How Mame and Steve Started a Winery
“Our 1978 vintage of Marechal Foch was a success and was the start of our passion to grow our own wine grapes and produce excellent wine.”
— Steve Robbins
It all began in 1978 when Mame and I found a vineyard in Tilton, New Hampshire that had Baco Noir and Marechal Foch wine grapes for sale. I had experimented with making wine from other fruits and wild grapes with some success but we were excited about making our own wine from real wine grapes grown in New Hampshire. So we drove our truck up to the vineyard and spent the morning picking grapes. When the truck was full and we had finished our lunch on that beautiful fall day — we headed home with enough fully ripened Marechal Foch grapes to make 20 gallons of wine.
Mame, who is a gardener, had a goal of owning a farm. In 1998, after looking for years, she found a piece of property meeting her criteria. One hundred and fifty acres that had been farmed for 200 years and had fallen into a state of disrepair. Poocham Hill Farm started producing organic vegetables for farmers markets and the local co-ops. Steve planted his first vines that year, thirty Marechal Foch wine grapes. He started researching the new varietals coming on the cold hardy wine grape scene and planted 140 vines the following year. The vineyards expanded almost every year after.
In 2004 Mame and Steve built out their winery in the 1830’s vintage barn. Poocham Hill farm became known for its garlic, fennel, heirloom tomatoes, and leeks but in 2010 Mame decided to retire from the fresh vegetable business and help make the winery into a successful business.
In 2016, with over 1,600 vines producing 9 varietals, Poocham Hill Winery produces intense, fruit forward, approachable wines. Steve’s talent for producing these wines stems from over 40 years of interest in wine making and experimenting with local fruit. Mame provides the expertise in the vineyards to produce very high quality wine grapes.
Together with the help of our team, we continue to create some of the only varietal wines produced in New Hampshire and some very creative, new, and unique blends — expressing the soils, climate, and terroir of the Connecticut River hillsides where our vineyard is located.
Article: Nurturing the Rural Economy, By Steve Gilbert, Business Monadnock magazine, Jan/Feb 2016
Poocham Hill Winery owners Steve Robbins and Mame ODette, who have been together for 38 years, are lifelong area residents. They bought the 154-acre spread in Westmoreland in 1998. Robbins is the former owner of Helmers Publications, Inc. of Dublin, NH and the couple originally grew and sold certified organic vegetables to small grocery stores, and co-ops in Brattleboro and Putney, Vermont.
They have always been wine connoissers, and ODette even tried growing grapes in Keene, NH in the 1970s, “very unsuccessfully,” she says with a laugh.
After buying the spot in Westmoreland, which was originally a sheep farm in the 1800s, they planted small test patches of grapes and eventually began making wine for themselves. Neighbors would visit for wine tastings and in 2004 they fixed up the barn, modeling their tasting room after Husch Vineyards, their favorite small winery in northern California.
“We kind of styled this place after that,” ODette says, noting it resembles a New England sugar house. “This is when it was still a hobby. We started slowly, reinvesting as we went along.”
“It's a slow learning process — we didn't just jump in and learn all at once. We learned from our mistakes,” Robbins adds.
As their vineyard grew to three blocks of grapes covering five acres, they went commercial in 2011. This year they made about 7,000 of full-bodied, mostly dry vintage wine. In 2014 locally owned stores began stocking their product, including the Monadnock Food Co-op, Hannah Grimes and the Ingenuity Shop in Keene as well as the Walpole Grocery Store and Putney General Store.
Wine-loving tourists have been showing up in larger numbers every year, finding their way up the rural dirt road that leads to the farm. ODette and Robbins say most like to combine a visit to Poocham Hill Winery with the Mountain View winery in Walpole.
“It's like a family,” Robbins says. “We help each other. In the summer, we get tourists from everywhere, even buses. We try to do it right and they seem to go away happy. It's a happy business.”
ODette and Robbins say wine making blends in perfectly with the rural character of the Monadnock Region. They're reluctant to expand much further, satisfied to perfect the operation as is, though they may try adding some semi-sweet wines to their inventory.
“Vineyards are another way of protecting open sapce and keeping the agricultural feel of the country in our area,” ODette says. “That's what agriculture is all about — neighbors helping neighbors.”