Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Hermit Woods Winery's Uncorking

I am a huge fan of New Hampshire wineries so it is always a pleasure to see them grow and prosper. We have already seen LaBelle Winery move into a beautiful new facility in Amherst, which has allowed them to expand not only their space, but offerings, wine dinners, classes and events.

Recently, I had the pleasure of joining the founders of Hermit Woods Winery, formerly of Sanbornton, for their official “Uncorking,” the grand opening of their new winery in downtown Meredith. They worked tirelessly through the winter months to upgrade the old Fermentation Station building that gives them much more room to offer tastings, sell their products and most importantly – produce wine.

“This is really a special day for us,” said Bob Manley, one of Hermit Woods’ founders. “Ken, Chuck and I have worked hard the last 10 months and we are excited to open the doors.”
Manley thanked their family, friends and many others involved in the project. He also noted that the response from other businesses and the Meredith community “has just been fantastic.”

“Most importantly, I want to thank our customers. You have helped make our business a success and supported us from the beginning,” Manley said.

Manley, Ken Hardcastle and Chuck Lawrence started Hermit Woods in 2011 after forming a strong friendship. The original tasting room and wine production space were located in Manley’s home. He joked that he was finally going to be able to have his master bedroom and basement back with the opening of their new Meredith space.

“We had a love of wine and we wanted to produce wine with native fruit from our area in the style of regions from around the world,” Manley said. “Our wine is made with fruits grown right here.”

Hardcastle said they will actually be adding a “fermentable landscape” in front of the winery so they can grow fruit right on site.

Before opening the doors during the official grand opening, all three founders ‘uncorked’ the winery with a giant wine opener and invited guests to head inside.

“We are excited about doing our part in Meredith for Main Street,” Manley said, “and we look forward to being here for a really long time. Please take a sip of wine, wander around and enjoy the place.”

For this special occasion, Chef Kevin Halligan of Local Eatery in Laconia served up a delicious selection of appetizers, made to order on a grill right on the Hermit Woods deck. 

The weather was so great on this day, many guests looked like that had a hard time deciding whether to stay inside and check out the winery or just enjoy the view and sunshine outside from the deck.

Hardcastle, the winery’s head winemaker, gave guests a tour of the winemaking space located in the lower level of the building. Included were some of his test batches, including some yeasts and a day lily wine. A geologist by trade, Hardcastle is constantly experimenting with different yeasts to see what he wants to use in his wines. “Wine is a living thing,” he said.

In addition to their wine, Hermit Woods is partnering with other local businesses like Oglethorpe Fine Arts and Crafts and the Bread Peddler to offer a variety of items for sale in the winery. The space is set-up nicely, with room to sip wine and browse. There is also a nice deck off the front entrance, which will be an ideal place to sit and relax during the summer months.

The winery produces about 30 different wines per year. Their new wines will be released this summer, but during the event guests were able to sample four wines: Three Honey Wine, Red Scare, Maple Blue and Karmin Ayre. I have tried all of these wines before but I never get tired of them; they are all so good. The Maple Blue is the perfect wine for the season because it is actually made with local sap and low bush blueberries.
The winery is currently open on Fridays from 3-6 p.m., and Saturdays and Sundays from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m. Beginning in May, nearby Newfound Lake Vineyards in Bristol will also be open, so take a trip to the Lakes Region and make a day of it. Visit hermitwoods.com for more information.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Survival of the FITtest Challenge

Gather a team of four and test your physical and mental strength during the Survival of the FITtest on May 10 in Chichester. 

I will be there with some gym buddies. This event should be a good time so get some friends together and come out. Plus, you'll get in a good workout while having fun!

This event requires a co-ed team of four participants, to include one woman on each team. Beginning at 8:30 a.m., teams will navigate a 5K course with a variety of physical and mental challenges throughout, and must work together as a cohesive unit to complete the course.

The event will be an all day affair and there will be numerous activities for children, so they are welcome to attend with adult spectators. There will also be music, food, contests and prizes.

A portion of the proceeds will be donated to the Frank Monahan Foundation, which supports local youth and community programs.

Fun Intelligent Training in Concord is hosting this event, but registration is open to all teams of four. Registration is $55 per person until May 4. For more information and to sign-up, visit www.funintelligenttraining.com/fittestchallenge.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Maple Season: Wine & Spirits Made With Maple

(I am a few weeks late sharing this column from the Hippo. But the good news is you can enjoy these maple products past maple season).

It is maple syrup season here in New Hampshire and many sugarhouses recently participated in open house weekend. With the abundance of maple syrup here in New England, it only makes sense that many wine and spirit producers take advantage of this ingredient, incorporating it into their products.

Maple Blue from Hermit Woods Winery
(Photo courtesy of Hermit Woods)
Maple syrup is made when tree sap is boiled and the excess water is removed.  Because it takes 40 parts sap to make one part syrup (or 10 gallons of sap to make one quart of syrup, according to Tap My Trees.com) it is a labor of love, much like wine. A lot of work goes into the little bottle we appreciate when it is time to have pancakes, waffles or even ice cream.

Maple syrup might seem like an unlikely ingredient for wine because it is so sweet, but used thoughtfully during the winemaking process, it can really add depth and even some smokiness.

Ken Hardcastle, winemaker at Hermit Woods Winery in Meredith, doesn’t shy away from using different products in his wine and takes advantage of local resources whenever possible. It’s no surprise to me that he found a way to nicely incorporate sap from the trees at their former tasting room site in Sanbornton with some blueberry wine.

The result was a 2012 and 2013 Maple Blue, which are both very similar but the 2013 wine has a slight and subtle sweetness over the 2012 bottle. Both wines are made with 35 percent blueberry wine and 65 percent maple wine. Maple sap from the Sanbornton trees was concentrated over a wood-fired syrup pan during the winemaking process. The result is a wine that resembles a pinot noir, but is bursting with blueberry flavors, a touch of oak and a smokey sweet finish from the syrup.

My mom and I had an opportunity to try the 2013 Maple Blue upon a recent trip to the winery, poured by Ken himself. We could tell he was very proud of this wine and he should be. It is definitely a wine that captures the essence of both ingredients very nicely.

Sap House Meadery in Center Ossipee already embraces honey, but has two regular and two seasonal meads made with New Hampshire maple syrup. Their award-winning Sugar Maple is a honey-maple syrup wine also known as an acerglyn, fermented with black tea. Though it sounds sweet, it actually has a low amount of sugar, resulting in a wine that is velvety and buttery (this is sometimes how people describe chardonnay). It can be enjoyed many different ways: iced, chilled, at room temperature, warmed or even mulled. 

Sap House’s Hopped Blueberry Maple is another regular and award-winning mead made from wildflower honey and low bush blueberries with maple syrup added to balance out the fruit and sweetness. Surprisingly, this mead has aromas of grapefruit due to the use of Willamette hops. Enjoy this wine iced, chilled or at room temperature.

The seasonal Peach Maple is a semi-sweet, honey-peach maple syrup wine similar to the Sugar Maple, but with whole peaches added in the winemaking process. This gives it a delicate peach aroma and floral notes of honey. Blackberry Maple, another seasonal, is a semi-sweet mead made with local blackberries. It is aged with Hungarian oak, giving it notes of vanilla, coffee and black pepper. These seasonals are not always available, so if you see one, grab it!

The good news is you do not need to travel all the way to Center Ossipee to enjoy Sap House’s meads. Locally, they are available at Bert’s Better Beers, Candia Road Convenience and Vino Aromas in Manchester, Harvest Market in Bedford, Concord Co-op and Barb’s Beer Emporium in Concord.

Flag Hill Winery and Distillery in Lee blends their General Stark Vodka, made from New Hampshire apples, with maple syrup to make their Sugar Maple Liqueur. This liqueur is pretty good any time of the year, but especially great in the spring and fall seasons. You can sip it at room temperature, chill it or add it to an array of beverages like apple cider or tea. You could even try it over vanilla ice cream for an extra treat.

There are a few other ways to enjoy maple. Jim Beam and Crown Royal make maple versions of their whiskey and Knob Creek makes a Smoked Maple Bourbon.

Being able to enjoy real maple syrup will always be one of my favorite things about living in New Hampshire, whether it comes in a jug, wine bottle or glass of mead. Either way, it’s a bottled labor of sweet, old-fashioned love.