GILMANTON, N.H. — When Sunny and Marshall Bishop started looking for property in the Lakes Region of New Hampshire, they had some very specific requirements. A retired Marine, Marshall wanted to fulfill his lifelong dream of operating a vineyard and a winery. Sunny, an American Airlines flight attendant, wanted a spread where she could raise alpacas. They found exactly what they needed — plus a dose of pop culture history — in a handsome 1756 Gilmanton farmhouse once owned by “Peyton Place” author Grace Metalious. She had bought the house with the proceeds of the 1956 novel, which “Vanity Fair” described a half century later as ‶one of the best-selling dirty books ever.″
Sunny admits that the couple found the Metalious backstory intriguing. More to the point, the house came with nine acres of land zoned for agriculture. That ticked the boxes for alpacas and grapes alike. They bought the property in November 2006 and Marshall began planting wine grapes the next spring. Metalious had modernized and expanded the house and had dug an artesian well that still provides a reliable water source, Marshall says. The Bishops have converted the out buildings into a full-blown small winery, home to the production area of Gilmanton Winery & Vineyard.
They also expanded the farmhouse to provide extensive indoor seating for wine tastings, Sunday brunch, and events such as birthday parties and bridal and baby showers. Marshall installed a rustic bar area with a Marine Corps theme. During warm weather, though, the best seats in the house are at the tables on the long covered front porch. It’s perfect for looking across the Seyval grapevines in the front dooryard and down the long slope to the rolling landscape of north-central New Hampshire. Leashed dogs are welcome to join their owners on the porch.
Gilmanton Winery offers a variety of tastings in addition to full pours and bottle sales. The tastings are served in mismatched, often antique glassware on a tasting board, which only adds to the charm. A variety of nibbles, which range from cheese and crackers or hummus and bread with dipping oil to charcuterie boards or sandwiches, make the perfect accompaniment.
Although the Bishops only grow a few varieties of grapes, they make a wide array of wines. Like many northerly wineries, they purchase bulk juice from warmer wine-growing areas, particularly Chile, and ferment and age wines in their own style. Marshall also makes some fruit wines — sweet Blueberry Surprise really does taste like pie in a glass — as well as several blends. The Seyval vines get a workout in the blended rose wine called Seyval Twist, where strawberries complement the wine grapes in a surprisingly successful marriage.
“I spend a lot of time talking to the public,″ Marshall says, “and learning what they like.″ That customer focus translates into very approachable wines that don’t need to be explained by a sommelier. At the same time, Marshall also crafts a classic light, tart Riesling as well as a Carménère-based wine that the Bishops playfully call Jack the Ripper. Sunny’s favorite, it is bloody red, and delivers the dark cherry and black pepper flavors characteristic of the variety.
Blends are the mainstays of Gilmanton Winery and both red and white combos lean toward the off-dry end of the sweetness spectrum. Graces, a wine named for the house’s former owner, is a light bodied blend of the Seyval wine grape and Concord table grape. Clearly Metalious is not forgotten. The Bishops pay homage to the writer in a small display near the cash register, complete with a few historic photos, an old manual typewriter, and copies of her books.
“It’s a neat old house,″ Sunny says, “and I love that connection. I wonder sometimes if she visits, if the house is haunted.″
About the only thing that didn’t go according to plan is that Sunny no longer raises alpacas. Instead, the Bishops have a small menagerie of Nigerian dwarf goats, Muscovy ducks, silky chickens, and a plump little Juliana pig they call Olive the Wine Swine. Guests are encouraged to visit with the creatures in the fenced upper pasture beyond one stretch of vineyards. (Goats and pigs roaming freely in the vineyard would otherwise really cut down on the yield of fruit.)
For those who want more privacy, Marshall has created four secluded clearings in the woods with picnic tables on patches of sod. Staff will pack up a picnic basket with a red-and-white checked tablecloth, some glasses, a bottle of wine, and food.
“We want to give people a chance to relax, especially these days.” says Sunny. Marshall chimes in, “I like to see people enjoy the property as much as we do.″
Patricia Harris and David Lyon can be reached at email@example.com.
If you go . . .
Gilmanton Winery & Vineyard
528 Meadow Pond Road, Gilmanton, N.H.
Wine tastings Thu.-Sat. 11 a.m.-6 p.m., Sun. 2-5 p.m.; brunch Sun. 8:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m.
Tasting flights $6.25-$24, nibbles $5-$24, brunch $23