Island Winery: A Brave Attempt


The tasting room at Island Winery in Hilton Head, SC, is cosy and basic, but the hospitality is Southern, which means it is deep and sincere.
Photo by Robert Stephen.

Header-image-StephenRobert K. Stephen (CSW)

(HILTON HEAD, SC) – Can you imagine wineries in South Carolina? Hard to believe when we are lead to believe, by what is distributed in Ontario from the United States, there exists California, Oregon, Washington, and New York, and nothing else.

Believe you me, there is the Island Winery in Hilton Head, SC, which offers 10 wines and five fruit and spice blended wines. One strange hook though, of the ten wines, only one is made from South Carolina grapes. Most of the wines are made from fresh grapes trucked in from California and Michigan.

Island Winery has been in business since 2005. It is distributed locally in wine shops and online to 38 states. Most of those orders emanating from tourists to Hilton Head who have visited the winery. Its biggest sellers are Southern Passion, which is Chardonnay mixed with peach juice, Riesling, and Malbec.

At New Years and Christmas its Cranberry Sunset is a big seller.

Since Island Winery is considered a manufacturer, local bylaws require it to be in an industrial zone. And that is precisely where it is.

Not a beautiful, idyllic location, which makes it harder to draw in retail traffic. But, considering the ferocious competition in the wine business, its gutsy and bold.

Its wines are in the good category, which may be understandable considering the grapes are trucked in from afar. They lose something along the way.

The price point is high for similar quality American wines.

The tasting room is cosy and basic, but the hospitality is Southern, which means it is deep and sincere.

I think the best wine of the lot is a 2011 Barbera which is full of smoke, blackberry, and prunes with a luxurious core of pomegranate and chocolate.

On the palate its soft and approachable, loaded with fig jam, rhubarb, and cherry liqueur with just a tiny hint of coconut.

Perfect acids and tannins and a medium finish. (Island Winery 2011 Barbera, Island Winery, Hilton Head, South Carolina, $18.50, 13%, Square Media Group Rating 90/100)

The other wines I tried on the fly and rate them as follows:

1. 2013 Chardonnay: Very round and smooth made from California Chardonnay grapes. Fruity marked with pineapple, apple, and quince. Gentle tannins. A bit smooth, lacking in what we might expect from a Niagara Chardonnay. A slight peppery finish. Pleasantly drinkable on its own without food. (Square Media Group Rating 85/100, $19.50)

2. Sea Island White: Aroma of peach, melon, and apple, lacking in acidity. Michigan Vidal Blanc, Seyval Blanc, and Pinot Gris. Mellow and soft. (Square Media Group Rating, 85/100, $18)

3. Riesling: More Michigan grapes. Sweetish with a short finish. Aromas of melon, peach, peach pie. Once again lacking in some acidity one might expect from a Riesling. (Square Media Group Rating, 85/100, $18)

4. Harvest White Sweet Muscadine Wine: “How sweet it is,” Jackie Gleason would say. However, what makes a great sweet wine is acidity to cut the sweetness. It’s very clean and full of apricot and peach with hints of pineapple. For some strange reason, defying logic, I say serve cold with beer can chicken. Not enough acidity in this wine. (Square Media Group Rating, 85/100, $16.)

5. 2013 Pinot Noir: Aggressive Pinot Noir. Forceful nose of liquorice, petrol, mint, chocolate, and blackberries. On the palate medium tannins and full of blackberry and supercharged rhubarb. Medium finish. Rough enough to compliment grilled beef. (Square Media Group Rating 86/100, $25)

6. 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon: A good full nose of blackberry, raspberry, liquorice, chocolate, and charcoal. Good depth. On the palate, surprisingly soft and approachable with a streak of hidden acidity and a spicy little burn. (Square Media Group Rating, 86/100, $22.50)

7. 2012 Petit Syrah: Big deep black fruit, blackberry, and cherry jam and black gumballs. On the palate, very tannic, full of blackberry with a spicy and slightly brackish finish. (Square Media Group Rating 85/100, $20)

8. 2013 Sangiovese: Very typical Sangiovese aroma of sweet red cherry and cocoa powder. Cherry and chocolate on the palate. Soft and supple without the miserable acidity of too many Sangiovese’s. (Square Media Group Rating 86/100, $24.50)

9. 2013 Nebbiolo: Tar, boysenberry, charcoal, struggling red cherry, and pine resin in this Nebbiolo which, by usual Italian standards, really should wait a couple of years to smooth out. This one, with its mega tannins, needs some time in the bottle and, like Nebbiolos in general, is not initially approachable, friendly, nor smooth. (Square Media Group Rating 86/100, $23)

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About the Author

Robert Stephen (CSW)
Robert K Stephen writes about food and drink, travel, and lifestyle issues. He is one of the few non-national writers to be certified as a wine specialist by the Society of Wine Educators, in Washington, DC. Robert was the first associate member of the Wine Writers’ Circle of Canada. He also holds a Mindfulness Certification from the University of Leiden. Be it Spanish cured meat, dried fruit, BBQ, or recycled bamboo place mats, Robert endeavours to escape the mundane, which is why he loves The Square. His motto is, "Have Story, Will Write."Email Robert Stephen
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