Hidden New Hampshire
Hermit Woods Serves Fruit Wines Worth the Search
Over the years, I have attended a lot of wine tastings. Seldom have I been at a tasting where sweet wines were served, as nearly all wine connoisseurs prefer dry wines that contain little or no residual sugar. With the exception of an occasional dessert wine like Sauternes, port or ice wine, I find them repulsive. Sweetness is often used to cover up wine flaws. Small wineries do this when they are trying to make wine from locally grown fruit. So when a friend suggested that I check out the fruit wines from Hermit Woods Winery & Deli in Meredith, N.H., all I could think of was Boone’s Farm apple and strawberry wine. I was prepared to reject them as just another wannabe winemaker trying to appeal to Pepsi drinkers. But being the open-minded kind of guy that I am, my wife and I made a short trip to Meredith to taste and see.
We met with Bob Manley, one of the partners, and he explained the approach they have developed over the past 10 years of operations. Most wineries in this region import grapes or experiment with hybrid varietals that grow well in cool climates. Importing grapes creates significant challenges in selecting the fruit and requires additional transportation costs. Cellardoor Winery in Lincolnville, Maine, which I have written about in the past, does a fantastic job of making wine from grapes grown in New England, but it’s a huge operation. Smaller local wineries would find it difficult to match their resources. Hermit Woods operates in a small building in downtown Meredith and has developed a different vision.
All great wines are made in the vineyard, where grapes take on the qualities of the terroir and respond to microclimates. As you develop your wine palate, you may find that you are attracted more to specific growing regions than to grape varietals. So instead of trying to overcome the challenges of the New England climate, Hermit Woods chose to embrace them and began making classically styled wines from local fruit.
To make 12% alcohol wine, you must begin with at least 24% sugar. A winemaker might employ a process called chaptalization, which involves adding sugar to unfermented fruit — it’s named after Napoleon’s minister of the interior, Jean-Antoine Chaptal, who made the process legal in France. Chaptalization is outlawed in several other places, including California, Argentina and South Africa, but not in the Live Free or Die state. To compensate for the lower sugar content of local fruit relatives to grapes, Hermit Woods’ winemaker Ken Hardcastle experimented with several types of sweeteners before determining that dextrose makes the cleanest tasting beverage.
Every year, Hermit Woods produces about 4,200 cases of wine, which are distributed to and sold in small wine shops in 38 states. When you visit their tasting room, employees will help you determine the types of wine you like and guide you to suitable selections. When I made it clear that I only like dry wines, Manley explained to me that more than 50% of his customers preferred sweet. Still, they have something for everyone. On your visit, you can venture into the lower level of their facility to find a modern wine-making operation that includes stainless steel “super tanks” that control the temperature of fermentation and aging. You also will find a traditional barrel room containing about 30 oak barrels that are used for aging. It’s a relatively small operation, but has everything it takes to make great wine.
I had never experienced wine made from peaches, rhubarb, quince and rose hips, but was pleasantly surprised by Hermit Woods’ Lake House White. This dry wine is crisp and refreshing, and you will be surprised that it wasn’t made from grapes. The Red Scare is made from blueberries, blackberries and raspberries. In this case, you might doubt it was made with grapes as the raspberry flavor dominates. It paired well with a roast pork dinner we later served.
We also enjoyed the dark rich flavors of Hermitage, created with blackberries, blueberries, elderberries and black currants. This Rhone-style wine was aged in oak for 24 months and features the complexity you expect from a fine grape wine. Our favorite, however, was the Petite Blue Reserve, made from wild blueberries and aged in oak barrels. This wine was cited in the November 2017 issue of Food & Wine magazine and the winery was mentioned in a 2019 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine, as something not to miss when visiting New Hampshire.
Each of these wines was nearly bone dry and worth the drive to Meredith. Plan to pair your wine flight with one of Hermit Woods’ deli sandwich selections. On my next visit, I will pair the Red Scare with their turkey bacon jam panini — the deli was closed during our last visit due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Hopefully you’ll be able to include Hermit Woods in your travels through New Hampshire while enjoying the fall foliage. Salute.