Unlike most of our white wine, which is currently in steel tanks with cooling jackets, our Rhone blend (co-fermenting Marsanne, Roussanne, and Viognier), and Chardonnay are currently in barrel. Chardonnay wines from different vineyards are kept in different barrels, so we can allow for the continued expression of terroir and the bottling of single vineyard wines. The neutral French oak barrels impart subtle notes of oak to the wine, allowing the aromatic citrus and butterscotch notes to really shine through.
Determining Harvest Readiness in Wine Grapes at Unionville
I am packing up and getting ready to escape the office for a great yoga class. I’ve been looking forward to the class since Monday.
It’s only Wednesday. Hump Day. The Wednesday before our Annual Fall Harvest Festival. There is plenty to do - 5 pm and the vineyard crew is just starting to press the Riesling grapes they’d been harvesting all day.
So...close... I’ve got my yoga mat in my car. I’m ready to go. I’m almost there...
And Cam stops me.
Dang. So close.
“Wanna go sample grapes?”
He’s got his vineyard hat on, and his dog Rocky is at his heels. There is really no way I can say no.
Such a beautiful afternoon. A bit warm, but comfortable. I love fall. The leaves are changing color, and it’s so quiet and peaceful out here I easily forget I’m in New Jersey.
We walk through a break in the treeline, up the hill, to our Top Vineyard. The Riesling and Chardonnay have all been picked, though there are some now-very-sweet grapes still hanging on the vines.
We continue, back to the red grapes. Back here, thanks to New Jersey Agricultural Extension and Rutgers University, we have a new weather station. The station sends data to NEWA, the Network for Environment and Weather Applications, housed at Cornell Universty. Cornell and Rutgers University scientists explore the data and use patterns to advise growers like us on when to expect diseases and insects. As growers, we use the scientists’ research results and our very own vineyard data to help manage pests and also to predict growth and maturation during the growing season. The more we know, the better farmers we are.
Moving towards the grapes, we begin to take samples. Taste, you know, is of primary importance! These grapes are just delicious.
The main reason we are up here is to take samples of the Cabernet Sauvignon and of the Chambourcin. Cam hands me a ziploc bag and sets down some ground rules
Then, he sends me off.
Well, now! This seems to me to be quite a big responsibility. He’s going to use my sample to determine whether or not to harvest and to see how far along these grapes are.
Pretty big deal.
I walk down rows of Cabernet and he takes Chambourcin.
We meet at the end.
“Did I not get enough?” We each half-filled our Ziploc baggies, but he’s also holding a cluster of dark, plump Chambourcin grapes.
“My daughter loves these.”
The Chambourcin grapes, compared to the Cabernet, are huge, nearly double the size, and very very red.
We walk down the hill, Cam’s dog running out ahead, and bring the samples back to the lab.
There, we “smoosh” the grapes (smoosh is a technical term, you see). Cam measures the sugars and acidity for each juice. He doesn’t tell me anything. Not before I taste.
I taste the two juices, almost like I would taste wine, noting the flavors and where on the palette I taste them. The Cabernet has great blueberry notes, with a bit of green apple tartness. The Chambourcin starts off blueberry - then, bam!, overwhelmingly green apple.
The big reveal: The acidity of the Chambourcin juice is much higher than that of the Cabernet, and neither is ready to be harvested.
The tastes of the grapes and of the juice tell Cam everything. The numbers he gets from the lab tests only back up what he knows from tasting alone.
I miss my yoga class. I’ll make it to another one. Harvest is just a crazy wonderful time of year. I don’t want to miss it.
~Stacy, Operations Coordinator & Wine Geek
1. The Grapes:
I have unlimited access to delicious grapes. Fresh-picked wine grapes are juicier and more flavorful than anything you get in the grocery store. Even freshly-picked, each clone of Pinot Noir tastes unique. Each type highlights a different flavor profile, and when blended, the result is an aromatic and complex wine (hint: keep an eye out for our Pinot Noir reserve). These fresh grapes are so delicious I don’t even mind the seeds!
Freshly-harvested Pinot Noir grapes
Fun Fact: Assistant winemaker Stephen Johnsen reminds us how Pinot Noir got its name: the French word Pinot for pine cone, because the tight little bunches look like pine cones, and Noir for the dark skins.
Fun Fact: Our winemakers examine the seeds to help determine ripeness.
Our grapes are transported in these yellow containers called “lugs.” Each container holds about 20 pounds of grapes.
2. The Smells:
The cellar smells like bananas, and the lab smells like bread. We’ve got tons of grapes fermenting in our cellar right now, throwing off mouth-watering aromas, including something like bananas. Call me crazy! But bread? Really, bread? Cameron, our wine maker, chooses specific yeast strains for the fermentation of the white grape juices and red grape musts. Similar to bread yeast you would find in the grocery store, our yeasts arrives dry. With rehydrating yeast filling every container imaginable the lab begins to smell like a warm homey bread shop.
Fermenting Pinot Noir
3. The Sunsets:
Daytime hours are waning, yet there is more and more to do! Every once in a while, we stop and take in a deep breath - appreciating the beautiful sunsets we are blessed with in the valley of the Sourlands.
4. The Customers:
You – the customers – come out and see us more! As the weather cools everyone is out and about. This is prime festival, farm market, wine trail, and wedding season. Speaking of which, have you gotten your tickets yet for our Annual Fall Festival? You can try your hand…er, foot…at grape-stomping!
5. The Interns:
Unionville Vineyards has a couple of wonderful harvest helpers, including Kathryn, a current Rutgers University, School of Environmental and Biological Sciences (SEBS) student, Emily, a SEBS alumnus, and Pam, a sommelier. We couldn't do it without them.
I have a pretty tough day job. Especially when the winemaker makes me taste wines from the barrel. Those are such difficult days. You should really watch out for the next Syrah. It’s quite yummy.
Seriously, we all work hard here at the winery. Everyone in the local food and agriculture industry does. Most of us realize we could be making more money elsewhere, and let’s face it, the cost of living in New Jersey is pretty darn high.
Yet, you see us at markets and in tasting rooms. We offer tours and special events. We arrange festivals that bring thousands of people onto our property. We smile and serve and share our stories.
We do what we do because we love it. The winemaker and I recently met with representatives from Cherry Grove Farm, a farmstead creamery and meat producer in Lawrenceville, NJ. (Shameless promotion warning: I love their Havilah and Toma cheeses.) We met at a local farm-to-table restaurant (which only had one local wine on their wine list – let your local restaurants know you want local wine). Of course, we ordered the cheese plate to sample some of Cherry Grove Farm’s products.
Over drinks and small plates, we shared our own food stories and discussed the state of the local food and agriculture industry in New Jersey. We all agreed that we need to keep doing what we do not only because we are passionate about food and wine of exceptional quality, but also because we need to preserve farmland. And the only way to do that in a state like New Jersey is to produce value-added products, employ creative marketing strategies, and host both fun and educational events.
When I was younger, I saw the farm near my home razed and townhouses built in its place. I picked pumpkins there! I was devastated and wrote a letter to the editor of our local newspaper. That’s how I found my way into agriculture. And I love it.
Support your local farmers, and remember: we come in all kinds: from orchardist to cheesemaker to vintner.
May we be so bold as to suggest a great way to spend an afternoon in the area:
1. Pack just the supplies in your picnic basket. Make sure you have plates and knives.
2. Visit Cherry Grove Farm. Pick up a selection of cheeses.
3. Stop by Terra Momo Bread Company in Princeton or Brick Farm Market in Hopewell. Choose a selection of breads (and maybe a dessert).
4. Finish up at Unionville Vineyards. Taste some wines. Have a picnic.