Hermit Woods’ Vines have Roots in NH’s Early Winemaking Days

Posted 02/28/12

Although New Hampshire’s newest winery has only been pressing, blending, and fermenting for the past couple of years, some of the grapes used in Hermit Woods wines have a long and rich history, beginningwiththe state’s very first winery.

Grape growing and winemaking in the Granite State began in the late 1960s, after John and Lucille Canepa moved to Laconia, where John had been offered a job as a pharmacist at a local clinic. The couple bought land on Governor’s Island on Lake Winnipesaukee and found wild grapevines climbing up trees there. John’s family had a history of winemaking in Italy for more than 300 years, and seeing the wild vines thriving in NH, he was inspired to grow his own grapes. They studied viticulture for seven years, then planted 1,800 French hybrid vines between 1965 and 1966. The Canepas bought a farm near Belmont in 1968 and created White Mountain Vineyards in time for the crush in 1969.

White Mountain Vineyards’ first wines were ready in late 1971, when the winery made its first shipment of 500 cases of natural apple wine to the NH Liquor Commission, with a total of 7,000 cases bottled and delivered by Christmas. The Canepas’ grapes helped produce over 1,000 cases of “Lakes Region Red” as well as white grape wines by that holiday season. The following year, the winery introduced a line of strawberry and raspberry flavored apple wines. Just like Hermit Woods Winery does now, White Mountain Vineyards bought many of their grapes and other fruit from local growers.

Ken Hardcastle, wine maker at Hermit Woods WineryOne of those growers was the former owner of Ken Hardcastle’s home. Ken has been tending the old Marechal Foch vines that grow on his property since he moved there in the late 1980s to work for a local groundwater company. He began experimenting with beer brewing and winemaking in the early 1990s, and is now the head winemaker at Hermit Woods Winery. Ken harvests grapes and makes Hermit Woods “Old Vine Foch Mead” from the very same vines that NH’s first winery used in producing its wine! The vines are over 30 years old, are 100 percent organic and have been for at least 20 years, and Ken intends to keep them that way.

 

Chuck Lawrence

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The BALSAMS Grand Resort HotelIn addition to both wineries producing a variety of fruit wines, contracting with local growers, and sharing the some of the same grapevines, White Mountain Vineyards and Hermit Woods Winery have another interesting connection—The Balsams Grand Resort Hotel. Back in 1983, White Mountain Vineyards wines were offered to guests at The Balsams and were featured on the menu at a conference for the New Hampshire Hospitality Association. Fast forward to 2011, when several Hermit Woods wines were featured on The BALSAMS menu and shared the spotlight with The Balsams famous gourmet cuisine for a special End of Summer Wine Dinner.

Hermit Woods wine Featured at The BALSAMS

Bob Manley of Hermit Woods Winery credits John and Lucille Canepa for creating a fertile environment for wineries and vineyards to thrive in the Granite State, saying, “They paved the way for the wine industry to develop in New Hampshire through their groundbreaking efforts in working with the legislature to change the laws to be more winery friendly.” The Canepas inspired others throughout the region to grow grapes and bottle wines, and were recognized as New England’s first commercial winery at the Conference on the Future of New England Grape and Fruit Wine Industry in 1982.

Carla Snow, the Grape AffairToday there are approximately 28 wineries in New Hampshire, and Carla Snow, wine educator and author of the book “Wine and Dine with New Hampshire,” credits the “buy local” movement to the boom in the industry. Although the climate in the area is restrictive in a lot of ways, thanks to advances in hybridization, cold-tolerant grape varietals, and the tradition of blending fruit wines and mead, many fine wines are being produced in the state and the visions of the wine pioneers are being realized.

Most NH wineries open their doors in April for tours and tastings. Visit the New Hampshire Winery Association’s website for a list of their member vineyards and wineries, and be sure to stop by Hermit Woods along the way!

Carrie Reed