Warner Mansion on Greenwich Road. “The house was the inspiration for the winery,” says John. Growing up on dairy farms, John knew first hand how the dairy industry was changing and was concerned about building a business for future generations. Starting a winery seemed like a promising option to John. “I knew that wine has been around forever and it would be around long after we’re gone.” The Samek’s growing interest in running a vineyard and winery and their admiration for the old mansion converged in 1997 when the mansion and its 150-acre property came up for sale. “We got serious and took a chance. I bought this farm and hired consultants and a wine maker.” The Sameks also embarked on a complete restoration of the Warner Mansion.
John describes his early vision for the winery in simple terms. “We thought we would grow grapes and make wine and sell wine and drink wine.” Sure, he and Audrey figured the business would expand and they imagined they would eventually start hosting events at the winery. However, they were unprepared for how quickly they stepped into this role. “Agritainment is a big part of the wine business,” says John. “We didn’t realize how big a part.” Yet the Sameks have embraced the role. The winery has a banquet hall for weddings and other private functions, hosts a Father’s Day Tractor Pull and a March Maple Festival with the local sugar houses, and runs a bed and breakfast in the mansion. Perhaps best of all, every year the Warner Mansion is open to all visitors during weekends in December, so members of the general public get to see the results of the Samek family’s painstaking work to restore the home they love, right down to swapping modern for period nails in the mantle to hang their children’s and grandchildren’s Christmas stockings.
Of course in all of this, the wine stands out. Hardwick Vineyard & Winery has won local tasting awards, including the title of Best in State at the Big E in 2012, where they served 45,000 tasting cups this year. John explains that local wine has become more possible in northern climates due to new hybrid varieties of grapes that can stand the colder temperatures and still fruit. The winery grows six different varieties of grapes and buys additional grapes from other farms in New England and New York to supplement their own crop. The wines have wonderful New England names, such as “Quabbin Native,” a sweet dessert wine that won double gold at the Big E, and “Massetts. Cranberry,” a wine that takes its name from the old abbreviation for Massachusetts and features cranberries from a farm in Hardwick.
The hard work of John, who is Vice Chairman of the Massachusetts Farm Wineries and Vineyard Association, and others like him has granted local wineries a chance to expand. The recently passed Farm Winery’s Bill allows growers and producers to sell wine at farmers markets and agricultural fairs. “It was hard to get people to Hardwick,” says John. “It was working, but now we go to the people, instead of the people coming to us.” The renewed focus on local agriculture in New England is what has contributed the most to the growth of Hardwick Wineries. “The market demand is there,” John observes. “People really want to support local.” As a result of all this hard work, John and Audrey’s vision of having a business they could pass on to their children was fulfilled when their daughter, Jennifer, and her husband, took over the job of managing the winery.
The Sameks are doing their part giving back to the community that has nurtured them through the ups and downs of growing a business and a family over the past 11 years. If you would like to learn more about the winery visit their website.