Although Nancy Knowles Parker and her daughter Nancy Parker Wilson found success in other ventures before opening Portsmouth’s Greenvale Vineyards, you could say they were destined to be in the grape business. Both are descendants of Ephraim Wales Bull – a 19th century Concord, Massachusetts farmer who deliberately bred a grape that could withstand the cold New England climate. That grape is now called the Concord grape, a key ingredient in many popular jellies and juices. The elder Parker is not kidding when she says, “Our blood runs purple.”
Knowles Parker and her husband Cortlandt spent most of their careers in the newspaper industry, eventually starting a chain of community newspapers together in New Jersey. Wine was an interest and hobby for the couple, but it didn’t become a business until 1981 when they decided to grow grapes on Cortlandt’s family farm at Greenvale. They began by selling grapes to Sakonnet Vineyards, but after a decade as a supplier they realized that to become a self-sustaining enterprise they needed to make their own wine. In 1992, they produced their first batch of Chardonnay and a new business was born.
Around this time, daughter Nancy – a public relations executive and preservationist - became more involved: “My parents thought we needed to go at a different speed, to not just make wine, but sell it. We needed to get people in the door for tastings, jazz nights, events to capture that retail dollar that enables you to keep the doors open. At first it was just fun, but then mom and dad asked us (Nancy and her husband Bill) to get more involved. They asked us for our ideas and opinions, which is a big step from a parental point of view.” “It still is,” mom quickly chimes in.
Today daughter Nancy is the general manager, somewhat unexpectedly: “Never in my wildest dreams did I think we’d be doing what we’re doing now. I thought I was going to be the first female mayor of Boston.” She is supported by her husband Bill, an architect who led the award-winning restoration of an on-site stable that now serves as Greenvale’s Tasting Room. “He builds beautiful buildings, but he’s also our capital planner and the one who comes up with new ideas and improvements that make things go smoothly.”
Mother and daughter mildly chide each other as they recall details of memories past, and when Parker Wilson describes the wine business as “a blast,” Mom is quick to note “it’s labor intensive. It’s not a toy.” But both recognize that their great relationship makes the arrangement a success. Parker Wilson says proudly, “It’s very satisfying and do we make a great team. We may occasionally butt heads, but it’s more mother-daughter stuff, not professional. I’m very aware that I work with my mother, but I wouldn’t want it any other way.” 582 Wapping Road, Portsmouth. 401-847-3777.