A Photographer, Geologist and a Pilot Open a Winery

Posted 05/11/12
Chuck Lawrence, Ken Hardcastle, Bob Manley, Hermit Woods Winery

Chuck Lawrence-Pilot, Ken Hardcastle-Geologist, Bob Manley-Photographer

So, how did a photographer, a geologist, and a pilot end up starting a winery—in New Hampshire, no less? It sounds like the beginning of a joke, but it is a true story. Telling that story might require a novel (or at the very least a novella), but I will try to keep it brief.

When it comes right down to it, the answer lies with friendship, a friendship that largely developed out of our mutual love of mountain biking, among other things. Great friends love spending time together, and that was the beginning of this journey.

Ken Hardcastle, Chuck Lawrence, and I discovered that we all loved good wine and locally produced beer and cider. We thought it would be fun to expand our horizons by enjoying a monthly wine-tasting gathering with our wives. We soon realized that Ken had an intense passion for making beer and wine, and we all savored learning about it and drinking it.  However, if you had asked us four years ago if any of us thought we might ever own a winery, we might very well have fallen on the floor laughing. However, the seeds (grape in this case) had already been sown.

Hardcastle Brewery- our first tree fort at Hermit Woods Winery

Hardcastle Brewery-Our first "tree fort"

We began to refer to our time together as time spent in our “tree fort,” and much of it involved consuming Ken’s beer and wine. To be fair, this compelled Chuck and I to spend even more time with Ken, helping him brew (and drink) his beer and make (and drink) his wine. We usually ended up drinking more than helping, but Ken always appreciated the help nonetheless.

Before we knew it, together we were making hundreds of gall…—or I should say—lots of beer and wine and developing an ever-increasing fascination with everything to do with the process. This soon led us to travel all over New England and beyond, visiting breweries and wineries, tasting wine, and discovering new fermented beverages of all types and flavors. We met with winery owners and wine makers, tasted all kinds of unique and creative beverages, and got lots of great tips on the making of and selling of wine. All this we did in our free time and called it play.

Preparing Hermit Woods Vineyard for Planting

Preparing the Vineyard


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Building the Trellis at Hermit Woods Winery

The hard work of building a trellis

As you might have guessed, simply making wine was soon not enough; we wanted to know more about the grapes that we used to make it. This led to the planting of 120 vines of eight different varieties in my backyard to add to the local grape sources we had, including the old vine Marechal Foch grapes already growing in Ken’s yard. We also started discovering the many other wonderful fruits, vegetables, and honey that were already at our doorsteps. We began blending wines with ingredients such as blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, black currants, rhubarb, kiwi berries, tomatoes, zucchini, and daylilies—the list goes on and grows every day. At that time, however, we still didn’t know we were going to open a winery.

You know where this is going, and we began to see the light as well. We started spending more and more of our time together learning about the wine industry, making wine, meeting new people, and trying new things. And we were having a really great time doing it! Don’t get me wrong, some of the things we were doing required a lot of hard work, but everything worth doing is worth the effort, right?
In late 2009, it all finally clicked. Sitting around the living room, we asked the question for the first time—could we take what we had loved doing so much and turn it into a business? Actually, the more pressing question was not ‘could we?’ but ‘should we?’ Most people have heard about the difficulties of going into business with your friends or making your hobby your business. Not to mention, the folks at every winery we visited lamented that the business of making wine is a labor of love (often more labor than love), and if pursued for any other reason, it is destined to fail. As the saying goes, “Know how to make a small fortune in the winery business? Start with a large fortune.”

Hermit Woods Winery, Ken & Maya Hardcastle, Chuck Lawrence, Jerilyn Dolan and Bob Manley

Opening Day

After many evenings debating the idea of opening a winery over numerous glasses of wine, we decided to take the leap; after all, you only live once. With overwhelming support from our wives, our mission as we chose to accept it was underway. We haven’t looked back.

Since that day, we have probably worked harder and spent more time in pursuit of our adventure than anything else each of us has ever done before. Along with our wives, we spend most of the time we are not working at our “day jobs” cultivating our winery. Yes, we are still a photographer, a geologist, and a pilot. We have all learned a great deal, made a lot of mistakes, made new friends, and opened a winery, but most importantly, we are closer friends now than ever before, and have loved every minute of our journey together in this labor of love.