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Sip ‘n’ Savor at Hermit Woods Winery

Christine Randall - September 24, 2012





Those who enjoy sipping unique, locally crafted, fine craft wines are rejoicing in the increasing number of wineries, vineyards, and meaderies which have successfully established businesses in the unpredictable, non-temperate climate of New Hampshire. At last count, there were over two dozen of these businesses located throughout the state, with at least six located in central New Hampshire.

One of the newest wineries to open up in the Lakes Region is Hermit Woods Winery, located on Taylor Road in Sanbornton. Characterizing itself as a small boutique winery, Hermit Woods opened for business in 2011, specializing in handcrafting a variety of traditional and not-so-traditional wines. In 2011, the winery made 350 cases of wine, and this year, they produced 950 cases of wine, including 30 different varieties of traditional grape wines, unique fruit wines, and honey meads.

“We expect to double what we sold last year,” says co-owner Bob Manley. “Things are really good!”

In addition to Bob, Hermit Woods is co-owned by two other business partners, Chuck Lawrence and Ken Hardcastle, and the business is located at Bob’s home. “When my wife and I bought the property, an addition had already been added onto the building,” explains Bob. “It’s a separate part of the building, and it’s a nice space for the wine work area and tasting room.”

Bob says that he never expected to be operating a winery when he and his wife moved to New Hampshire in the mid-1990s. “My wife and I had spent 11 years in California, and we grew to love everything about wine,” he explains. “When we moved east, we started learning about wine in New England, and we visited wineries to help build our knowledge. I got to know Ken, who is also from California, and Chuck, and the three of us just clicked. We found that we were having a lot of fun spending time together making wine, and the idea of opening a winery followed.”

Bob explains that although some grapes are imported from South America for use in making some of the more traditional wines, much of the wine at Hermit Woods is made primarily from locally available fruits and vegetables (yes, vegetables), some of which, including French hybrid grapes and crabapples, is grown right at the winery.

“We have 120 vines that produce eight different varieties of French hybrid grapes which were first developed in Minnesota about 30 years ago,” explains Bob. “The grapes are able to withstand cooler temperatures and shorter growing seasons. We also try to use whatever fruits that we have available here on the property in our wines.”

Whatever fruit that Hermit Woods doesn’t grow themselves is obtained from local farmers and orchards. “We are constantly in search of local organic growers in New Hampshire,” says Bob. “We can never find enough organic fruit.” Bob adds that the winery also relies on what he refers to as “foragers” who bring in locally picked blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, and other kinds of berries. All told, Bob estimates that the winery used 4000 pounds of blueberries, 1200 pounds of crabapples, and 2000 pounds of grapes in their wines this past year.

“We really want to make our wines from the fruit indigenous to this area,” Bob says, “and we like to support local farmers and orchards as much as possible. We also try to support the local economy by selling our wines in local outlets, Mom and Pop stores and Farmers’ Markets,” says Bob.

Bob credits Ken with being the “brains” behind the wine-making process at Hermit Woods, coming up with many of the unique recipes for the unusual varieties of wine that they produce. “Ken has a unique approach to making wine,” Bob says. “He enjoys experimenting with using different types of fruit, yeast, and fermentation, and Ken also likes to experiment with different ingredients in his recipes.” Bob adds, “Ken and I are very passionate about wine – it doesn’t get much better than this!”

Bob notes that some flavors that they come up with are more popular than others. “Our tomato wine did very well this year, but the zucchini wine?  Maybe not as popular,” he laughs. “It’s experimental, and it all adds to our knowledge.” One of the most popular flavors at Hermit Woods is crabapple wine, which won a Silver Medal this summer at the Indy International Wine Competition in Indianapolis. “I think we are the only ones in the area and in the State who make this wine,” says Bob.

Other non-grape fruit wines include apple, blueberry, kiwi, elderberry, rosehip, and “maple blue” made with maple syrup and blueberries. Meads include “Three Honey Wine” which won a Silver Medal in 2011, at the American Wine Society competition in Rochester, New York; “Ginger Peach”; “Crabapple Honey”; and “Day Lily,” just to name a few. Of course, there are more traditional grape wines as well, including Merlot, a few varieties of table reds, and Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon.

According to Bob, wine made at Hermit Woods is only produced from using whole fruit, not fruit juice, and each type of fruit requires different preparation. Once the fruit is prepared, it is combined in a fermenter with other ingredients, sometimes including sugar, maple syrup, or honey, and yeast. As the mixture ferments, the sugar in the fruit is converted to alcohol. This is the “primary fermentation” stage, which takes between one and two weeks.

The fruit is then pressed to separate the juice from any seeds or skins, and the resulting juice is then “racked” into a stainless steel or oak container for the “secondary fermentation stage.” After another couple of weeks, the wine is racked again into another container, where the particles begin to settle to the bottom of the can. After a period of time, the wine is racked a third time into another container without any sediment, and the final and fourth time the wine is racked results in clarifying the wine, which is when the wine has become completely clear of any sediment.

Bob explains that this entire process can take anywhere between about nine months and a year, when the wine is bottled and readied for sale or stored for further aging. “We like to sell the best wine that we can make,” says Bob with enthusiasm.

Visitors to the winery are invited to sample various wines in the tasting room, to see for themselves how various flavors come together and to learn more about wines, wine-making, and the story of the “hermit in the woods” after whom the winery is named. “The making and selling of wine is important and fun,” says Bob, “as is the sharing of our wines with the folks who come into our tasting room.”

Another way that people can sample different wines that are at a “young” age is by attending a “barrel tasting.” Bob explains that barrel tasting is done when wine is about six months old, or sometime around the fourth racking and while it is still in the barrel. Hermit Woods will be joined by five other Lakes Region wineries and vineyards in a Barrel Tasting weekend on September 29 and 30. Other businesses involved include the Coffin Cellar in Webster, the Sap House Meadery in Ossipee, the Gilmanton Winery, Haunting Whisper Vineyard in Danbury, and Stone Gate Vineyard in Gilford. There is no charge to participate, and prizes will be awarded in a drawing after the event. For more information about this barrel tasting tour, log on to www.hermitwoods.com.

Hermit Woods wines are available at a number of retail outlets in the Lakes Region, including Smoke N Barley in Tilton, the Wine’ing Butcher in Meredith and Gilford, the Concord Food Coops in New London and Concord, and Blackstones Lounge at the Margate Resort, as well as at several other locations throughout the state. You can also order online from their website.

The Hermit Woods Winery is open June, September and October on Saturday and Sunday from 11am until 5pm. During July and August, they are also open Wednesday–Friday from 1pm-5pm, in addition to Saturday–Sunday from 11am–5pm. They will be closed for the 2012 season on November 4. The Winery is located at 56 Taylor Road in Sanbornton. For more information and directions, contact them at 253-7968. 

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