Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Hill Top Berry Farm and Winery

Outdoor Sitting Area with view of blackberry wines
(which are thornless and pesticide free)
This vineyard was the second stop and my favorite of the day.  I love the idea of fruit wines and meads, but all my adventures with them have been really disappointing.  The fruit wines I’ve tried usually were too sweet, like Capri sun but with alcohol, and the mead encounters tasted like honey turned wrong.    
Just one afternoon with Hill Top Berry Farm and Winery changed all my associations with fruit wine and mead.  They are “true to the fruit” which means that they just use fruits to make the wine.   Their meads are also unique and complex.  The offer traditional meads as well as melomels (fruit and honey co-fermented) that include fruits like strawberries, blueberries, nectarines, and pomegranates.  The tastings include four fruit wines and six meads and is only $2.00, but they will waive that fee if you end up purchasing any wines.     
Besides the tasty wines and meads, another reason I enjoyed Hill Top was how educational the tasting was.  Mendi, who was leading the tasting, did such a thorough job talking about each wine.  With every one she poured, she offered insightful options about what to do with the wines.  She mentioned using the Peach Wine with “peal and eat” shrimp, using the Cyser (an apple and honey mead) to marinade venison, and eating bleu cheese or garlic with the Perry (a pear and honey mead). 
The other way Hill Top makes their tastings educational is by providing foods during the tasting for you to see nuances in the product.  Mendi gave us smoked almonds with the Cyser and encouraged us to take a sip, then eat the almond, and try the Cyser again.  I never would have thought that the smoky almond would go with meads and was further surprised to hear that the effect of pairing meads with smokiness make mead a very natural accompaniment to cigars.  She also gave us ginger snaps to try with the Perry and that helped enhance the pear tones of that mead.  The last one was pieces of chocolate to eat with the Blackberry Delight, a sweeter blackberry wine, to help balance out the sweetness and bring out more of the tartness. 

Wine Tasting Spittoon

In terms of the wines and meads, the two stars of the day were the Nectarine Melomel and the Lavender Metheglin.  The  Nectarine Melomel was like taking a bite of nectarine and the citrus really brought out the floral quality of the mead.  The Lavender Metheglin was not one that was part of the tasting, but was one on the list that I just had to try.  Instead of just getting a glass, a friend and I went in together to get the bottle to enjoy with the picnic that she packed.  Several others of our group also tried the Lavender and were all impressed.  I’m intrigued and leery of lavender infused foods and beverages because the most often remind me of soap.  The Metheglin was bold and floral with a lemony sweet nose.  It is enjoyable to sip, but would also make a great white sangria. 
If you are interested in having your opinion of fruit wines challenged, then put Hill Top on your must visit list.  If you want to make a bigger adventure of it, you can come in July and August to pick your own blackberries or on Aug. 6th for the Blackberry Festival, featuring bands and blackberry wine sangria. 
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