Thursday, June 07, 2012

Seacoastonline Raves About Hermit Woods Winery in Sanbornton, NH

courtesy photo Ken Hardcastle, wine maker, doing what he does best at Hermit Woods Winery in Sanbornton.

Field trip
Exotic ingredients found in these N.H. wines
By Rachel Forrest
June 07, 2012 2:00 AM

These days, I rarely take meandering road trips to the gorgeous outposts of upstate New Hampshire for food and drink research trips — I tend to stay near the coast — but there was something about the selection of wine at Hermit Woods Winery in Sanbornton that intrigued me.

At first, it was the promise of exotic ingredients like tomato and kiwi that got me curious — what would that taste like, I wondered? But after I got to the winery and heard about the wines and how they came to be, the more interesting it all became.

There was also mead here and wine made from foraged plants like knotweed flowers, or like the orange day lily, all found alongside a road nearby the lovely winery. And then there was the enthusiasm of the winemakers and, finally, the surprising taste of each variety — not sweet as I expected, but finely balanced and crafted tannin against soft sweetness, robust against delicate. This was something new and different.

I went up for a wine dinner and tour a few weeks ago. When you go, stay at the Steele Hill Resort only about a half mile away. It's really nice with condos or hotel rooms all reasonably priced and overlooking rolling hills and a lake near Laconia. The place has a great history and the wine dinner, with dishes made from many of the wines, from chef James Dole was excellent.

The winery, now in its second year, is run by partners Ken Hardcastle, Bob Manley and Chuck Lawrence and when it comes to talking about the wine, it's primarily Hardcastle, a geologist, who takes the lead, running through the ingredients and processes behind each wine and how the recipes came to be. Manley has a graphic design firm and does much of the marketing and design. Lawrence, a pilot born in Exeter, is finding a more sustainable lifestyle in his work with the winery.

In the tasting room we found out a great deal about the 30 new wines they have this year, including elderberry made from fruit foraged throughout the state, kiwi made with a locally grown fruit, which comes out off-dry, similar to a Riesling, and at dinner we had a wine simply called Petite Blue, made with a pound of low-bush blueberries for each bottle and which could stand up in robustness to any Cabernet.

Hardcastle's been a brewer and also makes cider, which they can't sell — yet — but instead concentrates on complex wines that you might not even know were made with fruit unless someone told you.

I was most intrigued by the more exotic fruit, like the kiwi.

"This kiwi is like that from New Zealand or California in flavor but not in appearance," says Hardcastle. "It has a smooth skin and inside there is a bright green fruit with little black seeds and they grow well in this northern climate. The wine finishes dry with a touch of back fruit and I blend it with 5 percent harvest apple wine."

The delicate blending is what separates these wines from many fruit wines, adding balance and complexity. While there are more "traditional" fruit wines, such as the off-dry Cardigan Apple, wines like the Day Lily, a type of mead made with day lily flowers, rhubarb and honey — natural ingredients found around Hardcastle's house — start sweet and end with a delightful dry must.

"The orange day lilies are edible and they add a floral component to the wine. The honey is added as a fermentor and then there is some acidity from the rhubarb. It's like springtime in a glass."

The Three Honey Wine won a silver medal at the National, American Wine Society's Commercial Wine Competition.

"Honey is a superfood," says Hardcastle. "We also have a wine with Japanese knotweed, which has a lot of resveratrol in it, another healthy ingredient and it adds flavor. One of the things that make wine great is that you have smell, flavor and a finish but it can go way out of balance. You need to experiment with balance."

The Petite Blue, for example, has that pound of blueberries but also 2 percent elderberry, and some blackberry as well. Other wines are made from foraged blueberries, blackberries and black currant as well as foraged wild apples, which add natural tannins.

They also use grapes in wines like Old Vine made with honey and Marachel Foch grapes from Hardcastle's vines, which are more than 40 years old, and experiment with spices like cardamom, black pepper and coriander in their Three Spice Mead.

At the evening's dinner, we sampled an Heirloom Crabapple Wine with a Caesar salad and that very robust Blue with roast tenderloin and baked stuffed shrimp and the pairings were perfect. I'm interested to see what they come up with in the future because they do like to experiment — fiddlehead wine? Morel? We'll see. Whatever they try, what they're bottling is certainly some of the best locally made wines I've had since coming to New England. And I think that super food concept is working — as I said to our own Carla Snow, wine educator — I don't know what else is in that wine but all three of the partners are my age and look about 10 years younger. Yes, I had to say it.

Hermit Woods Winery will be open through the fall every Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. It will be open Wednesday — Sunday in July and August. Find them at and for a great place to stay, check out the Steele Hill Resort at

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