Alfalfa Farm is much like other farms in the Topsfield, MA area. The once-thriving dairy and crop farm had been reduced in acreage, but owner Richard Adelman was determined to keep it as an agricultural enterprise. And although the profile of the farm has changed, the signature silos that have been a familiar landmark for many years are still present.
The Adelman family purchased the property in the early 1970s when the dairy farm went out of business. “My brother David, a chemist, had done some amateur wine making and thought that the farm could be home to a vineyard and winery,” said Richard. “We were the 13th farm winery when we started, and now there are about 42 in the state.”
Winemaker and event coordinator Trudi Perry appreciates the rich history of Alfalfa Farm Winery. “We became a bonded winery in 1995, so last year was our 20th year,” she said. “I stepped into the role of winemaker several years ago.”
Trudi says her first winemaking experience was in England, where she lived for about 10 years. There, she learned how to make wine with loganberries, raspberries and blackberries.
Alfalfa Farm grows some grapes for winemaking and also purchases juice. Juice is sourced from Chile, France, California and also locally. “They’re all on the dry side,” said Trudi, explaining the wines she makes. “We make 30 cases at a time, and there are slight variations in each batch. We make a total of several hundred cases of each per year from the grapes we grow and several hundred from the juice we bring in.”
Grape varieties grown on the farm include Marechal Foch, a French hybrid; Leon Millot, another hardy hybrid; Seyval Blanc, a light and fruity grape with a honey and eucalyptus nose; and Aurore, a white grape that produces a semi-sweet wine.
Trudi says it’s nice to grow some of the grapes on site, but there’s a lot less labor involved in making wine from juice that’s brought in. “That’s probably the only difference,” she said. “We don’t use any additives, clearing agents or color enhancers.”
The juice for wine arrives in large refrigerated drums, and undergoes the same testing and preparation as juice produced on the farm. “We do the same thing as we’d do with our own grapes,” Trudi explained. “We test sugar content and acid, and balance if we need to. If it’s a little too acidic, we add bicarbonate to bring up the pH. If it needs any sugar for the yeast to feed on, we add that. We treat it the same as if we’d crushed and pressed it ourselves.”
Trudi’s degree in zoology provided her with some chemistry background, but she says winemaking comes down to ratios. “When we crush grapes, we have an old-fashioned scale, and once the fermentation gets going, it doesn’t matter if you’re a pound either way,” she said. “You either need a little more nutrient, or it’ll have enough and finish up when you want it to. It’s all a matter of ratios. A certain formula for wine works, but the juice has to be within a certain pH range for the yeast to grow. Depending on the temperature of the must, sometimes it ferments very quickly. We try to ferment all of our wines all the way down to dry so that all of the residual sugar has been used up and converted to alcohol. For the fruit wines, we use cane sugar to get it to a sweetness that we think the public will like.”
As an example of how winemaking doesn’t always go quite according to plan, Trudi recalls that some Pinot Grigio she made several years ago didn’t go down to dry easily — it was too sweet for a Pinot Grigio. “We named it Silo White,” she said. “People loved it.”
Alfalfa Hill Winery’s blueberry, pomegranate and cranberry wines have become quite popular. The semisweet blueberry wine was awarded a double gold at a wine competition in Indiana last year, and the pomegranate wine was awarded a bronze medal in South Carolina. Trudi noted that a batch of blueberry wine that she finished this spring took two weeks longer for primary fermentation because temperatures were lower. “If I make it in July or August, it will ferment at a much higher temperature,” she said, “and will take much less time.”
The opportunity to create a tasting room and patio setting for guests came in 2004 after part of the long-standing dairy barn was destroyed by heavy snow. “When that long barn came down, they created the tasting room and patio,” said Trudi. “Then it was easier to hold events. In the winter of 2014-2015, we lost another long barn. Fortunately, the production section of the winery was left intact.”
In addition to making wine, Trudi also manages the tasting room, which is open for public tastings through summer on Sundays and includes live music as well as vineyard and winery tours. Trudi maintains an extensive email list to notify regular guests of new wines so they can come in and get them before they sell out.
Trudi says she sees both regular and new guests in the tasting room. For those who are visiting for the first time, Trudi believes it’s important to provide a relaxed and inviting atmosphere. “Some people come in and are intimidated,” she said. “They don’t know where to start, or maybe they don’t like red wine. The important thing is that it’s a wine ‘tasting’ – we have a dump bucket, so if you don’t like it, try another. You don’t have to soldier through and think you’re supposed to like it.”
One of the most unique aspects of Alfalfa Farm Winery is the group of dedicated volunteers who offer their time to help in various aspects of the operation. Volunteers help in the vineyard with pruning, training and harvest; and also help with bottling and labeling. Most of the volunteers have been coming for several years and look forward to spending time helping at the winery.
Richard says as a member of the Massachusetts Farm Wineries and Growers Association, Alfalfa Hill benefits from networking with other winemakers and learning about new techniques in winemaking and vineyard management.
Visit Alfalfa Farm Winery online at www.alfalfafarmwinery.com.