Amy LaBelle shares the flavors of her home
Local produce, innovation and family participation are the ingredients for success when it comes to meals at home with winemaker Amy LaBelle.
Amy LaBelle is a busy person by anyone’s standards. She’s the founder and owner of LaBelle Winery in Amherst. This fast-growing business with nearly fifty employees includes a restaurant, event hosting and catering, and a culinary product line—and that’s in addition to the making and marketing of the wine. Plus, LaBelle is a cook, gardener and mother to two boys ages six and four.
Despite her busy life, LaBelle is home for dinner more nights than not, pre-paring the meal with her sons, then sitting down to eat with the whole family, which includes husband Cesar Arboleda, co-owner and cellar master for LaBelle Winery. Meals are prepared from scratch, and use ingredients from her own garden or other local sources, to the greatest extent possible. “We eat really well at home,” LaBelle says. Favorites are beef bourguignon over polenta, tacos, “pretend” fried chicken that is baked in the oven, chicken saltimbocca (see recipe on facing page) and many Colombian dishes from Arboleda’s home country. The boys eagerly help, and her oldest is capable of making tacos on his own, LaBelle says, noting that he has a sophisticated palate for someone his age.
Many of the recipes LaBelle creates at home end up on the menu at The Bistro at LaBelle Winery. In fact, she works closely with The Bistro chef on all the dishes there. She is highly attuned to taste, and is constantly experimenting and improving on dishes. “As a winemaker, I love to play with flavors,” she says. Recently, in what she refers to as an epiphany, she realized that a touch of raw honey added to her tomato tarts would totally transform them—it did.
Although LaBelle began her professional life as a lawyer, she always loved gardening. “My mom and dad had a garden,” she says. “To eat that tomato that’s still warm from the sun … Is there anything more fabulous than that?”
Food is a family affair for Amy LaBelle and her two sons, Jackson, age six, and Lucas, age four. They shop locally as much as possible, at places like The Stand at Amherst Garden Center shown here.
She eventually moved from Boston to Bedford: “I bought a house so I could have a garden—no joke.” And she planted an enormous one. From there, she moved on to growing wine grapes—gardening on a grand scale—but LaBelle has never given up her love for cultivating flowers and vegetables.
In addition to grapes, lettuce, onions, tomatoes, corn, herbs and edible flowers are grown at LaBelle Winery and used in The Bistro kitchen. More vegetables are planned to be planted every year. There are now honeybee hives in the lower vineyard, and their honey is sold at the winery. LaBelle describes her philosophy as “extreme local.”
Gardening played a role in kicking off the culinary part of her business, The Winemaker’s Kitchen. One year, she had a bumper crop of jalapeños, so she made some jalapeño wine for cooking and gave it to friends, who couldn’t get enough of it. The Winemakers Kitchen now sells heirloom-tomato and sweet-onion varieties of culinary wines in addition to the jalapeño. The line also features jams, jellies, honey and a growing list of other items.
LaBelle’s first winemaking foray was a batch of blueberry wine she made while living in an apartment in Boston. When she moved to New Hampshire, she made more wine, founding her business in 2005. Three years ago, she and her husband bought the former Bragdon Farm in Amherst. There they planted grapes and built a state-of-the-art winery, restaurant and event space. There are now 2,001 vines planted (new grape varietals now make it possible for vines to withstand New Hampshire winters), and LaBelle Winery produces twenty-nine wines, including dry and semi-dry, semi-sweet, dessert and sparkling. Currently, LaBelle gets its fruit from carefully selected sources, but come this fall, the winery will harvest its first grapes.
In addition to tours and tastings, the winery also has a full-service event space for parties, weddings and other events. It offers cooking classes, wine dinners, live music, art talks, the Granite State Authors Series and more. The winery was recently honored as the 2013 New Hampshire and New England Woman Owned Business by the U.S. Small Business Administration, and recently received the 2014 award for Best Winery and Vineyard in New Hampshire.
Even with a fast-growing winery to run, family dinners at home are a priority for Amy LaBelle, husband Cesar Arboleda, and their two sons, Jackson and Lucas.
Making it work
Busy entrepreneur LaBelle has a system for making those dinners at home happen. First, she tries to keep work and home separate. Her boys are certainly familiar with the business, and LaBelle hopes that one day they might even take it on, but for now, she makes sure they aren’t constantly on the premises. She goes home to spend time with them rather than bringing them to her. Second, she lives close, spending her days at the winery, then going home to make dinner with the family. After the boys go to bed—a consistent early bedtime is key—she can do paperwork and emails. “The beauty of my work is that I don’t have to do all of it on-site,” she says.
It also helps that meal times are fun and not battlegrounds. Nobody is forced to eat what they don’t like, but they do have to taste it. “The rule at our house is you have to try it once,” LaBelle says. Her boys, young and old, do love meat, she says, but the family has a meatless meal once a week. They especially love her guacamole made with lime, cumin and purple onions. Luckily, with a chef and mom who is always trying something new, LaBelle’s family is as adventurous as she is when it comes to eating.
LaBelle Winery Lazy Saltimbocca
4 fresh sage leaves
4 chicken breasts, lightly floured
4 slices of prosciutto
1½ tablespoons olive oil
1½cups chicken stock
½ cup LaBelle Winery Seyval Blanc
1 lemon, cut into discs
½ cup limoncello
1 tablespoon of fresh sage, chopped
Salt and pepper, to taste
Cooked egg noodles
Tomato Salad with Vinaigrette (recipe follows)
1. Place a sage leaf on each chicken breast and wrap with a slice of prosciutto.
2. Heat the olive oil in a skillet or sauté pan. Add the chicken and brown on all sides until slightly caramelized. Add the stock, wine, lemon, limoncello, chopped sage, salt and
pepper, and simmer until the sauce reduces by one-third.
3. Serve over cooked egg noodles with Tomato Salad with Vinaigrette (recipe below) and enjoy with the rest of the Seyval Blanc.
Tomato Salad with Vinaigrette
1 cup LaBelle Winery Heirloom Tomato or Sweet Onion Culinary Wine, or Seyval Blanc wine
2 tablespoons finely chopped shallots or onion
1 teaspoon sugar
¼ cup red or white wine vinegar
2 medium tomatoes for the dressing
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste
12 tomato slices for the salad
Fresh basil for garnish (optional)
1. Place wine, shallots or onion, sugar and vinegar in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until the liquid is reduced to ½ cup.
2. Core and quarter the tomatoes. Purée in blender, then strain the purée into the saucepan. Bring to a boil and simmer until about ¼ cup of liquid remains.
3. Whisk in the olive oil, and season with salt and pepper.
4. Serve over sliced tomatoes and garnish with basil.
LaBelle Winery Grilled Peaches with Red Raspberry Wine Sauce
1 bottle LaBelle Winery Red Raspberry Wine
½ cup brown sugar, divided
2 tablespoons butter, melted
4 ripe peaches, halved with pit removed
½ cup heavy cream
¼ cup confectioners’ sugar
Cinnamon for sprinkling
Fresh mint sprigs for garnish
1. Pour the wine into a medium saucepan and simmer on very low heat until the wine is reduced in volume by half. Add ¼ cup brown sugar to sauce and stir. Please note: It’s important
to keep a close eye on the sauce as it can burn easily.
2. While reducing the sauce, heat the grill to medium. Brush the melted butter on the flat side of the peaches and sprinkle with the remaining brown sugar. Place the flat side down on the grill for about 7 minutes; do not burn or blacken.
3. Place each grilled peach in a dessert bowl, grilled side up, and drizzle with Red Raspberry Wine reduction.
4. Whip the heavy cream. Incorporate the confectioners’ sugar. Top the peaches with whipped cream and sprinkle lightly with cinnamon. Garnish with fresh mint sprigs.