Just after Thanksgiving, word came out that the “Three Honey Wine” from Hermit Woods Winery had won a silver medal at the American Wine Society’s Commercial Wine Competition, which was held November 8-10 in Rochester, NY. This was no small feat for a brand-new NH winery in their first year of production, but with such a dedicated team, including a winemaker with a passion for creating the most pleasing wines possible, the award was not surprising.
The man behind the curtain at Hermit Woods is a scientist by trade and training. Ken Hardcastle studied geology at Occidental College in California and City University of New York, Queens College, eventually earning his PhD in structural geology from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Since 1989, he has been working with other scientists at Emery & Garrett Groundwater, Inc., exploring for groundwater in the Lakes Region of NH. Ken’s love of nature inspires him, and his strong analytical abilities provide the foundation for experimentation that leads him into the art and creativity of winemaking. In his own words, “I find that fermentation is one of the most exciting processes in the world and I love to foster it.”
Foster it he does. Over the years, Ken’s experimentation, which started with brewing beer, has led to an abundance of traditional and non-traditional wines, meads, and blends. Ken uses a combination of old and new methods to make “really pleasing wine,” adding, “I also do it for the nutrition of body and mind.” In addition to the big red wines he has learned how to make, including Cabernet, Malbec, and Carménère, Ken has developed many unique fruit wines. Hermit Woods Winery has introduced New Hampshire to local Kiwi wine, Apple-Pear, Peach-Rosehip, and one of Ken’s earliest blends, Red Scare, which combines various dark berries with honey wine for an intense and deep-flavored wine. Ken says this wine is named for its “no fear” attitude and the Frisbee team his son plays for at college. All of these wines are very well balanced and sophisticated, and are not sweet, but dry or off dry.
“Often some of the best fruit wine may not even taste like the fruit that was used to make it,” says Bob Manley, one of the partners at Hermit Woods Winery. “In fact, a well made complex wine, whether grape, fruit, mead, or otherwise, is likely to embody not only the characteristics of a wide variety of fruits, but possibly other tastes may emerge, like a smoky, earthy, grassy, cigar, or some other note that adds depth and character to the wine.”
Chuck Lawrence, the third partner at the winery, concurs. “What is important to me in a wine is complexity and balance. A wine with an appropriate, clean nose, pleasant fruit essences, soft mouth feel, balanced sweetness/acidity, and a lingering finish with mellow drying tannins and flavors that you continue to feel after the sip is long gone. The Three Honey Wine is an awesome example of a clean, fragrant, honey wine where Ken captured the essence of the flowers from which the bees harvested nectar. His careful attention to the source honey and fermenting temperature and racking timing all came together in this wine.”
“Ken is a creative monster,” continues Chuck. “He is not bound by any traditions other than the desire to make the best wine he can in all circumstances. It kind of fits that we are not confined to grapes—Ken has the opportunity to travel down the road of blending local fruit and flavors . . . I believe the products we create will generate much excitement among NH vinophiles, because we are willing to take chances and use intuition to invent blends that will result in unique, fun wines, as well as a new look at what great flavors can be created from fruit that is fresh and local, and that represent the unique non-traditional wine terrior of this region.”
Bob believes Ken is a “perfectionist” when it comes to winemaking. “In all my travels over twenty years of visiting wineries, tasting wine, and meeting people from the wine industry, I have never met anyone who is more excited and passionate about the process of making wine and the infinite possibilities of wine that results from the process . . . I am continually fascinated and impressed by the manner in which Ken pursues his knowledge of wine making, applies it to every wine he produces, and expands his knowledge and understanding exponentially with every new batch. Not only does he apply the knowledge he learns from others, but through experimentation and practice, he expands on that knowledge and enters new frontiers in wine making that very well may never have been practiced before. He also understands that making wine is an art and is careful not to let his science get in the way of the creative process that must be in place to allow each and every fruit to be the best wine it can be based on the individual characteristics of the fruit. Whether science or art, Ken pursues perfection on every front.”
“I have long enjoyed fermented drink and have always liked to share the buzz and enlightened conversation that often goes with it,” says Ken. “As a lover of nature and nature’s rhythms, I actually see myself (and all of us) akin to yeast, fermenting our way through life, expanding when ‘nutrients’ and conditions are right, transforming that around us, and not, when conditions are not ‘healthy’ . . . I feel more connected to the rhythm of nature, more a part of the bigger process that continues . . . Wine encapsulates life: the materials, the process, the time, the sharing . . . all good.
“This winery is like destiny in many ways. I feel deeply compelled to ferment and share.” When asked if he thinks he is a perfectionist, Ken replies, “I do not think so . . . I am an enthusiast and realist trying to ride the wave of life as best I can.”