At Willow Spring Vineyards, It’s a Family Affair

Tucked away on a country road in Haverhill is a beautiful 2-acre vineyard with a lovingly restored 300-year-old barn at its center.

You’d never guess that a car once crashed into the crumbling structure and burst into flames. But look up during your next tasting and you’ll spot a charred beam. It’s the war wound of a building that’s been given new life after centuries of wear. And what a lovely life it is.

These days, the barn’s wraparound porch provides an idyllic place to sip Seyval Blanc or Heritage Red while gazing at the green vineyard.

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“It’s almost like you step back in time,” said owner Cindy Parker.

The living sure feels easy, but creating Willow Spring Vineyards (named after the land’s original farm) was anything but.

Cindy’s husband Jim Parker saw hope in the dilapidated barn and overgrown land when the couple bought it in 2001. The city ordered the condemned barn to either be torn down immediately or repaired. After promising its previous owners they wouldn’t develop on the land, and without any knowledge of wine, the Parkers decided to build a vineyard and renovate the structure. It took two years just to clear the land, which they affectionately referred to as “the rainforest” because it was so dense. They spent the next decade painstakingly restoring the barn, installing geothermal heating and cooling to make it environmentally friendly.

The 300-year-old barn at the center of Willow Spring Vineyards.
Chris Rattey/Boston.com

In the barn’s bathroom, a plaque reads “Kindness Matters.” And it certainly mattered to Willow Springs, as neighbors unexpectedly played their part in breathing new life into the property.

“People would drive by and stop to help,” said Jim and Cindy’s daughter Jade Parker, the vineyard’s tour guide. “We made friends that way.”

As the vineyard emerged, so did the Parkers’ need to be educated in winemaking. They took classes and attended seminars to learn how to grow grapes, and they leaned on local experts. The first harvest was in 2005.

The young vineyard now grows six varietals – Chardonnay, Seyal Blanc, Vignoles, Cabernet Sauvignon, Leon Millot, and Marescal Foch. If you think you only drink red wine, think again, said winemaker Brandi Parker, the Parkers’ other daughter who has also joined the family business. She challenges you to try the vineyard’s popular Seyval Blanc.

“We convince red wine drinkers who only like red wine to just give [Seyval Blanc] a try, and they love it,” said Brandi, who completed an apprenticeship at Nashoba Valley Winery before stepping into the role of winemaker with her father.

The business is entirely a family affair, and the Parkers are responsible for every step of each bottle’s journey. They grow the grapes, pick the grapes, make the wine, bottle the wine, cork and label it, and promote it at local farmer’s markets.

“We all do everything,” said Cindy. “We can’t get the kids to mow or anything yet, but we’re working on it.”

“Last year was our best year yet,” said Jade. “We did 5,000 pounds of grapes.”

The vineyard was named one of the top five small vineyards in Massachusetts by CBS Boston this year. Not bad for a family that still works full-time outside of the vineyard (Cindy is a registered nurse and Jim is the city’s wastewater treatment plant operator).

“I think people are surprised by the quality, so that’s a good feeling,” said Cindy.

If you go:

Willow Spring Vineyards

840 W. Lowell Ave.

Haverhill, MA

www.willowspringvineyards.com

Cost:

Tastings $5, Wednesdays and Sundays from noon to 6 p.m. and by appointment

What to drink:

For the wine snob: Vignole

For the adventurer: Rhubarb Wine

Pleasing to the masses: Seyval Blanc

Boston.com’s favorite: Vignole

New in 2014: Chardonnay, Rhubarb Wine

Make a day of it!

Where to eat: Keon’s, 105 Washington St., Haverhill

Where to go: Winnekenni Castle, 347 Kenoza Ave., Haverhill

(Recommendations by Cindy Parker)