This Meredith-based winery is skipping grapes to instead make wines that are truly rooted in New Hampshire’s harvests.
Ever tried wine made from heirloom crabapple or blueberries? Probably not. But at Hermit Woods, the unconventional winery in Meredith, these unique flavors are their bread and butter. They’re also October’s NH Made member spotlight, the state-wide organization that champions New Hampshire-made products by providing the support programs that local businesses need to grow. Bob Manley, co-owner of Hermit Woods, speaks to how the winery came to be, the secret behind their unique fruit-based vintages, as well as their dream for New England to one day be recognized as the world’s most interesting wine country.
“Hermit Wood started as a hobby that got a little out of hand. It started out as myself, Ken Hardcastle, and Chuck Lawrence making wine and other fermentables (like beer and cider) just for fun. But then it got to a point where we wanted to make more – and for that, you needed a license. So we decided to go legitimate in 2010 and opened our doors in our first location (in Sanbornton) a year later. We had some pretty strong opinions about who we wanted to be and what we wanted to do: We wanted to be something different and wanted to be something truly from New Hampshire.
A lot of wineries up here, they import grapes or juice because even hybrid grapes have trouble growing up here. We planted some grapes but mostly turned our attention to what thrives here like apples, peaches, strawberries, blackberries, etc. We didn’t want to make sweet wines though…because that isn’t what we drink. We had to figure out how to take fruit wine and turn it into something with the complexity of a dry bottle from California.
Ken is a geologist and his father was a chemist – important background to have when it comes to making great wine (he is a mad scientist when it comes to this). Thanks to him, 90 percent of our wines are dry and age-able, which is unheard of. Fruit wines have fewer tannins and acids than grape wines which can make them trickier to work with, but with time, care, and a watchful eye they can make some complex and interesting flavors. Traditional wisdom states that fruit wines are meant to be drank almost immediately but we suggest aging ours for five to 10 years. We’ve had a lot of success and can stand with the best vintages from Oregon, Washington, and California. Food and Wine named us one of the top 500 wineries in the country – only two in New England to receive that honor – but we’d like to see that change. We would love for more people to embrace New England as a wine country. Our flavors are unorthodox and unlike anything, you will find in other wine countries, but it has been an uphill struggle. We need restaurants to get on board, but it is easier for them to sell a California Chardonnay than a dry blueberry. People don’t know what to expect with that. We are hoping our success and our Best of New England wine competition will start to change people’s minds. With the farm-to-table movement in full swing, now is the time to grab chef and wine buyer’s attention. It’ll take time, but we are hopeful.”