LaBelle Winery has big plans

AMHERST – LaBelle Winery wants to build an "artisan village" across Route 101 from the vineyards and restaurant that have become a landmark and destination.

Owner Amy LaBelle talked to the Planning Board recently, looking for feedback about her plans to expand the business on 48 acres on the west side of the highway.

Plans call for an inn, a restaurant, a distillery, a brewery, more vineyards, retail space and a small residential development.

Architect Rolf Biggers said they would like to keep the project "grounded in history," with a village feeling close to the highway and residences in the back. He said the buildings should look as if they belong there, with the parking hidden, as it is at the winery across the road.

They are also interested in turning the old barns on Old Manchester Road into corporate offices.

LaBelle told the board she wants a distillery so she can make products she already uses, such as brandy to make port. And an inn would be an asset to the local area, she said. After weddings at LaBelle, guests usually head to Nashua or Manchester for the night, and with an inn on the premises, they could stay in Amherst.

Planning Board members were enthusiastic, and said it’s the kind of desirable mixed-use development they have wanted to encourage.

Amherst has a committee discussing the future of Route 101, and mixed use has been "talked about but never came to fruition," said Marilyn Peterman, who called the La Belle concept "really terrific."

Selectmen want LaBelle to succeed, said John DeAngelo, selectmen’s representative to the Planning Board.

"It’s the single Amherst business that’s known throughout the state," DeAngelo said.

Others talked about the area as a gateway to Amherst and the importance of its appearance.

The key is parking, Biggers said.

"If it’s floating in a sea of parking," it would look more like the Copper Door Restaurant instead of the Bedford Village Inn, he said.

The area across from LaBelle is zoned northern transitional, so a variance from the Zoning Board would be needed. Board members also had concerns about pedestrians crossing Route 101 and about the steepness of the property.

LaBelle and her husband, Cesar Arboleda, moved their winery to Route 101 in Amherst about two years ago from their home on Chestnut Hill Road.

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100 or kcleveland@cabinet.com.