Lee, NH, is home to an amazing aromatic white wine producer: Flag Hill Winery. Owner Brian Ferguson and vineyard manager Elijah Shields are passionate about their work in terms of caring for the field and the environment, producing consistent high-quality wine and educating their customers on the process of winemaking.

At Flag Hill Winery, they grow hybrid grapes to produce their aromatic white wines. When asked why they focus on making white wines instead of red, Ferguson explained that white wines are more profitable and successful for their business. It’s not that they can’t make a good red wine, but they can’t make a large enough variety of good red wines as they can with their white wines.

To put it in perspective, “If 1,000 people came to Lee, New Hampshire, to taste our red wine, maybe 10 people would like it and the other 990 would think we’re not good at making wine,” he said. Focusing on red wine production would not be beneficial for their business or their reputation.

Making white wine is not the only thing Flag Hill Winery does well. They have also learned a lot about disease resistance and growing in the cold Granite State winters.

“The great thing about our grapes is, along with the genetics of being able to survive these cold winters, come along a couple other attributes – one of them being quite high acidity,” Ferguson said. Their grapes reach as high as 17 grams/liter, but most people drink wine with acidity between 5 and 8 grams/liter. But high acidity is desired because it leads to positive chemistry for making aromatic compounds.

Elijah Shields, vineyard manager, leads a tour through Flag Hill’s grapevines. Photo by Kelsi Devolve

Over the years, they have improved their wine quality through picking their grapes in cool weather to maintain taste and aromatic compounds in the fruit. They use flame-weeding for efficiency and the safety of their workers (instead of harsh chemicals), and they purchased new equipment to decrease the packaging time of the wine from picking to bottle.

Back in 2021, Flag Hill Winery was one of around 20 participants of the Finger Lakes International Wine Competition to receive a Double Gold rating on their wine. At that competition, over 40,000 white wines were entered, meaning their wine was rated higher than almost all of the wines submitted.

Although they have had some successful seasons, Ferguson and Shields have had to deal with the harsh weather and precipitation that all of the farmers in the Northeast have experienced. The 2023 growing season was especially tough for the farm.

“We normally harvest about 70 tons [of grapes], and this year we’re gonna harvest less than five,” Shields reported, but overall, the rough weather led to “a great learning experience.”

At the end of the day, Flag Hill Winery focuses on managing fruit quality, not quantity. They strive to create consistent quality wine year after year, even if their yield is not consistent.

For more information, visit flaghill.com.

by Kelsi Devolve