Raising a Glass to Greenvale
A look back at the history of Greenvale Vineyards and a peek at the vineyards' controversial expansion today.
Far down off the beaten path on Wapping Road, one can find Greenvale Vineyards, a picturesque, family-run business that is part of Portsmouth's history.
The 72 acres where the vineyard now operates was originally settled by John Barstow in 1863. He decided to retire at age 38 after dealings in the sea-faring trade.
Barstow based his lifestyle and the layout of the future vineyards' settlement on a book called "Country Life," which stressed an attitude of work hard by day and relax come sundown.
Owned today by descendant Nancy Knowles Parker, the vineyard is now listed in the National Register of Historic Places. In the 1960s, the couple began privately growing grapes, officially turning it into a vineyard in 1982.
During the 1990s, with the help of their daughter, Nancy Parker Wilson, the Greenvale brand of wine was developed.
In 2000, Wilson's husband, William, restored a stable building on the property. The building is now used as a place to host wine tastings.
In the tasting room, visitors can sample and buy a variety of wines, including a light and dry Pinoit Gris or a Chardonay aged in wooden barrels and then in stainless steel. The Vidal Blanc and Skipping Stone White, both more sweet and dry, go well with spicy foods.
Additionally, the vineyard holds occasional events such as book signings and music performances, particularly jazz sessions on weekends from May to November. The space can also be rented out for events such as weddings.
"The Rhode Island Right To Farm Act encourages farms to do other supplemental events in order to have financial options make sense," said General Manager Nancy Parker Wilson. "People have the opportunity to get married in one of the most beautiful places in Rhode Island."
While some neighbors are wary about having larger events in the area, Parker Wilson promises that all events have a strict end time of 10 p.m., also mentioning that the number of guests is never enough to cause heavy congestion on the roads.
Greenvale is planning to build a 6,500-sq.-ft. structure set back behind the vines. Estimated to be about 30 feet high, the building will be used for wine-making, aging and tasting. This would allow for far more than the current 3,500 barrels per year that the vineyard yields.
However, talking about opposition from neighbors, Parker Wilson states, "neighbors have made it clear they would rather have 'second recreational houses' on the land"—in other words, summer houses.
When asked about the possible new development, Nancy Howard, who lives on a nearby street, said, "We live in a residential area; to build a 7,000-sq.-ft. manufacturing building is against the zoning ordinance."
"Opponents try to say that what we do isn't farming," Parker Wilson said. "On the contrary, it is all about agriculture … we survive on agritourism."
Greenvale Vineyards continues to pursue their proposed expansion.