February 2020

Island Winery: The journey continues with new facility under construction

Author: Linda S. Hopkins | Photographer: M.KAT Photography

Dr. Nick Passele, Georgene Mortimer and Loren Mortimer at the future location of Island Winery on Cardinal Road.

Dreams have a funny way of finding us and are often hatched in unexpected places. On a cold February morning in 2005, traveling down the highway from their home in New Jersey to Hilton Head Island, Loren and Georgene Mortimer began mulling over a plan that would soon change the course of their lives. The Lowcountry’s natural beauty and Hilton Head Island’s warm and welcoming community presented a delightful contrast to the icy landscape they left behind, and the Mortimers were determined to make the island their new home—the next leg of an adventure they began a quarter-century earlier.

Their journey began in Upstate New York’s Finger Lakes wine region when they were students at Ithaca College in the 1980s. Together, they explored local wineries and vineyards, developing a lifelong love for each other and for handcrafted wines.

Their love for one another and for artisan wines continued to grow as they married, launched careers, and raised children, all the while maintaining the traditions from Georgene’s Italian American family—making and sharing homemade wines.

“It was Georgene’s dad, Nicholas [“Dr. Nick”] Passele’s side of the family that made wine,” Loren explained, “and we are grateful that he is still with us on this journey.”

After years perfecting their winemaking skills, in the fall of 2000, Loren left his job as a video producer, and Georgene quit her job as an environmental scientist to launch Westfall Winery, in Montague, New Jersey, soon to be known for award-winning red wine and unique fruit wine recipes. Because Westfall Winery was located on a farm not far from New York City, music festivals, picnics, food festivals and an annual Octoberfest were signature events spanning the spring through fall seasons.

However, winter’s arrival froze the rhythms of winemaking. Each year, when the snow came, the Mortimers escaped to Hilton Head Island’s agreeable climate and relaxed Southern lifestyle.

In January 2006, the couple decided to take a gamble and open a small satellite winery on Hilton Head Island. Uncertain if they could succeed in the island’s industrial zone, on New Year’s Day, they took the risk, putting up a balloon and an “Open for Business” sign in front of a rented warehouse complex on Cardinal Road.

Now, 14 years later, the Mortimers are constructing a brand-new winery on land they purchased just across the street, where they can expand their offerings and create the kind of inviting ambiance they want for their customers.

“We’re going from renting a warehouse to owning our own piece of land with our own custom-designed building. I think it’s going to make all the difference in the world for our customers’ experience at the winery,” Loren said.

The newly designed stand-alone building is fashioned after their farm winery. In addition to their rustic tasting room, they are creating a pet-friendly, park-like outdoor space for future activities and events.
And their timing couldn’t be better. Thanks to Island Winery’s new neighbors—a brewery and a distillery—Cardinal Road has become a great off-the-beaten-path destination, Georgene pointed out. “The interesting thing is, that lot across the street was for sale the whole time. It was staring us in the face; it really just fell into place,” she said. “Wonderful dreams can flow from a good glass of wine, often coming true in the most surprising ways.”

From vines to wines
Island Winery imports fresh grapes from the world’s most renowned vineyards, handcrafting all wines in small batches. They specialize in Italian-style wines using Sangiovese, Barbera and Nebbiolo grapes from vineyards in Amador County, California. Cabernet, Merlot and Rhone-style wines are produced using grapes from California’s Suisun Valley. Malbec and Carmenere grapes are imported fresh from Chile. All red wines are oak-aged prior to their release. Their white wines are favored for their food-friendliness and crisp flavors.

According to Georgene, what sets Island Winery’s product apart is their process. “It’s a combination of sourcing the grapes from a good area but then handcrafting the wines in small batches,” she said.

In addition to their traditional reds and whites, Island Winery produces Lowcountry specialty fruit-based wines made from locally sourced ingredients. “We’re very interested in what South Carolina has to offer including peaches, blueberries, muscadines, and honey,” Loren said.

“Most people who are not wine drinkers will like these products,” Georgene added, “while more serious wine enthusiasts are likely to be drawn to our more conventional reds and whites.”

Island Winery consistently wins local, regional, and national awards for their wines. “We enter our wines in some serious international wine competitions. We’ve won double golds at Finger Lakes Wine Competition, and we’ve won several golds at the Hilton Head International Wine Competition,” Loren said.
In the 2018 Palmetto Wine Competition, Island Winery won double gold for Southern Passion, a red wine similar to sangria. “It’s a bit on the sweet side and is a great summertime product,” Loren said.

In 2019, their ever-popular and refreshing Peach on the Beach, made from white wine and S.C. peaches, won a bronze, while their Elderberry Honey wine earned gold in addition to the distinction of ranking among the highest scoring Palmetto Signature Wines, a category reserved for wines produced from 100 percent South Carolina-grown fruits. Island Winery was also named one of the nation’s Top Wineries Worth Traveling for on Trip Advisor’s vacation travel site.

All wines are lovingly produced by the Mortimers and Dr. Nick, who still has a hand in the winemaking and bottling process, while a small front-of-the-house team pitches in as needed and does a fabulous job welcoming visitors and hosting events. Even the unique labels are locally sourced, featuring the artwork of popular area artists. You can read more on their website, where they take you on a tour of the full production process.

Island Winery offers tastings, wine by the glass or bottle, cheese and fruit plates, and private events. Wines are also available for purchase on their website (currently shipping to 36 states).

Once they move into the new building this spring/summer, expect many more surprises as they collaborate with other artists and area businesses to offer a variety of special events. Meanwhile, ride by to get a glimpse of their progress, and do stop in for a spot of wine.

Island Winery is located at 12A Cardinal Rd. moving soon to 15 Cardinal Rd., where they expect to be fully operational by June 2020. For a complete list of available wines and more information, visit www.islandwinery.com or call (843) 842-3141.

  1. Next time I am in Hilton Head I will make a point of stopping. It was great meeting you both at Nikki and Brian’s wedding. I am a cousin through marriage to Brian’s mom Bev. Great success to you!!!


    — Claudia Kaiser    Feb 2, 05:04 pm   

  2. Can’t wait. Awesome wine love being able to taste the different wines


    — Joyce    Feb 29, 09:00 pm   

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