Valley Bounty: Glendale Ridge Vineyard
Published December 4, 2021 in the Daily Hampshire Gazette
By Jacob Nelson
FOR THE GAZETTE:
Rolling hills and pastoral mountain views. A welcoming place for all ages, and a glass of wine for those of age. With Glendale Ridge Vineyard in Southampton, Ed and Mary Hamel have written a new chapter for their farmland and in their own lives, founding a farm that’s as much a place for people as it is for growing grapes.
“It was a dairy farm owned by the Sankey family before we bought it in 1992,” says Ed Hamel, a longtime contractor who himself renovated many of the existing buildings now used by the winery and vineyard.
“The view is outstanding,” he continues. “Big open land with farms on either side, looking out at the Mount Tom Range and the Holyoke Range.”
Though Hamel grew up in a farming family, this is the first professional farming adventure for him or his wife Mary. “But we always wanted to grow things,” he says. “Now I mostly take care of the farm and she runs the winery, but we’re both actively involved in all of it.”
Over five acres, they grow about one third of the grapes used in their wines. The remainder are sourced from farms in New York. “The last few years, all the grapes for our reds have come from Long Island,” says Hamel. “Their climate has more growing days than ours. And some white grapes come from the Finger Lakes.”
There on Glendale Ridge, they grow what’s fit for local conditions. “Our soil here is kind of unique,” Hamel explains, “because most of the farm is sitting on a glacial outwash plain.” Underneath a layer of topsoil, several feet of sand and gravel drains water quite rapidly. This apparently suits their grapes well.
Amid this year’s rain, sandy soils kept plants from getting swamped. Meanwhile during the drought of the summer of 2020, “I kept expecting to see the vines wilting, and it never really happened,” Hamel shares. “My theory is that our soils are so dry, the vines were already rooted deep to find water.”
The biggest challenge growing wine grapes in New England is the cold. Any temperature close to 0 degrees Fahrenheit spells trouble for many varieties, Hamel says. In 3 of the last 8 winters their acre of Cabernet Franc vines have been badly damaged, the extreme cold literally nipping next year’s crop in the just-forming buds.
But like many plants introduced from warmer climates, new hybrid varieties have also been bred to handle the chill. “We planted a Minnesota variety called Itasca,” says Hamel, “a white grape that’s cold-hardy to -30F. With those we don’t have to worry.”
As with most farming, caring for wine grapes is a seasonal cycle. With the October harvest behind them, “we’ll start pruning in January,” says Hamel. “It’s about 80 hours of work per acre, and we basically remove 90% of the vine.”
Come mid-May the vines will bloom. “Then around June first we make another pass and break off excess buds or new growth that we think is too much,” he continues.
The vines grow fast, and they’ll continue to prune and trellis them throughout the summer. As the fruit matures, the last step is removing some of the foliage. This improves airflow to ward off diseases and exposes the grapes themselves to direct sunlight, which concentrates sugars. And sweet, healthy grapes are the basis of great wine.
The winery at Glendale Ridge Vineyards produces over a dozen different kinds of reds, whites, roses, and sweet dessert wines. Production winemaker Alex Bienvenue leads the charge here, guided by Juan Micieli-Martinez, a consultant with significant winemaking experience at well-known vineyards in Long Island.
Some Glendale Ridge vintages can be found at Atkins Farms Country Market in Amherst, as well as Provisions Wine locations in Hampshire County. But many customers come straight to the winery in Southampton – not just for the wine, but to enjoy the space they’ve created.
Public access and events have evolved drastically over the pandemic, says Hamel, but they’ve always tried to keep their doors open as safety would allow.
In the summer of 2020, they hosted what Hamel refers to as tailgating in their ridgetop fields. “We encouraged people to bring chairs, tables, picnic meals, that kind of thing,” he says, “and we sold wine by the bottle to enjoy here.”
With fields too flooded to drive on last summer, they instead put up a large tent and made picnic tables and porches available for seating. They also began offering much the same service as in their tasting room – tastings (five 1-ounce samples) flights (three half glasses), full glasses, and bottles.
“Last summer we had free live music every Friday and Sunday evening too,” says Hamel. In the past they’ve also hosted ticketed concerts and hope to do so again.
The winery’s indoor tasting room, mostly closed since March 2020, just reopened last month, offering wine by the flight, glass, or bottle. Staff are fully vaccinated and they ask that guests are too, and masks are required.
“We do have propane heaters on the porch outside too,” says Hamel. “So if people don’t want to come inside, they can still have a glass of wine and be warm.”
This time of year they also sell holiday gift boxes of their wine paired with other local products, like pantry items from Carr’s Ciderhouse and Appalachian Naturals or local cheeses.
What’s the best part about running a vineyard and winery? “Most people come here with a smile on their face,” Hamel offers, “and it’s our goal to make that smile a little bigger before they leave.”
“We’re offering something that wasn’t here before – a place for people to go out and enjoy themselves, bring their own food, and enjoy some wine. A lot of families come, and whether you’re 2 years old or 90, everyone is welcome here.”
“People tell us we’ve become a really important place for the community, and we have a lot of people saying thank you for that.”
Jacob Nelson is communications coordinator for CISA (Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture). To learn about more local wineries or places to find locally made gifts or holiday experiences, visit buylocalfood.org/find-it-locally.