Couple opens a winery in Newfields

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Jerry Hilliard of WindRoc Winery in Newfields pours a glass of blackberry wine for Brett Weiss and Rachel Saul of Dover.Kathleen D. Bailey photo

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NEWFIELDS Jerry Hilliard poured a quarter-glass of blackberry wine in a crystal goblet. “This one goes really well with chocolate,” he told customers Brett Weiss and Rachel Saul of Dover.

Hilliard slid a china bowl filled with wrapped chocolates across the counter. “Take a sip of this, let it coat your mouth then have a piece of chocolate,” he said.

At a glance

WindRoc Winery

Owners: Jerry and Stacey Hilliard

Where: 286 Piscassic Road, Newfields

Hours: Wine tastings are held on Saturdays and Sundays, May through December, from noon to 5 p.m. on Saturday and noon to 4 p.m. on Sunday.

Information: Call 580-2369, e-mail info@win, or visit www.windrocvine

Hilliard is the newest vintner on the Seacoast, one of a growing group of winemakers in the region. In addition to making artisan wines, they give recipes, serving suggestions and anecdotes, all in settings as personal as their wines.

Hilliard wasn’t always a winemaker. He started out working in construction, he said as he prepared his customized barn for an afternoon of wine tasting.

Raised in Lancaster County, Pa., he became interested in winemaking when he observed two friends who were home-winemakers. His interest grew when he married his wife, Stacey, a wine aficionado, and they made trips to the Finger Lakes region of New York for tasting tours. The young couple honeymooned in Italy, visiting wineries there, and lived for a while in Seattle, where they discovered Washington state’s “wonderful wine culture.”

Hilliard started slow, making wine in his garage for several years. When he, Stacey and their son, now 6, moved to Newfields, he knew his property would lend itself to a real winery. The couple bought the late Bobbie Byrnes’ farm from her estate, including the 1796 farmhouse and a 900-square-foot barn, and then converted a half acre of the property to a vineyard, which now holds 500 vines. The farm was christened WindRoc Farm by Byrnes, and Hilliard thought it was an ideal name for his vineyard and home. He remodeled both the house and the barn, then opened WindRoc Vineyards in February 2011.

When Hilliard was working out of his garage, he sourced grapes from other farms, and he still does, he said. “Our vineyard is too new,” he said. He obtains the raw material for his other wines as locally as possible, including using Bartlett pears from his yard.

It’s a full-time job for Hilliard, who gave up his construction business to become a full-time father and vintner. He works seven days a week, he said there’s always something to do, from tending the vines to marketing.

Part of his job includes sharing his creations with others, usually during Saturday and Sunday afternoon wine tastings. On a recent Sunday, he played host to Weiss and Saul, who were doing an informal Seacoast wine tour and decided to stop by. Hilliard poured them small glasses from bottles in an ice-filled bucket, telling stories about each one. Weiss and Saul described themselves as wine aficionados, saying they were even having their upcoming wedding on the grounds of a winery.

“There’s a little cork in that one,” Hilliard warned, and Weiss responded, “We’re used to it.”

Though he describes himself as the “new kid” on the wine block, Hilliard is pleased to be working with the other Seacoast vintners, including Flag Hill Winery and Distillery in Lee; Jewell Towne in South Hampton, where he did an internship; Sweet Baby Vineyard in Kensington, whose owner is a personal friend; and Zorvino Vineyards in Sandown. He is quick to reference other vintners’ products, saying, “Another winery does the Cayuga a little bit sweeter.” They all came together at a recent Seacoast Wine Tasting Night at Zorvino’s, which 200 people attended. They’ve talked about having a Seacoast Wine Trail, “where we could say, ‘go here, go there, try this,'” Hilliard said.

He already knew how to make wine, and admits that his biggest challenge was the paperwork to become licensed. Actually working with the wine, he said, is a labor of love.

As Saul put three bottles on the counter and took out her credit card, Hilliard launched into another serving suggestion. “The Bartlett pear wine goes well with cheesecake, or key lime pie,” he said. “There’s a story behind it. Lewis Eaton from Sweet Baby vineyard was here and we were chatting. He was looking at my pear tree and he said, ‘I bet I could make some good wine from that.'” Hilliard gave Eaton most of the Bartlett pears because he wasn’t fully set up, and he only kept enough to make a couple gallons of what would become his Bartlett Pear wine. But it was a success, and the next year, Eaton said, “I guess I’m not getting your Bartlett pears.”

Hilliard’s wines begin at $12 per bottle and can be found at Cornucopia in Exeter and the Dover Wine Shop.

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