Cycling to the Wineries of Hillier: Since many of the County's wineries are concentrated in Hillier ward at the southwestern end of the island, a friend and I decided to cycle winery to winery. You can find a wine tour map at The County Wines website, although not all wineries are listed. We arranged to rent bicycles from Bloomfield Bicycle in the small town of Wellington. They will kindly drop off and pick up from predetermined locations so we arranged to start at By Chadsey Cairns winery in the morning. We had comfortable 21 speed hybrid bikes with a complimentary water bottle and county map included with the rental price for each bike. Unfortunately By Chadsey Cairns had yet to open so we started our adventure by cycling to the following wineries prior to a lunch break: Norman Hardie, Casa Dea, Rosehall Run, and Hillier Creek Estates. Another friend decided not to cycle so she provided much appreciated support in the car...we had the option of buying a lot of wine along the route!
From Norman Hardie to Hillier Creek Estates: Wine tasting tourism is not only about the wine. Of course the quality of the wine is important but the wine tasting experience is enhanced by free (with a wine purchase) or reasonably priced tastings and friendly customer service by knowledgeable staff. We were especially fortunate to speak to the owners/winemakers the previous afternoon at Lighthall, Exultet and Long Dog.
The first stop at Norman Hardie was the least enjoyable of the day. While Norman Hardie is renowned for his wines, the service was unfriendly and the tasting cost was higher than any other winery we visited. I tasted a Pinot Gris and the County Pinor Noir 2011. I found the Pinot Gris to be strong in citrus and minerality aromas (not unexpected due to the limestone terrioir) but without a hint of honey or spice that I enjoy in a Pinot Gris. The 2011 Pinot Noir reflected its classic characteristics but it was not an outstanding example of the varietal. It was the only winery we left without make a purchase (I bought a total of 36 bottles during our visit)!
At Casa Dea Estates we were met by a very friendly server (she became even more like-able when she told us she rode a Harley Davidson!), who provided generous tastings accompanied by cheerful conversation and her own opinion on the wines we were tasting. Casa Dea is the second oldest winery in the County and has 61 acres under vine. It also has beautiful gardens and a pleasant café. I tasted the Pinot Gris and Pinot Gris Reserve (oaked) and found the honey, stone fruit and floral aromas and flavours to be what I expect from a Pinot Gris.I bought a bottle of each. I also tasted a Pinot Noir 2010, Dea's Rosé, Dea's Cuvee (a sparling blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay), Gamay 2010 and Cabernet Franc Reserve 2009. I enjoyed the latter two reds. The Gamay had aromas of cherry, anise, white pepper and leather and the Cab Franc was a delicious (i.e. not overly herbaceous) example of the varietal.
Rosehall Run is the last winery along Greer Road (the same road as the previous two wineries). Lynn Sullivan, managing partner at the winery, served us at the tasting bar. She explained the her and her husband (the winemaker) bought the land in 2000, planted vines in 2001, produced their first vintage in 2004, and opened the winery in 2006. At the Painted Peppercorn café the previous day I had a glass of Sullyzwicker white (a blend of 7 varietals) with lunch. It had aromas of orange blossom, honey and green apple and flavours of clementine and a hint of vanilla. It is a light crisp wine that can be easily paired with summer fare or enjoyed on its own (and it's affordable at 14.95/bottle). I enjoyed the creamy oak aged 2010 Chardonnay JCR Rosehall Vineyard made from Estate grapes and also the 2010 Pinot Noir Rosehall Vineyard. I purchased the Chardonnay (at 29.95) but passed on the Pinot Noir. In general County wine prices reflect the costs of low production.
Hillier Creek Estates but they operate their brick oven from Wednesday through Sunday (in the summer). Regardless, we enjoyed the wine and great conversation with Woody, the operations manager who arrived in the County from Newfoundland (having met one of the owners during his service in the Navy). He poured our tastings and shared information about the winery and his opinion on a Riesling, a Gamay Noir 2009, and three Pinot Noirs from two vintages.
I especially enjoyed the Gamay Noir with its herbaceous and pepper aromas and rhubarb, cherry and pepper flavours and the Pinot Noir 2009. This latter wine was aged for two years (part of that time in oak) and had cherry, mint, chocolate and peppery aromas and flavours. The 2009 Pinot Estate Reserve is oaked for three years and consequently more tannic. I identified fewer typical pinot aromas and flavours in the reserve. The wines are available for purchase at the winery and served at County restaurants.
We left our bikes locked at Hillier Creek Estates and drove to Wellington to enjoy a wonderful lunch before continuing our wine tasting adventure.