EAST HODGDON, Maine — Veronica and Richard Sloat of East Hodgdon farmed potatoes for 17 years, but a fun Christmas gift soon turned them into award-winning vintners.
For years, while farming 100 acres of potatoes, the couple would laugh, pointing to a hill on their 200-acre farm and say, “One day we’ll build a winery up there.”
A home wine-making kit Veronica gave her husband one Christmas turned their whimsical dream into reality. In 2014, the couple started Hidden Spring Winery, named after the spring that four generations of potato farmers drank from with a ladle hung on a nearby tree.
Now, these Aroostook County vintners create 20 different varieties from all local and hand-harvested berries, grapes and dandelions. Their wines have been awarded five medals and a Best Maine Wine distinction from the Eastern States Exposition, or Big E, in Massachusetts.
“Things are going very well, and we are thoroughly enjoying it,” Veronica Sloat said.
This past fall, Hidden Spring Winery’s The Wedding Wine won a Big E medal for Best Maine Wine and a silver medal. The vineyard’s Sarah’s Choice was awarded the bronze medal.
The Wedding Wine is a sweet wine made with a white Pinot Gris grape and enhanced with white cranberry. Sarah’s Choice is a red Pinot Noir grape wine, enhanced with the flavors of fresh red berries and black cherries, Sloat said.
For the Big E, the Sloats’ wines were judged among a pool of 200 submitted from New England and New York. Each contestant submitted two bottles and each wine was judged on its own merit, she said.
Just three years after starting the winery, the Sloats earned two bronze medals for their hand-picked dandelion wine, Bottle of Sunshine, and The Black Phantom, a very dry wine made from Maine wild elderberries.
Black Bear Blues, a semi-dry wine made from fresh harvested Maine wild blueberries, won a bronze medal in 2018.
Eight years ago the Sloats planted their first crop of honeyberries, a raspberry-blueberry cross that ripens in July. They have five varieties of honeyberry, known for its healthful antioxidant properties.
Last year, they harvested 185 pounds of honeyberries that became 65 gallons of wine.
The couple makes their wines in 100-gallon stainless steel tanks and they bottle, cork and label them by hand. It takes a batch about a year from start to finish, Sloat said.
The couple runs a restaurant at the vineyard on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings, often with live entertainment. Now, besides harvesting all the ingredients, creating and bottling wines, they do all the cooking for the restaurant and special events.
While they had not originally planned to have a restaurant at the winery, COVID-19 spurred the idea because visitors wanted to dine outside, Sloat said. From the deck, depending on the direction, there are views of Mars Hill, Canada or Mt. Katahdin.
Inside, 50 can sit in the great room, which has a fireplace.
The winery is now expanding with an event center that will seat 150. Veronica Sloat said she hopes it will be complete within the month.
“I’ve got the Dueling Pianos scheduled for August 25, so it has to be finished before that,” she said.
Hidden Spring Wines are available by mail order, at the winery and in local shops.