Hidden Spring Winery: a tasty gem
EAST HODGDON — It all started when Jean Sloat gave her husband Richard a wine-making kit for Christmas one year.
From that point, Richard discovered a new-found hobby that blossomed into a desire to make speciality wines not found in any store in the area.
“It all started as just a hobby,” Richard explained. “We had the kits in our store [Jean’s Serendipity] and I thought we ought to try doing it. This is something nobody else is doing.”
In January, 2014, the Sloats received all the necessary permits and licenses to start making bulk wine for their fruit-based wines. Unlike traditional wines that are made with grapes, Hidden Spring Winery uses a variety of berries, dandelions, pumpkin and rhubarb to make their product.
Jean and Richard Sloat opened Hidden Spring Winery in East Hodgdon back in November, 2015 and for the past few months have been relying on word of mouth to slowly grow their new customer base.
The Sloats, who are also owners of Jean’s Serendipity in downtown Houlton, have started small, with a handful of seasonal wines sold from their tasting room on 1057 White Settlement Road. The shop also features a number of wine-related gift items for sale, as well as T-shirts.
“It took us about a year just to get our bonding license from the federal government,” Richard said.
Because the licensing process requires an inspection before any permits can be issued, the couple had to build their wine-making room and hope it passed. The structure also includes their home.
“You get a lot of leeway with how you build it,” Richard said. “The big thing is you have to have locked doors because it is alcohol.”
As part of their new establishment, the Sloats also have a large meeting room capable of holding 50 people, as well as massive outdoor deck that features breathtaking views of the area. They plan to utilize the property for weddings, reunions, birthday parties and other functions.
The labels were designed by their soon to be daughter-in-law Jen Sudak, who is marrying their son Gordon Sloat.
“There actually is a hidden spring on the property,” Jean explained. “It’s a granite structure, with a ladle hung on the tree. Back in the day, the workers would go over scoop out the water, or water the horses.”
The Sloats grow all their own pumpkins, and have plenty of dandelions on their 280-acre property. They have also started growing honeyberries, a cross between a blueberry and raspberry, which ripen in July.
“Honeyberries are the closest thing you can get to growing a grape, without actually growing grapes,” Jean said. “Our bushes have tripled in size over last year.”
To get 100 gallons of juice from berries, Richard said 500-600 pounds of berries is required. It typically takes at least three to four months from the time they start until a wine is ready to be bottled. But then the finished product needs to age before it is ready for sale.
“Some wines you can do in about eight months, but most are about a year,” Richard said. “If you can age a bottle for two years, it’s prime stuff.”
Because it takes so long to produce the wine, keeping up with the demand is one of their biggest challenges.
“We try to do as much locally as possible,” Jean said. “We try to pick all of our berries locally, with the exception of blueberries.”
According to their website, the inspiration for the name Hidden Spring Winery started in 1924 in East Hodgdon. “It started with farm hands and horse drawn plows working the fields. During that time, workers stopped for a drink from the hidden spring with a ladle that hung on the tree. Four generations have lived here and utilized the land changing with the times. From potatoes to berries the farm has evolved, and is now the home of Hidden Spring Winery.”
Hidden Spring Winery is one of 21 wineries in the state listed on the “Maine Wine Trail.” (www.mainewinetrail.com) Consumers are encouraged to visit each of the wineries listed and have their “passports” validated for a chance to win a prize.
The Sloats have hosted a number of “Paint and Sip” events, featuring local artist Jen Molloy that have proven quite popular. For a fee, individuals come and spend an evening painting a picture under the guidance of Molloy.
Hidden Spring Winery is open Thursday through Saturday, noon to 5 p.m. or by appointment. For more information, call 532-0753 or visit their website: www.hiddenspringwinery.com