Diamond Hill Winery
When you see the sign for the Diamond Hill Winery in Cumberland, Rhode Island, you turn onto a quiet dirt road that wends its way past squat peach trees and curls quietly through a stand of trees until it arrives at a 200+ year old colonial home. The gardens and grounds around the winery are often used for garden parties. Within the house, there is both a tasting area as well as a large gift shop, featuring baskets, wine accessories and much more.
Diamond Hill is a family run winery. Peter and Claire Berntson, the owners, share tasting table time with their son in law, Stephen, and other family members. Sam the cat keeps an eye on the tasting room and grounds; rumor has it that his 18 1/2 years of life are owed to living around fine wines.
The Berntsons spent time in the Burgundy region of France, and as a result they have chosen to focus on Burgundy style wines for their winery. Just as most Burgundy vineyards are tiny, so has Diamond Hill set aside only a small area for vines - 4.5 acres of pinot noir and 1 acre of Chardonnay. They only produce a few hundred cases of pinot noir each year. In addition to their noble variety wines, they also create a number of fruit wines.
The vines were first planted back in the late 1970s, but unfortunately in 1980 a strange weather pattern hit Rhode Island around Christmastime. First, the weather was so warm that the cherry trees began re-blossoming. Then the temperature dropped immediately to 12 below zero, killing every vine on the properly. The Berntsons tried a number of techniques to save the vines, but in the end they had to replant and start again from scratch.
Diamond Hill may be a small winery, but they have high standards of quality. Claire proudly pointed out that "we don't use an ounce of water in any of our winemaking." Even the glass rinsing between tastes at the free bar were done with the next wine in order. Diamond Hill also uses extremely low levels of sulfites - under 40 parts per million. This is far below what the BATF allows, and means that people who are sensitive to sulfites can often drink these wines without problem. On the other hand, it means the wines need to be drunk within a year or two. Without the sulfites to help preserve the wine, they age quickly.
This chardonnay is definitely not your typical over-oaked, heavy California chardonnay. It was light, with gentle fruit flavors of melon and tropical fruit. A hint of vanilla flavored the gentle finish. This would be lovely with light dishes such as grilled chicken.
1999 Pinot Noir- $22
The pinot noir is aged in French oak for one year, then left to bottle age for another 2-3 years before being released to the public. It is very light, with gentle red fruit flavors, primarily cherry. There are only mild tannins in this, and it is well balanced. The finish is also gentle and light. Claire talked about how the aging was critical to the wine's flavors. "You know the term 'no wine before its time'? It really is true," she advised while we tasted this.
Blackstone Blush- $9.75
Don't think White Zinfandel here. As Claire pointed out, "Blush is just the color". The wine is created by blending their own Chardonnay wine with a hint of Merlot juice brought in from other vineyards. The result is a wine that is pink in color, but dry and fruity in flavor. It's got a light, gentle berry flavor to it and would be perfect with a summer salad.
We spoke about how some people would automatically discount a pink-colored wine as being too sweet. While we were there, in fact, several people refused to try the blush, assuming it must be a sugary concoction. Claire had to talk with them to describe what flavors they would actually find in this wine.
In addition to the three grape wines, Diamond Hill rounds out its offerings with a number of fruit wines. Claire explained that many people would come in for the grape wines, but then try the fruit wines and tell her "I never thought I'd like a fruit wine".
Cranberry Apple- $9.75
This wine is Diamond Hill's best selling wine, especially during the winter holiday season. The wine boasts a wonderful balance between the cranberry tartness (25%) and apple smoothness (75%). As Claire put it, the wine is "balanced just to the point of sweet-tart".
Spiced Apple- $9.75
This apple wine has a lovely spice aroma, with cinnamon and apple flavors. The wine is nice served cool, but is even better when served warm with brown sugar. Stephen told us how this wine was a top seller in the cold New England wintry months. Stephen commented that "heating a wine intensivies its flavor".
Created from the orchards that line the entry driveway, the peach wine boasts a gorgeous aroma with flavors of peach and apricot. The wine is not sweet or syrupy; rather it is fruity and fresh. In fact, the peach wine we tasted had come from this year's harvest; it had only been released in mid-September. Claire let us know that "once you ferment it dry, it tastes just like grapefruit juice". Then they slowly add sugar back in just to the point of fruity balance, and not a step beyond. "We add a little a t a time until we say it's right. Less is better than more - as a family we all prefer dry wines".
In general, Diamond Hill is firmly dedicated to delicious wines that are not overly sweet. "People expect a fruit wine to be sweet, but it has to be in balance between sweetness and acidity," said Claire, as we looked over the fruit wines. "To us, wine is a food, not an alcoholic beverage - we want to make sure it's not too sweet."
When we visited, the blueberry wine was not yet released - that is brought out the 1st - 2nd week of November and typically sells out in only a few months. The blueberry wine is fermented to high levels of alcohol, between 14-16%. It is made with Maine blueberries and is a full, rich port style wine.
Diamond Hill wines are only sold at the winery property, and they do a brisk business in custom wine labels. In essence they have gotten permission from the BATF to have their label with "a photo" - and can now produce bottles for weddings, birthdays, or any other celebration that is personalized for that event. They also create small favor bottles and a number of other accessories.
There was a constant flow of visitors while we tasted, and no person left empty handed. Claire explained that this was just the beginning of the rush season. "The holidays are our busiest time of year," she said with a smile. The holiday shop area was just getting set up with baskets, custom holiday labelled wines, chocolate covered cranberries, and much more.
We found quite a lot to bring home with us, and highly recommend a drive to Cumberland for anyone interested in wine!
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All content on the WineIntro website is personally written by author and wine enthusiast Lisa Shea. WineIntro explores the delicious variety and beautiful history which makes up our world of wine! Lisa loves supporting local wineries and encouraging people to drink whatever they like. We all have different taste buds, and that makes our world wonderful. Always drink responsibly.