Monday, September 15, 2008

Hill Top Berry Farm & Winery

We have a goal of visiting the several Virginia meaderies so we traveled to Nellysford in order to visit Hill Top Berry Farm & Winery - home of dozens of excellent honey and fruit wines. And we mean dozens - and there selection continues to expand as the proprietors craft new and interesting blends. The winery started a decade ago when Marlyn and Sue Allen became one of the first Virginia wineries to produce fruit wines from their local "pick your own" orchard and fields. The family's philosophy should be mandatory reading for all wineries: use your land to grow produce (grapes or fruit) that are best suited for your environment. In addition to the fruit, the family also had an apiary - hence the introduction of mead. As the three Allen sisters took over operations, they had more production hours to experiment with the mead and start producing other styles: cyser, pyment, and melomel.

During our we stuck to the mead products, except for one fruit wine: their Three Sisters Elderberry Wine. This fruit is too tempting and is a new release for the winery. Elderberry wines are full bodied and can be made in any style: from dry to sweet. Hill Top's is made off dry with a full fruit flavor - as good as any grape wine. As for the meads, five styles were available for tasting. We started with the Rockfish River Cyser (82% apple and 18% honey) which is made semi-dry. It was good, but the apple flavor overwhelmed the honey and quite frankly we were interested in mead. However, for those more interested in apple wine, this is a great alternative - and quite different from the standard apple offerings. We next tried the Perry and this dessert wine is awesome. First, its probably the first wine with pear as an ingredient that we've tried - then combined with honey - it has the perfect combination of flavors. The Pyment (grape\honey wine) was served next and this concord grape-honey blend is truly unique. The concord provides the grapey aroma while the honey flavors triumph at the finish. This year Hill Top entered several wines into the San Francisco Wine Competition and the later two came home with medals. We finally got around to their Blue Ridge Mountain Mead, which we had previously tasted at several earlier wine festivals. The wine is made semi-dry and has a strong honey flavor and aroma. The mead is usually in short supply because members of the Society for Creative Anachronism use it for their festivals. The final wine made the trip memorable and is one of the reasons we visit less familiar wineries - to find truly original wines and at Hill Top we discovered our first fruit ice wine: Pounding Branch Persimmon Melomel. Melomel is honey wine made with fruit and for this concoction Hill Top picked frozen persimmons from off Wintergreen Mountain. The melomel is advertised as "Southern Ice Wine" - so we were expecting a sweet wine. Of course we were wrong - the wine is as dry as any white vinifera wine. But with a very unique flavor - spicy with hints of honey throughout. The judges in San Francisco were also taken - awarding it a Gold medal. Unfortunately, Hill Top's inventory is extremely low, so hurry over to purchase. But there are other concoctions waiting to take its place on the tasting bar. The Lavender Metheglin (mead made with spices), Blueberry Melomel, and Raspberry Melomel will all be available very soon. Then there's the fruit wine we didn't have time to sample. Blueberry, blackberry, cherry, cranberry, peach, plum, raspberry, par, and cherry - you name it, they probably vinify it.

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