top of page

WINTER DIARIES FROM THE NEW HAMPSHIRE VINEYARD & WINERY


Winter is for vineyard dreams, photo by NOK Vino
Winter is for vineyard dreams, photo by NOK Vino

This new year, in their own words, Granite State wine growers tell us what they are working on and dreaming up as 2024 freezes their vines, cools their cellars, and gives their visitors the perfect reason to cozy up in their tasting rooms.


Before reading these diaries, it is noteworthy to recognize that the late frost in May of 2023 caused many of these New Hampshire wine farmers to lose nearly 70% of their normal production. Bill Meserve and Bob Elliott of Squamscott Vineyard & Winery in Newfields, NH, were lucky enough to lose just 30% of their normal harvest. They shine credit beyond their vineyard’s microclimate to their visitors as well: “Our great customers make it all worth doing.”


All 16 of our member wineries feel the same appreciation for their wonderful guests. With a challenging season behind them and 2024 spreading before them, here are winter diaries from 5 of these member wineries, including suggestions for nearby attractions to enjoy this time of year.



GRAVITY & TIME MAKE DYNAMIC WINE


Vignerons Bill Meserve and Bob Elliot grow and craft their all-natural Blue Heron Wines on the Squamscott River, which is the namesake for their vineyard and winery in Newfields, NH. A half mile down the road, at their renovated 1792 tasting house, questions are always welcome. Asked about fermenting, they might share that it begins with the naturally-occurring yeast that coats their ripe grapes. Or they might highlight that once harvested, the wines achieve primary fermentation within just weeks before they require ‘racking’, or pumping from tank to tank to filter out used grape matter and yeast cells. Bill and Bob’s diary from the winter fermenting room continues this story of their Blue Heron Wines:


Bill & Bob’s tasting house is open year round, photo by Monica Christofili
Bill & Bob’s tasting house is open year round, photo by Monica Christofili

“Over the winter, the wines will continue to ferment very slowly, and some wines will experience an additional fermentation known as MLF (malolactic fermentation). The wines will be racked several times over the winter to support our natural approach to ‘fining’. Fining is a process used to clarify the wines. Typically, a fining agent is used to accelerate the fining process, and these agents can be derived from an animal product. We do not use any fining agents (which makes the wines vegan). We only use gravity and time. This is rather old-fashioned; however, it is a more natural process, and it is consistent with our commitment to ‘minimalism’ in our growing and winemaking values.”


“As the wines are sitting in the tanks, in the cool wine cellar (50°F), they are developing tertiary notes, or flavors that come from development over time. Wines aren't meant to be turned into something static. Wines are dynamic because acids and alcohol are reacting to form new compounds, and other existing compounds are dissolving and forming new compounds. Texture is also developing as the wines age. Some of the most fascinating aspects of wine making are happening in the wine cellar, unbeknownst to the average onlooker. These aging effects can also continue after the wine is bottled.”


To experience all the results of Bill and Bob’s Blue Heron Wines, visit their tasting house during winter hours, Saturday 12-5. You might extend your destination to dinner at Fire & Spice Bistro, located across their backyard. Or consider pairing your tasting trip with a visit to Wintertide Portsmouth. Just over 15 minutes away, its seasonal happenings include outdoor ice skating and historic walks as well as indoor activities like art galleries, escape rooms, and more.



THREE FRIENDS, LOTS OF FRUIT, & A VEGETABLE


At Hermit Woods Winery, in Meredith, NH, founding friends and owners Bob Manley, Ken Hardcastle, and Chuck Lawrence welcome you to their tasting room, year-round bistro, and varied schedule of music and community events. From their winter diary, they share this overview from winemaker, Ken Hardcastle:


“Every winter is a bit different. This winter we will be fermenting Petite Blue and Petite Blue Reserve as well as a rhubarb wine. Much of our time will be on elevage (stirring barrels, rackings), stabilizing, blending and filtering some of our wines. We will be bottling our Heirloom Hard Cider in January, and then others in preparation for our Spring Club Release in April. We will also attend the Eastern Winery Exposition in March.”


Honey Crabapple Wine, photo by Hermit Woods Winery
Honey Crabapple Wine, photo by Hermit Woods Winery

While Ken and the team are busy fermenting fruit, rhubarb, and more, their newly released 2023 Crabapple CYSER is now available for you to enjoy in their tasting room, open 7 days a week.


This unique apple-honey wine is composed of locally grown heirloom Dolgo crabapples that were harvested from Hesky Park on the shores of Lake Winnipesaukee in downtown Meredith, NH. Fermented with wildflower honey, the result is a surprisingly crisp and balanced rose-like wine.



For the inside scoop on all that goes into your glass at Hermit Woods Winery, join co-founder Bob Manley every Saturday at 11:30 or 1:30 for a tour and a tasting. Bob promises you won’t be disappointed. To double the fun, plan your trip to the winery in conjunction with the Pond Hockey Classic, February 2-4, or the 45th annual Great Rotary Ice Fishing Derby, February 10-11, both in Meredith, NH. Another winter classic, just 15 minutes away from the winery, is the World Champion Sled Dog Derby, which will take place in Laconia, NH, February 16-18.



TERROIR FOR TWO


The complete natural environment of a vineyard, its ‘terroir’, ends up in every grape and every resulting vintage. The same happens in an apple orchard, where the air, soil, nearby water systems, and the microclimate all come together in the apples and in any ciders made from them. At Seven Birches Winery, in Lincoln, NH, wine and cider maker Mark LaClair appreciates the terroir that New Hampshire provides for grapes and apples alike, and he shares this diary about a winter full of fermenting both in the White Mountains:


“The winter is a busy time at Seven Birches Winery. White wines from the fall harvest are aging in their tanks until next winter, while the reds are aging in their new home, oak barrels, for the next 2 years. The most activity you will find in the winery right now is hard cider production for our sister brand, Rhythm Cider. Due to the climate and topography in New England, we are able to grow world-class apples and thus make world-class ciders.”


Best NH semi-sweet cider, photo by Seven Birches Winery
Best NH semi-sweet cider, photo by Seven Birches Winery

“You could say that the terroir for apples is perfect in New England. Apples are harvested right around the same time as grapes are in the northern hemisphere. But, unlike grapes, apples are able to be refrigerated for extended periods of time without losing any of the qualities that make them perfect for cider making. If anything, the apples dehydrate slowly in refrigeration (or outside) and that only increases the percentage of sugar to juice that they provide for fermentation. This allows us to focus first on the grapes, then quickly shift our attention to apples.”



“Every week, more apples or sweet cider is brought into the winery and fermented in much the same way as our wines. Some of these ciders, like our original ‘Rhythm Cider’ will be ready for this coming summer/fall. Others, like our award-winning ‘NH Semi Sweet’ will age for a year before being released.”


All of these Rhythm Ciders, as well as a full assortment of Seven Birches and locally-sourced wines, meads, and more, are available for experiencing and purchase at the winery’s two tasting rooms, located at RiverWalk Resort at Loon Mountain and in the Lincoln Village Shops. When you plan your visit, be sure to look at all the special events happening just up the mountain from Seven Birches Winery this winter.



CELLAR MAGIC, CULINARY DELIGHTS, & SPARKLING HORIZONS


While exciting events of all kinds occur above ground at Averill House Vineyard in Brookline, NH, something equally as exciting is happening down below. Here is a diary entry from the Averill House team inviting you into their subterranean world of winter winemaking and cold stabilization:


Ice vine, photo by Averill House Vineyard
Ice vine, photo by Averill House Vineyard

“Come with us to explore the fascinating winter transformation of our vineyard, where the dormant vines set the stage for a crucial winemaking process. During this season, the temperature in the cellar drops below 25°F for an extended period, initiating cold stabilization. This unique natural occurrence allows the wine to undergo a ‘self-filtering’ process. As small particles in the wine come together for warmth, they gradually evolve into larger, heavier particles, ultimately cascading to the bottom. Witness this intricate winemaking dance by joining our award-winning tour, providing an up-close encounter with the magic that unfolds in our cellars during the winter months.”


Along with their tours and bottle-your-own events, Averill House offers a unique way to experience winter in the vineyard. Their cozy igloos and gazebos each feature a fire table, Dyson HEPA filtered heater, and Norwegian-themed lighting and furniture for up to 8 people. For a special Valentine’s evening this year, choose one of these real-life snow globes or the vineyard’s 1830s tasting room to indulge in a 5-course chocolate-infused dinner and wine pairing. These popular themed events sell out quickly, so reserve your spot for an unforgettable night of culinary delights and vineyard ambiance.


Valentine igloos, photo by Averill House Vineyard
Valentine igloos, photo by Averill House Vineyard

With the new year unfolding, Averill House also extends an invitation to their patrons, friends, and family to join them in a new crowdfunding venture, an expansion into sparkling wine and cider production: “Leveraging our fruit trees and collaborating with local fruit farms, this endeavor requires a significant investment in equipment. To facilitate this growth, KIVA has generously offered to host the vineyard with a 0% loan. Be a part of this exciting journey and contribute to the future success of our vineyard as we venture into new and sparkling horizons.”


When you visit Averill House this winter, consider planning your trip alongside one of these nearby destinations, each just 5 minutes away. The Brookline Auction Gallery Winter Antique Show runs every Sunday 5-11am, and the Andres Institute of Art, open dawn to dusk, is free to the public and features over 100 sculptures from around the world throughout over 10 miles of trails.



KEEPING THINGS JUICY FOR BLUE SKIES AHEAD


The winter brings two big tasks for wine grower and maker Lewis Eaton of Sweet Baby Vineyard in Hampstead, NH: “After the Holiday rush is over, we will concentrate on getting the majority of our fruit wines and white wines in the bottle. We do this for two reasons. First, we want to preserve the fresh taste and botanicals of these types of wine. Second, we need to open tanks for fruit frozen fresh in season by our local growers.”


Pears grown a quarter mile from the vineyard, photo by Sweet Baby Vineyard
Pears grown a quarter mile from the vineyard, photo by Sweet Baby Vineyard

With 27 different estate-grown grape and locally-sourced fruit wines in rotation, Lewis has an understandable focus on featuring fruit freshness and managing tank turnover. Once he has seen that his tanks are out with the vintages and in with the next juicy fruits, Lewis forecasts that it will be time to move his and his team’s efforts back outside: “Starting in March we have to start thinking out pruning and any vineyard expansion we might do. This year we are clearing another acre for a picnic area with fruit trees.”


Give Lewis and Stacey Eaton a visit this winter to hear more about their blue-sky plans for this new picnic spot at their family vineyard. Their all-season tasting room is open Thursday-Friday, 12-4, and Saturday-Sunday, 12-5. If you plan a visit between February 8-11, then a short 13 min drive from Sweet Baby Vineyard will get you to the Dartmouth Winter Carnival. A tradition since 1911, its festivities include joining or watching a Polar Bear Swim, viewing live ice sculpting, and more.



BARE VINES, FULL DREAMS


While NOK Vino’s Nicholas Kimberly and his team base their natural wine growing out of Concord, NH, their philosophy of open-source agriculture leads them to support vineyard projects up and down the Granite State. Their dreamy winter diary reflects the hopefulness that Nico and his team have for stewarding land and vine while nurturing community.


Vine cuttings in the burn barrel, photo by NOK Vino
Vine cuttings in the burn barrel, photo by NOK Vino

“In winter, the vines are dormant; all the sap has returned to the roots. As farmers, we welcome winter as a time of rest and reflection, a time to integrate the experience of the growing season, a time to dream. Sure, there is work to be done in the vineyard in the winter, and even in the winery, yet we move at a different pace in this season. The urgency of harvest is behind us; now, there is time for herbal tea after lunch, snowy sunset walks, mending clothes and telling yarns.”



“The main task in the winter is pruning the vines, which is quite enjoyable despite the winter weather. We burn our vine cuttings in a burn barrel on wheels. . . .This is a merry scene on a cold day, the pruning team warming their hands by the crackling fire. We will do some winery work in the winter, maybe bottling a sparkling wine or pressing some long-cured apples, otherwise the wines are resting for the winter on their lees. We also dream in the winter, about what is possible in the world, and how we can make it better. This means winter is essential to a balanced farmer.”



GET YOUR WINERY PASSPORT


This winter, look no further than the 2023-2024 NHWA Winery Passport for a great incentive to visit each of our 16 member wineries. Running between May 2023 and April 2024, the passport is available for download or to pick up at any member winery. To enter your passport in a prize drawing, get a stamp and required information from at least 10 wineries. Participants with the most stamps will qualify for some special prize drawings. Happy winter winery travels!


Award-winning wines & ciders, photo by Seven Birches Winery
Award-winning wines & ciders, photo by Seven Birches Winery

1 Comment


Averill House Vineyard
Averill House Vineyard
Jan 24

Thank you Monica for the great insights into the Associations Wineries! These are truly special Women and Men that have committed themselves fully to provide the best product possible in New Hampshire. Cheers to all!


Like
bottom of page