Tuesday, October 8, 2013

NH Oldest Winery: Jewell Towne Vineyards

I recently visited Jewell Towne Vineyards in South Hampton, New Hampshire’s oldest winery. My only complaint is that I didn’t visit sooner. They have a great story to tell, a beautiful vineyard and excellent wine.

Peter and Brenda Oldak moved to their 12-acre farm in 1977 and planted six grape vines in 1982. At that time, Peter was a home gardener with a background in science and chemistry who started experimenting with winemaking and planted more vines and varieties to see what would grow best in New Hampshire. Four years later, he was making wine and in 1990, there were 60 varieties of American, European and French hybrid grapes in the vineyard area of the farm. He found that its location facing the Powwow River made a great microclimate for grapes.

In 1990, the vineyard was officially established, named after the Jewell Towne Historic District of South Hampton. Peter narrowed down the grapes to 20 varieties and with the help of other agricultural and wine professionals, further developed his winemaking skills.
Peter’s work paid off, because in 1992, Jewell Towne’s South Hampton White won a gold medal and best hybrid of the show from the American Wine Societies national competition. A second wine, Alden, won a silver medal.

“This is what I call the beginning of a hobby run amok,” said Brenda recalled during a tour of the vineyard.

Two years later, the winery went commercial, producing 40 cases of wine that sold out in three weeks. With visitors flocking to the vineyard, the Oldaks realized they needed a tasting space and had reserved an area on the property for that purpose. The tasting room was built in 1998 and has been expanded since due to the winery’s continued success.

During my visit, vineyard employees and volunteers were harvesting grapes, a process that usually occurs from September through October. After the grapes are harvested and weighed, they are put through the crusher stemmer. From there, they enter the bladder press. We had a chance to see this process in motion during the tour and it was very neat.
Brenda showed us the vineyard’s plants, set eight feet apart, set-up in a vertical shoot positioning formation for maximum grape ripening. The vineyard’s microclimate makes it so little irrigation is needed. She also noted the plants have 10 to 15 foot roots.

“You can’t make top quality wine from bad grapes,” Brenda said.
Inside the winery there are 500 and 1,000-gallon tanks and an automated bottling and corking system. The Oldaks have come quite a long way from making wine in their garage and bottling, labeling and corking bottles by hand.

“For us, it makes a huge difference,” Brenda said of the automated machine, noting it now takes them five to six hours to bottle, cork and label the amount of wine from a large tank, versus two days by hand.

While I had tried a few of Jewell Towne’s wines before, the sampling list at the winery was extensive and it was hard to choose only a few to try.

“We are really focused on winemaking,” said Brenda in the tasting room, surrounded by awards and articles written about the winery.

The wine speaks for itself. I tried Cayuga White first, one of Brenda’s favorites. This wine is off-dry with flavors of tropical fruit and melon. Next, I tried Traminette, a Gewurztraminer and Seyval hybrid that is sweet and delicious. I took a bottle of this home, along with their Vidal, an off-dry, full-bodied white that is smooth and fruity.

Jewell Towne is one of the only wineries in New Hampshire that produces Steuben, an off-dry rosé similar to white zinfandel, but with much more flavor and depth.

For reds, I really enjoyed their River’s Edge, a semi-sweet red blend of Concord and Leon Millot grapes; Landot Noir, a mediuim-bodied wine with aromas of licorice and leather; and their Port, which is fruity, but much less harsh on the palate than others I have tried.
In addition to liking each wine I tried at Jewell Towne, I also loved the atmosphere. The tasting room was cozy and welcoming; the vineyard was beautiful and the staff was friendly, knowledgeable and took their time letting us try each wine. Even my friend Amanda, who doesn’t usually drink red wine, enjoyed their selection and she took a bottle of red wine home.

Do not wait as long as I did to visit Jewell Towne Vineyards. They are open year-round from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m. Wednesday through Friday and 11 a.m. until 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Visit jewelltownevineyards.com for more information.

NH's Award-Winning Wines

Hermit Woods Winery in Sanbornton has consistently produced award-winning wine this summer, taking home medals in several competitions.

At the Indy International Wine Competition in Indianapolis, Indiana, they took home silver medals for their Petite Blue Reserve and Lake House White. The Indy is the largest scientifically organized and independent wine competition in the United States. This year’s competition received nearly 2,200 entries from 15 countries and 40 U.S. states, evaluated by 50 distinguished judges.

In other prestigious wine competitions this summer, Hermit Woods took home a total of six more gold, silver, and bronze medals. Other award winners include a gold medal for their Three Honey Wine at the Mazer Cup, the world’s premier mead competition; a silver medal for their Mélange; a bronze medal for their Petite Blue in the Fingerlakes International Wine Competition; a silver for their Heirloom Crabapple; and a bronze for their Kiwi Wine and Petite Blue in the Big E wine competition in Springfield, Massachusetts.

 “We have only been entering wines for competition for a couple years now, and have yet to not come home without a medal. We are very proud of this accomplishment,” said Bob Manley, one of three winery partners, in a winery announcement. “Winning medals is important, but what is most important to us is what our customers have to say, as long as we are making them happy, we will be happy.”

Past medals include a silver medal for their Three Honey Wine and Crabapple Wine. 
Hermit Woods Winery opened in 2011 so these accomplishments are impressive, but I am not surprised they have seen so much success. Their wines are good and it is clear winemaker Ken Hardcastle really thinks about the ingredients themselves, using them to their full potential. I love visting the winery and listening to him talk about each wine, because his passion and dedication are so evident. The tasting room is also very nice, so if you haven’t visited yet, put it on your to-do list before the winery closes for the winter.

Next year, Hermit Woods Winery will move to downtown Meredith, where they will have more room for winemaking. 

In other New Hampshire wine news, Candia Vineyards has won some medals for their wine this year. At the Big E, their Diamond won gold; their Noiret and Crescent won silver medals. At the Atlantic Seaboard Wine Competition, they were the only winery from Maine or New Hampshire to win a medal. Their Ice Storm took home a silver medal. At the International Eastern Wine Competition, Diamond won a silver medal. Candia Vineyards was also the only winery from Maine, Massachusetts or New Hampshire to be recognized with a medal. To learn more about this winery, visit candiavineyards.com. 

Sweet Baby Vineyard Label Release

My friend Amanda and I recently visited Sweet Baby Vineyard in East Kingston for their label release event. Owners Lewis and Stacey Eaton decided it was time to redesign their wine bottle labels, letting go of the label they had since they opened the winery in 2008. They worked with Be Good Branding and Pixels & Pulp to create the winery’s new brand and labels, which is fun and whimsical and still very “sweet.” 

Lewis said while the old labels meant a lot to them (their daughter’s hands were pictured on it), they felt it was time for a change and wanted something that would get noticed on supermarket shelves.  The new labels include more information about their commitment to local farms and list the farms that grow their fruit. They also note that 10 percent of their profits will be donated to the farmers because they believe that growing local and supporting local businesses is so important. 

I had already seen the new labels in my local supermarket and thought what a nice gift they would make during the holidays. If you are looking for their wines in stores, please note their Kensington White and Kensington Red are now Chardonnay and Amarone, named for their grapes. The winery used to be located in Kensington in the Eaton’s home, but they moved to a new location in East Kingston last year. This gave them more production space and room to house events like this one. If you haven’t seen their new tasting room yet, I highly recommend visiting. 

I was excited to try two new Sweet Baby wines, as they recently added pinot grigio and cabernet sauvignon to their lineup. While these are not wines I would typically choose to drink, I was impressed with both. The pinot grigio is off-dry and smooth, not acidic like some can be. I’m not sure I would have known it was a pinot grigio in a blind tasting and that made me like it that much more. The cabernet was dry but also very smooth with a nice finish. I could see that wine pairing well with pasta dishes or steak. Sweet Baby made a believer out of me because I took home a bottle of each. 

Because I like sweet wines, I like Sweet Baby’s Bartlett pear, a dessert-style wine, and the apple and blueberry wines, both semi-sweet. The pear wine is light in color but rich in flavor and could be enjoyed at the end of a meal all by itself. Pairing recommendations include cheese like warm brie. 

The apple wine is smooth, crisp and a great wine for fall. Made from New Hampshire apples, it would go well with pork or chicken dishes and even desserts like apple crisp or cobbler. 

The blueberry wine is also made from New Hampshire fruit. This wine is medium bodied and resembles more of a red wine than a fruit one, though it is enjoyed chilled. I love the aroma and flavor of this wine, along with its rich, purple hue. Try this wine with cheesecake for a delicious pairing. 

While I enjoyed these wines, the Amarone was my favorite of the day. Lewis told me I was going to like it and he was right. I went home with two bottles. This wine is full-bodied and rich, with notes of blackberries and raspeberries. While dry wines aren’t usually my favorite, this one has a smooth finish and softer tannins. While recommended pairings are Italian foods, meats, stews and cheese, I will probably be sipping this wine on its own during the fall and winter months. 

Sweet Baby Vineyard is located at 14 Powwow River Road in East Kingston. They are open year round on Saturdays and Sundays from 12-5 p.m. and Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays from 12-4 p.m. For more information, visit sweetbabyvineyard.com.