From the cellar to the country
Winery now offering weekend tastings with a view
RICHMOND — It all began when Christian Hanson decided to try making wine in the basement.
"I had tried making beer and decided to try making wine," he said Wednesday afternoon. "We made a couple hundred gallons; it was a family affair."
And from that basement-level beginning, Balderdash Cellars winery was born. "One day, I thought, 'I want to open a winery,'" he said. So, he went to California to attend the wine-making program at the University of California — Davis. While in California, he also had the opportunity to work at a vineyard during the harvest season, which he said was a "great experience."
While there, he asked his wife, Donna, to move out to Napa. "She said no, and I came back to Pittsfield, and we eventually moved the winery out of our home to the basement of the former Pittsfield Rye Bakery," he said, adding the space had no windows and was hidden from the street.
The couple moved Balderdash Cellars to its new home in Richmond last summer. The 25-acre property includes a brand-new 5,000-square-foot (total on two levels) tasting room/wine making facility, a farmhouse with a brewery located in the basement, a pond and expansive views of the Berkshire Hills. Hanson said the couple debated the pros and cons of an urban winery versus a rural one, and decided a rural setting was the better fit. "People who come to this area often come from the city, and they don't want to go back to a city."
The new facility features a tasting room that overlooks the rolling Berkshire Hills and can hold about 100 people. Visitors are able to look down from the loft-like space and watch the wine-making process underway on the lower level.
"It's like being in a fish bowl while we work. They sometimes throw us down pistachios," Hanson joked. He added that since opening in the new location the tasting room has been at capacity several times. Future plans include adding a patio with seating this summer and having tables with umbrellas on the lawn. Hanson said the winery would extend its tasting room hours later this month and again for the summer.
In the tasting room, visitors can try a tasting of six wines, a glass of wine or Balderdash Cellars beer, made either at the winery or contract brewed by Wandering Star Brewery in Pittsfield. Although the tasting room currently doesn't sell snacks, visitors are welcome to bring their own. Hanson said the tasting room is family friendly, but parents should bring something for the children to drink.
"People can come in have a wine or beer and listen to music. We'll also relate the history of the winery and talk about wines," Hanson said.
The winery currently produces 30,000 bottles of wine, 60 percent red and 40 percent white. Because the climate in the Berkshires isn't good for wine grapes, Hanson said Balderdash works with vineyards in Paso Robles and Edna Valley, Calif., and some in the Finger Lakes region of New York. The grape varieties include chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir and riesling. The grapes are picked in the fall and prepared for shipping to Balderdash Wines — the juice only for white wines, the de-stemmed, crushed pulp and juice for red wines — and frozen in 55-gallon drums.
Upon arriving at Balderdash Cellars, the grapes are thawed for four or five days and then are loaded into tanks, "where all the magic happens turning the juice into wine," Hanson said. After sitting in the tanks for about three weeks, the grapes for the red wine are pressed to get out all of the juice and the skins are discarded. The juice is then placed in oak barrels, where it will remain for one to three years before being bottled. Twenty-five percent of the white wine juice is also placed in oak barrels, the rest in stainless steel. The white wine is bottled after 3 months to a year.
"We taste each barrel every month and determine what can be blended to make an even better wine," Hanson said. "They are combined right before bottling."
The resulting wines have names that in themselves tell a story. Giraffa, a chardonnay, is named after a toy giraffe that Hanson had a child; Tollbooth, a riesling, "is in homage to the family vacation and being stick in the way back of a station wagon," he said; Joyride, a pinot noir, alludes to the time Donna borrowed her father's moped to go to cheerleading practice and it was stolen — never to be seen again; and Invincible, a cabernet sauvignon, alludes to Hanson's son and his friends — and a large bonfire in the backyard.
For the future, Hanson can see Friday night family-friendly concerts on the lawn — maybe adding an amphitheater — by light acoustic, small bands. But, "we're happy where we are now. We don't want to get too big, we want to keep the fun, casual, family friendly atmosphere.
Bottles of Balderdash Cellars wines are available at the winery, Spirited in Pittsfield, Nejaime's in Lenox and West Stockbridge and Kelly's in Dalton.
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