A magical journey into a wine-making wonderland awaits you. So put on your blue and white dress (metaphorically of course) and follow the Orange Snail into the heart of Sanborton, New Hampshire and along the road to Steele Hill Resort. But alas, you must take the road less traveled to reach your whimsical destination. And by that I mean take a left onto a dirt road just before the main entrance of Steele Hill Resort.
As you arrive you are greeted by a fast talking, tail wagging Orange Dog named Kayla. She guides you on foot along a snail flanked path to the land of mystical wines and meads, the like of which you have never tasted before, I promise. Upon first glance it appears to be a humble homestead of Jerilyn and Bob Manley but do not be fooled for within this home is a winery like no other. Established in 2010, the first years' production (2011) of only 350 cases this innovative winery will keep you guessing and anticipating what's next.
While I call this area Appellation Winnisquam, there are certainly no stodgy AOC-like rules here. Ken Hardcastle winemaker extraordinaire has a knack for fermentation. If it has fermentible sugar, is edible and grows indigenously, he will find a way to incorporate it into his wine-making process. Deep in the heart of this winery you will find innovation and creativity that expresses itself in some of the most complex and radical flavors your mouth will ever find. Wines such as Knot Tomato, made of 70% tomato (local of course) 28% Rhubarb and Japanese Knot Wheat and 2% Apple. Then there's Three Spice Mead with Coriander, Cardamom, and Black Pepper and my personal favorite, the Hermitage, a combination of seven grapes plus, who knows what else. "It's all about the process" Ken says as he shares his latest batch of fermenting crab apple wine. Much of the material from their wines are foraged, donated in their program called "Hermit Shares" or derived from local bee farms.
While Ken is working hard in his fermenting cellar and "fruit laboratory", Bob works hard at promoting and marketing these enigmatic concoctions. Their trademarked logo of the Orange Snail has made it's way around the state and beyond. Including my own kitchen unbeknownst to me! When returning home with my newly logo-ed stemware my son's comment was "you had one of those glasses before." Indeed I had! Until I recently broke it in the sink. (I knew I'd seen that logo before!)
Bob is currently working hard to promote their upcoming Lakes Region Barrel Tasting Weekend, with six wineries participating. An absolute must attend event.
Bob being a bit of a sommelier himself, having lived in California, visiting many off-the-beaten- path vineyards, proudly displays the awards they have received for their work thus far (with more to come for sure). He pours the samples and one-by-one I am amazed and sometimes stumped for descriptive words.
Harvest Apple: A pale yellow wine with bright acidity and fairly dry apple-forward flavors that finish with crisp bubbles.
Three Spice Mead: Made from local, raw honey and blended with cardamom, coriander and black pepper. This sweet floral aroma gives way to a sweet and peppery palate with subtle flavors of licorice, ginger and anise.
Knot Tomato: A complex yet quite unorthodox blend of tomato, a weed known as Japanese knot wheat and apple. This wine presents aromas of broody spiced tomatoes and persimmons. With tight acidity and dry finish.
Blue Mead: Wild foraged blueberries and raw honey, this draws aromas of lily of the valley and other wildflowers. sweet on the palate with a slight gently tannic and pepper sensation. Even smooth finish.
Three Honey Mead: This mead is the base for the Three Spice Mead has a very pale and oily appearance on the glass. Aromas of Gardenia and lilac with flavors of lavender, honey and thistle. Soft, sweet longevity.
Blue: Hot buttered blueberry muffin aromas! Sweetness that quick gives way to the strong tannic astringency with lingering blueberry flavors.
Heirloom Crab Apple: Inspired by Bob's own crab apple tree. This blush wine smell of spring apple blossoms which blend nicely with the perfumey sweetness and balanced acidity.
Hermitage: WOW! A seven variety grape based wine that will make your a tongue a stage for vaudevillian flavors. Lightly floral aromas and a host of morphing flavors including honeysuckle, pear, honey, watermelon rind, spice and delicate red berries. Don't think you can quantify or qualify this wine, it will keep you guessing all the way to the final act.
As I conclude my wistful journey through this viticultural wonderland, I take with me my own little piece of this history-in-the-making winery.
I do believe the label says "DRINK ME". Indeed I shall.
Please visit for yourself: www.hermitwoods.com