In Portsmouth: An education in wine

New building at Greenvale Vineyards consolidates operations and aims to improve customer experience

By Jim McGaw
Posted 11/17/23

PORTSMOUTH — The folks at Greenvale Vineyards don’t want you to just drink their wine. They want you to learn all about the different varietals of vino they produce.

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In Portsmouth: An education in wine

New building at Greenvale Vineyards consolidates operations and aims to improve customer experience


PORTSMOUTH — The folks at Greenvale Vineyards don’t want you to just drink their wine. They want you to learn all about the different varietals of vino they produce.

That’s why the new 8,000-square-foot building located in the southwest corner of the historic, sixth-generation farm off Wapping Road, the result of a two-year project, is a game-changer for the winery.

General manager Nancy Parker Wilson and her husband, Bill Wilson Sr., said the building is key to keeping the farm business sustainable.

“It does a lot of things that we needed to have done — three things specifically,” said Bill. “One is the tank room. This replaces what we were doing at Newport Vineyards. In the next room is a temperature-control room where we have barrels and cases. And the third space is our inventory, which we had been keeping at Park Place Motors (in the Portsmouth Business Park). There’s also a mezzanine for storage.”

Greenvale had been paying rent to both Newport Vineyards and Park Place Motors, and bringing everything together on one property will save not only money but time. “This saves us probably four weeks of travel time per year, just moving around,” Bill said.

That means the winemaker, their son Bill Jr., will be at the vineyard and not on the road as much. “Everything’s here now,” said Nancy. “The winemaker would be spending half his time in a truck going from here to there, to Park Place, bringing inventory back here. This is much more time-efficient and energy-efficient — less fuel.”

Greenvale stopped making its wine at Newport Vineyards this summer. “This is our first vintage. This is the first time we’ve been able to ferment here,” said Bill, pointing to the large tanks that greet visitors to the new building, which has large garage doors and a layout with room for a golf cart to roam the space for tours.

There are three 2,000-gallon tanks, three that hold 1,000 gallons, three with a capacity of 750 gallons each, and two that hold 500 gallons apiece.

“The reason for that is that our son Billy, the winemaker, has the ability to work on different vintages — large-volume fermentations and smaller-volume fermentations. This is set around a size of 7,000 cases per year. We can push it, but that’s basically what we started with. Right now we’re making about 3,500 cases. We’re going from about 4,000 cases to 8,000 cases in the next five years,” Bill said.

There are also 60-gallon barrels stacked throughout the building. “We’re holding wines that are in oak for another year. These will be blended in the spring and released in ’24. There in barrels for about 18 months,” said Bill.

Better customer experience

While they say it’s great to finally have everything under one roof, Bill and Nancy have realized a much bigger benefit that comes with the new building. 

“When customers come here, they get to really understand what goes into the winemaking process, so it connects us. It’s not just convenience; it’s actually elevating the customer experience to come here,” Bill said.

That’s why they’re calling the new building the Wine Education Center. “We’re training our staff so that they know to read the customer, to understand what that customer would like to learn, and to help them on their next step of their wine journey,” he said.

The center was open for Greenvale’s 24th annual Harvest Festival on Nov. 4, which this year added wine classes conducted by Jonathon Alsop, author and founder of the Boston Wine School. 

The upstairs of the building has office space and more storage, and a catwalk will provide easy access to the big tanks for cleaning purposes. “The purpose of this is to keep the first floor kind of clean,” Bill said. “We know we’re going to get messy.”

The vineyard’s renowned jazz series will continue in the restored 1863 stable-turned tasting room just a short walk away — “It’s nice and warm there, and it’s going to be busy up here with winemaking and bottling,” Nancy said of the new building, which is on a slight hill and boasts impressive views of the farm’s other buildings as well as the Sakonnet River — especially when the leaves fall.

There was live music in the Wine Education Center on the evening of Nov. 3, however, when a “pickup party” for the members of the Wine Club was held. Members of the Wine Club pay a fee to either pick up or have shipped to them six or 12 bottles of wine four times a year. The program also offers savings at the vineyard as well as other incentives.

“We’re like the original CSA — community supported agriculture,” Nancy said of the Wine Club. “People have been going to wineries for hundreds of years. Now to have support from many people who live around here, is very satisfying. It was really tourism-driven when we first started; it wasn’t people coming over the walls to pick up some wine. It was people coming from New York City who were looking for something to do.”

Replenishing the yield

Greenvale is working to replenish its stock, and the new storage tanks will certainly help with that. The yield for this year’s harvest has been lower than usual, mainly due to a deep freeze in February which impacted the Chardonnay, as well as dampness and rain that created mold on the Vidal blanc during the “fruit set” (when the blossoms come out) in the third week of June. The pinot gris grapes were hit hard as well.

The vineyard continues to plant, putting in 500 Chardonnay replacement plants and 175 replacement plants of Cayuga over the summer. “You have to balance the amount of plants you have with what you can sell. For two years we’ve been low on wine because we’ve been sold out of inventory,” Bill said.

Greenvale has always used the word “estate” to describe its wines because the grapes have always been grown on the farm. This year, however, it’s purchased Chardonnay and Malbec grapes from Long Island. “We went to certain people we knew really well. The fruit looked really clean and matches the fruit that we grow,” Bill said. “In the long run, we can fill the trough with adjacent years, so it’s not like it’s going to hurt us from a business point of view, as long as next year is better.”

When tours come through, like the group of Google employees from Boston recently, they’ll get to see the operation from the inside now — such as the lab tucked away in a small room on the first floor.

“There’s a lot of chemistry,” Nancy explained. “You have to measure from the grapes the total acidity, the pH and the sugar, which is the bricks. Then when you’re figuring out the alcohol, you need to measure where it’s at, what percentage of residual sugar — that sort of thing.”

It’s all about Greenvale’s new mission to connect customers with winemaking— similar to many restaurants’ “farm-to-table” credo. The new building makes that possible.

“We’re aspiring to be one of the best vineyards on the East Coast. This room is really prominent because it conveys our message,” said Bill.

Nancy, who started Greenvale Vineyards in 1992 with her parents, Cortlandt Parker and Nancy Knowles Parker, agreed. “Yeah, so Dad had a good idea. He would have been totally behind this,” she said.

Greenvale Vineyards

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