Stone Hill was our last winery of the day, and while the others headed over to the restaurant to get a hot beverage, I signed up for a guided tour. I paid my $1.50 and became part of a large group of people eager to learn more about the winery as well as enjoy the extended tasting offered only to groups.
Our tour guide, Natalie, provided us with lots of facts on the winery. Now listed on the National Historic Register, Stone Hill was established in 1847 and became the second largest winery in the U.S. By the early 1900s it was shipping in excess of 1,200,000 gallons of wine each year but this came to an end with Prohibition in 1920 when vines were ripped out and the underground cellars were used to grow mushrooms. Now restored to their rightful purpose, these cellars are the largest of any winery in the U.S. and Stone Hill is the fourth most awarded winery in the nation.
Our tour lasted about half an hour and included a visit to the underground cellars where the wooden casks are stored, including one enormous pre-Prohibition cask that can hold 6,000 gallons of wine. Scrubbing these casks used to be quite a chore and the small entrance meant that older children were given the job because they were the only ones that could fit through. Even empty, wine fumes permeated the wood so each child could only stay in the cask for a short period of time to ensure they didn’t get dizzy from the fumes.
From the cellar we were escorted into a private tasting area where two extremely friendly fellows plied us with samples of some of Stone Hill’s 20 different products. They gave us information on each wine as well as tips such as white wine should only be chilled for 25 minutes before serving. Children and non-drinkers were offered grape juice and sparkling raspberry juice. The rest of us worked our way through eight wines, starting with dry white Chardonell and dry red Hermannsberger through to semi-sweet Rose Montaigne, cream sherry and juice. I was very glad this was the last winery of the day so that I could have a little nap in the car on the way home.
In my opinion, the best of the wines I sampled was the Chardonel with its subtle hints of the oak from the barrels it was aged in. I also like their signature Steinberg Red, but wasn’t as crazy about Steinberg White, although it is their biggest seller. An attractive gift for sweet wine lovers is their Vignoles, which is packaged in an attractive cobalt blue bottle.
Stone Hill is open Monday through Saturday from 8:30am to dusk and on Sunday from 11am to 6pm. The winery’s website is: www.stonehillwinery.com and their toll-free phone number is 800/909-9463.