Balderdash Cellars Trades Urban Outfit for a Sylvan Setting
Christian Hanson in the barn.
Richmond Pond, with patio space in foreground.
The tasting area will overlook the production facility.
Hanson heads into the barn.
The temporary tasting area.
There’s nothing better than watching a winery come to life just a 15-minute drive from your house. Unless it’s a business that’s become so successful, it needs to move to a bigger, more accommodating location. We support things like that at Rural Intelligence, and Balderdash Cellars is a fun business to champion.
Christian and Donna Hanson founded Balderdash in 2011 originally as a hobby. They set up shop in the basement of a commercial building on East Street in Pittsfield. As the business grew and visitors increased, the weekend wine tastings began to extend into the gravel parking lot just off one of the city’s busiest streets — a trendy urban setting, perhaps, but not the most pleasant way to enjoy a glass of wine.
No longer just a hobby for the Hansons (although they still have their day jobs; he’s a finance manager, she an inside sales rep, both for a multinational company), Balderdash needed more space and a country setting that would appeal to weekenders as well as locals.
Once they saw the view at a farm on State Road 41 in Richmond, Mass., they knew it was their new home, but it was really more like the former owners chose them. The property had been a working farm for generations of the Clark family, who raised dairy cattle and crops. The Clarks had rejected previous offers, but liked that the Hansons weren’t going to put up McMansions, and that they were going to keep the ca. late-1800s barn up, rustic as it was.
On a recent visit, Hanson showed me around the new location, bringing me into the tasting room/production facility that’s still under construction. In several weeks the tanks will be moving in, and the tasting area furnished — but simply, Hanson said. The barn, which is where tastings are held for the time being, is indeed in its natural state, with uneven floorboards and hay left over from its recent past. But the plywood bar, set on barrels and decorated with colorful messages left by tasters, and the multiple seating areas create a cheerful atmosphere, and certainly haven't scared any wine enthusiasts away.
“Last Sunday it was freezing, and we had about 50 people in the barn,” Hanson said. There’s already been one wedding (there’s a ceremony arbor down the hill), a precursor of other events to come. A large patio space overlooks the pond, and plans include building an amphitheater for concerts and bocce courts (“My wife’s Italian — you gotta have bocce courts”).
Of course, Balderdash doesn’t grow its own grapes, but the couple is intimately familiar with the grapes they bottle. Hanson, who went through the wine-making program at UC Davis, was just back from one of his frequent trips to the central California coast vineyards that have acreage allocated specifically for Balderdash. Visiting two to four times a year allows the couple to walk through “our vines,” sample the berries, and decide when to harvest them.
With the tagline “wicked wines and tall tales,” and wines named (and copyrighted) “Til Death Do Us Part,” “Truth Serum” and “Joyride,” it’s clear the Hansons take pleasure in the whole process. The naming itself “involves a lot of wine or beer,” Hanson said, but all have personal stories to some effect, all spelled out on the company’s website.
The Hansons hope to have everything buttoned up by January 1, and that’s important not just because it can get mighty windy up on that hill, but because Balderdash sells 90 percent of its wine onsite. The Cellar Club also helps, offering discounts, complimentary tastings, invitations to the annual wine release party and other extras.
Before I made my visit, Hanson cautioned me to dress warmly. Truthfully, it wasn’t that bad (then again, both he and I are from Minnesota). But don’t let that stop you. Sip some “Fruit of the Boot,” listen to some live music (most Saturdays from 2-5 p.m.), and I guarantee you’ll warm right up.
81 State Road, Richmond, MA
Tasting room hours: Sat. and Sun., 1-5 p.m.
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