Winemaker’s Notes for December 2023
Greetings from the wine cellar at Hermit Woods Winery. Things are a bit slower down in the cellar this time of year, but never idle!
- This month saw the release of two new products: our collaboration with Tamworth Distillery in the form of a special batch of our Heirloom Crabapple aged in VSOP Apple Brandy barrels and a very fresh vintage of Crabapple Cyser. The heirloom crabapple is a portion of our 2022 vintage that aged in the barrels for a few months earlier this year. Unlike our standard Heirloom Crabapple Wine, this special product has a brandy aroma and flavor in a bone dry wine. For the cyser, we harvested the dolgo crabapples from two trees in the town park on the shore of Lake Winnipesaukee in early September, along with some unique dark red skinned crabapples from a neighbor’s tree here in downtown Meredith. These were combined with local wildflower honey from Hall Apiaries, fermented, pressed off and aged for a month in a French Oak barrel. The wine tasted great right away, so we filtered it and bottled it this Fall – one of our fastest turnarounds from fruit to wine!
- Recently, we pressed off a small batch of rhubarb wine after twice daily punchdowns of the ferment to best extract the flavors and color from the rhubarb. This is the most beautiful batch we’ve ever made: a rich pink color and bright rhubarb aromatics. My wife Maya and I harvested the rhubarb this summer from a 50-year-old patch at a friend’s home in nearby Gilford. The wine will finish off fermenting over the next week or two. There are no immediate plans for this wine, but it will likely be part of a batch of a session mead for this Spring. As some of you may know, we produce a few session meads, and one of which is a rhubarb session mead called Spring in Session. A session product generally is lower alcohol, allowing for easy drinking. If all goes well, this may even be in cans this Spring!
- We plan to make the next vintage of Petite Blue and Petite Blue Reserve in January. This dual-product ferment is one of my favorites and incorporates many of the techniques that help make our wines unique and satisfying. The total batch is 3400L, 2200L of PB and 1200L of PBR, and both wines start fermenting together. We will combine 5400 lbs of wild low-bush blueberries from Merrill Farms in Maine with the right amount of water and sugar to “make a grape” to produce our wine These small berries that grow wild in Maine have great concentrated flavors. Although 2023 was not a great year due to weather conditions, we have access to some of the remaining, better-tasting blueberries from the 2022 harvest, which are still in the freezer at Merrill’s. So this will be a 2022 vintage of Petite Blue, and Reserve made in 2024. Interesting times, indeed. To the blueberries, we add 340 gallons of water, to achieve the right intensity of flavor as well as 1600 lbs of dextrose sugar during fermentation to achieve the desired 13% alcohol. Our favorite commercial strain of yeast from the Rhone is used to carry out the fermentation in one of our temperature-controlled, 50-barrel (1520 gallon) “super tanks.” After about 8 days of fermentation, we remove some of the free-run portions of the wine stored in stainless steel tanks to finish fermentation. This becomes Petite Blue with the ‘sweetest’ fraction of the fruit for a fruit-forward wine. The remaining ferment now has one-third the liquid and all of the fruit skins and seeds; this becomes the Reserve. Once the skin-thick ferment in the super tank nearly finishes, about 4-8 days later, we press off the wine, squeezing all the deep grippy tannins from the skins and seeds. This Reserve wine then ages in French Oak barrels for better structure and some oak tannins and character. This ferment is planned for January 9-19th; please stop by. Ben and I would be happy to show you the process and give you a sample of the ferment!
- Also planned for January is the final processing and bottling of another batch of Cranberry Cider, and this batch has the best color we have ever seen. In addition, we will be getting the 2023 vintage of our Heirloom Hard Cider, fondly referred to as ‘Kittens,’ ready for bottling. This vintage is the product of a strange growing year in 2023 and is fortunately very smooth with a lower acid level and sublime complexity.
We have a busy year-end week in the tasting room as we wrap up 2023, and we hope to see some of you here.
Happy New Year!