Vintner Cameron Stark

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Jersey winemaker Cameron Stark trained in Napa ValleyOur acclaimed winemaker, Cameron Stark, was formally trained at UC Davis and spent his early career under the tutelage of Napa Valley wine experts perfecting his skills and mastering his unique, creative style of winemaking. Cameron’s wines have earned him respect and recognition in the wine establishment including Wine Enthusiast ratings of 90+ points. He is committed to crafting some of the finest, sustainable American wines, here in New Jersey, by continuously strengthening the vineyards with superior vines and experimenting with traditional and modern viticultural methods. Using only the best fruit from Unionville's five estate vineyards, Cameron works his magic in Unionville’s tanks and barrels, resulting in wines that celebrate the region with delicious sophistication and individuality.
(Photo credit: Stuart Pigott)

Cameron is intimately involved in the entire process, from planting grapevines to training interns to bottling wines. In his role, Cameron seizes opportunities to experiment and educate, both in the vineyard and in the cellar. Unionville Vineyards properties include a variety of soil profiles. With grapes from myriad soil types, Cameron can make radically different wines, which he Cam leading a tasting of single vineyard wines at the Pheasant Hill Vineyardshowcases in Unionville's single vineyard series.

Around the winery, and particularly with regards to the Pheasant Hill Chardonnay, Cam uses the word "yummy." "Yummy," he explains, means the wine has the structure and flavors he wants. He is often spotted taking notes on wines with his purple pen. Why the purple pen? a) It's a winery, and b) He can always tell who stole it.  

 

Cam's Tips 

Cam offers a wine-related tip in each of our newsletters.  

June 5, 2014: Start a Wine Cellar
The wait is worth it and duct tape is a great deterrent: just tape up the case and write a date you cannot open it before.
Wondering how long Unionville's wines will age (when stored properly)? 
2012 Cam Jam: 5 years
The Big O: 10-15 years
Pheasant Hill Chardonnay: 5-10 years

June 22, 2014: Start a Cellar on a Budget

We know not everyone's home has a wine cellar and not everyone can afford a fancy wine fridge. Cam suggests a great alternative: go out and pick up a styrofoam wine shipper. Store your wines in there and tape it shut. The styrofoam packaging insulates the wine and provides pretty good protection against temperature variation.

 

July 15, 2014: Taste Wines in Order

In the tasting room, we list our wines in what we call a "proper" tasting order, starting with crisp dry white wines, moving on to fuller-bodied whites, then reds, and finishing off with dessert wines. Tasting in this order is recommended for the best experience.

 

August 7, 2014: Take Your Time Tasting

1. See it. Look at the wine in the glass. Note the color. Does it fade around the rim?
2. Swirl and smell. Swirl the wine around and stick your nose in the glass. Swirling releases all these great-smelling compounds. What does the wine smell like? Basic categories are fruit, flower, earth, and spice. It helps to think about it systematically. So, do you smell fruit? What kind of fruit? Maybe citrus or red fruit or black fruit. Break it down slowly. 
3. Sip (and spit). Take a sip. Swish it around in your mouth. If you're tasting a lot of wines (or driving), spit it out. Notice the taste and also how the wine feels in your mouth. Is it heavy like whole milk or light like skim? Does it make your mouth water?
4. Take notes. Start keeping a diary of all the wines you try. Notice patterns in what you like and don't like. Note characteristics of different wine regions and grape varieties. 
5. Savor. Enjoy wines with family and friends.

 

August 26, 2014: Understanding Tasting Notes

We offer tasting notes on all our wines. For example: These are our notes on the 2012 Pheasant Hill Chardonnay

Fresh lemon rind and blood orange aroma waft from a powerful nose. In the mouth, Meyer lemon, hazelnut, orange and kiwi. A seamless wine from front to back. Quite yummy, perhaps better than the famed ’08 and ’10 vintages! Will age for 5 to 10 years.

Our winemaker Cam evaluates each wine and provides notes on what he smells and tastes. These aromas and flavors arise during fermentation and aging. We do not add anything artificial. We don't even add any spices. Just grapes and yeast and oak barrels (for some wines). This aspect of wine is, quite frankly, fascinating. (Okay maybe not to everyone.) From just grapes and yeast arise aromas and flavors reminiscent of different fruits and flowers, of earth and tar (see our 2010 Merlot), of baking spices and coffee (see our Vat 19 Port). So don't worry if you are allergic to cranberries and our description of Pinot Noirmentions cranberries. 

As Cam notes, "As children, we are not taught flavor. We are not encouraged to develop the vocabulary necessary to describe flavors and aromas." That's one of the reasons many of us find it difficult to identify nuances in wines. Still, we encourage everyone to try. Next time you're tasting wine (ours or anyone's) swirl, smell, and sip and begin identifying those aromas and flavors yourself. Everyone's palette is a bit different so don't worry if you don't get the same answer. 

 

September 18, 2014: Serving Temperatures

For the best drinking experience, serve wines at the proper temperature:

Fortified wines, such as our Vat 19 Port, can be served at 62F.
Medium- to full-bodied red wines, including Big O and Cabernet, are ideally served at 60F
Light-bodied red wines, such as Pinot Noir, are ideally served a little cooler at 53F.
Dry whites and roses are ideally served at 48F.
Sparkling wines and sweet (but not fortified) wines should be poured at 44F.
Meanwhile, your average refrigerator temperature is 40F or below.
Cam keeps his cellar at 62F and enjoys drinking our Chardonnays at about this temperature. This may seem warm for a dry white. However, at this temperature, our Chardonnays are the fullest expressions of themselves.

 

October 2, 2014: Determining When to Harvest

There are a few ways to determine ripeness in wine grapes. 

1. Brix - According to the Oxford Companion to Wine, brix is the "scale of measuring total dissolved compounds in grape juice, and therefore its approximate concentration of grape sugars"  (Robinson 1994). Brix can be measured using a refractometer, which is the device I use at the winery. I squeeze a bit of grape juice onto the quartz surface at one end. I hold the refractometer up to the light and look through the lens on the other end. The refractometer measures the density of water-soluble materials, i.e. sugar, in the juice by measuring how quickly light travels through the juice compared to water. Due to differences in climate, at Unionville, I do not see brix levels as high as those I have seen at vineyards in California. Brix, though important, is not the main factor in determining ripeness and quality. 

2. Seeds - Wine grapes have small seeds. When the grapes are ripe, the seeds are tan-brown, rather than bright green. I observe seed color throughout harvest season.  

3. Taste - There is no better way to determine ripeness than taste. I base my decision to pick primarily on taste and texture, and I use the chemistry (brix) only to back up my decision. Every day, I'm tasting grapes, focusing on sugars and acidity, as well as bitterness, which may be present in under-ripe grapes. 

 

October 16, 2014: How Much Wine to Buy

Planning a party and unsure how much wine to purchase? Don't worry you are not alone. I get this question all the time. How much wine do I purchase for my party? My recommendation varies depending on the type of party you plan on hosting. Keep in mind that one 750ml bottle of wine will pour five 5oz glasses of wine. 


For a more intimate sit down dinner party I suggest a half bottle per person or approximately 2.5 to 3 glasses of wine per guest. This allows your guests to enjoy a glass of wine with the first course and then another with the main course plus a little extra.


If you are planning more of an all-evening event, allowing for a cocktail/wine hour and some mingling, I would suggest 1 bottle per person. I know this sounds like a lot but trust me it's not! At such a party where food is served buffet style guests consume, on average, 2 glasses of wine per hour. If your party is projected to last for 3-4 hours this would result in about a bottle per guest. 


When purchasing wine, keep in mind that some of your guests will prefer white wine while some will prefer red. Select at least one white wine and one red wine that pairs with your menu.


One last tip: Always purchase an extra bottle of each wine. Best case: Your guests drink more than expected and you have  extra wine on hand. Worst Case: You have unopened bottles at the end of the night that you can stash away for a rainy day. 


Keep these tips in mind when planning your holiday gatherings. Look for our new releases: 2013 Amwell Ridge Viognier and 2013 Reserve Pinot Noir. They pair exceptionally well with traditional Thanksgiving turkey and side dishes. Always remember that you can contact Unionville Vineyards for pairing suggestions and order your wine online. Save gas and time.


Be safe: Make sure your guests can get home safely and that everyone has a designated driver. 

 

October 30, 2014: How Long Can I Drink My Wine?

This is another common question in the tasting room. The unfortunate truth is that once wine is exposed to air, it begins to fall flat.  After a day or two, the wine loses its complex flavors, often tasting flat and a little too acidic. Fortified wine, such as Port or Sherry, is the exception.

White wines, Red wines, and Roses: We suggest keeping an open bottle of wine for only 2 days before using the leftovers for cooking.

Champagne or sparkling wine loses its fizz after a day of being opened. You are better off finishing this bottle the day you open it, so make sure you open it with friends!

Once opened, fortified wines such as Port can stay on your shelf or in your refrigerator for an average of 2 - 4 weeks. The high alcohol and sugar content in this wine act as preservatives, holding the flavor for quite a while.

November 13, 2014: Which Wine Should You Drink with Thanksgiving Dinner?

Poultry is often paired with dry white wines such as Chardonnay or Viognier. Although the herbs and seasonings you choose to flavor your dish may influence the exact wine - a bold dry white wine is usually a fair bet.

For Thanksgiving, a holiday notorious for juicy turkey and savory rich side dishes, one of the best wines to pair with this dinner is Pinot Noir. Now I know, you may be scratching your head. But Pinot Noir is a red wine! Yes - you are right. Pinot Noir is a red wine, but it is a light-bodied red wine. I often say that it is a white wine in a red wine overcoat. Our Pinot Noir Reserve has a silky mouth feel laced with yummy notes of wild cranberries, dried autumn leaves, chocolate, worn leather, and cedar. 

Similar to white wines, Pinot Noir has low tannin levels. Because Pinot Noir has large berries and thin skins, varietal Pinot Noir wines are lighter in color. Conversely, wines made from varieties with small berries and thicker skins, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, typically are richer or deeper in color.

Varietal wines can include a small percentage of grapes that are not of that variety. For example, a Pinot Noir wine may include small percentage of Syrah. This not only deepens the color but adds to the flavor and texture. At Unionville Vineyards, we do not do that. Our Pinot Noir is made from 100% Pinot Noir grapes grown at our vineyards here in New Jersey. This creates an extraordinary though light red wine - ideal for Thanksgiving dinner!

December 11, 2014: What is a fortified wine?

With the Vat 20 Port Release party this past weekend, there has been a lot of talk around the winery floor about fortified wines. What is a fortified wine anyway? How is it different from other beverages? Continue reading to pick up a few fun facts to wow guests at your next holiday party.

A wine, such as Port, Sherry or Vermouth, becomes fortified when a distilled spirit is added at just the precise moment during the fermentation process. When making our Port, we monitor sugar levels closely and add brandy, our distilled spirit of choice, early on in the fermentation process. The additional alcohol, kills the yeast and preserves the natural sugars, creating a stronger, sweeter wine with a rich mouth feel. If the fermentation process is allowed to go to completion, such as in Sherry, more of the grape sugars are naturally converted into alcohol before the brandy is added, resulting in a drier wine.

Brandy, a distilled grape spirit, not only imparts a unique flavor on the wine, but also helps preserve the wine so that you can hang onto an opened bottle for up to two weeks! 
Each type of fortified wine is unique. The production of Madeira, for instance, involves heating the wine, resulting in a toffee-caramel-like character. Sherry is made by the solera process, in which the wine is aged and progressively blended in a series of barrels.

Here at Unionville, we not only produce our signature blended Vat Ports, we also occasionally bottle and release single-year Vintage Ports. Vintage Ports are made from grapes picked only during that year. In other words, the 2001 Vintage Port is made with grapes picked only in 2001.  On the other hand, Vat 20 is made by blending a selection of Vintage Ports from 2001 to 2013.

Vintage Ports = pure grapes from a single year
Vat Ports = a selection of single year Ports blended together
January 9, 2015: Where is the Rhone?

The Rhône region is an area in Southern France that produces some of the world's  rarest aromatic white wines and lusciously structured red wines.

Situated in the Rhône river valley, this area is known for grape vines that cling to terraces carved into the granite hillside on almost vertical slopes.

The Rhône region, however, is not the only area in the world that  produces exotic grape varieties such as Syrah, Viognier, Marsanne, and Roussanne. Unionville Vineyards, nestled in the valley of the Sourland Mountains, grows these varieties and more

January 29, 2015: Reconsider Chardonnay

Often, we find, folks turn up their noses at Chardonnay.

“I just don’t like it,”  our customers respond when we ask why they are not tasting any of our Chardonnays.
 
What usually follows is one of my favorite success stories.
 
Well, what don’t you like about it? Is it the leanness and flintiness of a Burgundy or the butteriness and creaminess of a California Chardonnay? These wines are completely different, though made from the same variety. I ask you to reconsider Chardonnay.
 
“Let me just pour you one,” I say. “My favorite one.”
 
They swirl and sniff. Take a taste and look back at me - wide eyed. “This is actually pretty good! Not overly oaky...and it has a lot of citrus.”
 
I turn away, with a prideful smirk. I converted another one. Delicious, pure, fruit-forward Chardonnays really do exist. And they exist right in your backyard.
 
Along with terroir, winemaking style and technique have huge impacts on Chardonnay.
 
At Unionville, we produce fruit-driven Chardonnays. Though fermented and aged in oak barrels, our Chardonnays showcase the pure fruit and floral flavors of this variety.
 
We also prefer to stop malolactic fermentation, the process responsible for the buttery notesof many California Chardonnays.
 
If you have an aversion to Chardonnay, but have not tasted one of ours, I invite you to come on in. This weekend we will release two new Chardonnays. A Chardonnay flight will be available for $5. Like I tell my kids, you have to try something before you can say you don’t like it.

February 19, 2015: Why We Make You Wait
We have discussed in detail what kind of barrels we use and why.
 
Repeat after me, Neutral. French. Oak.  
 
What we have not discussed is how long we keep wine in barrels, what part of the fermentation occurs in the barrel, and why.
 
The length of time wine ages in barrel greatly affects the wine.
 
Oxidation, as well as the imparting of oak tannins, aromas and flavors, can impact the flavor profile and mouthfeel of the wine.
 
I have said it and I will say it again, we concentrate our efforts on creating fruit-forward wines that capture the terroir of our vineyards and the artisanship of our winemaker.
 
This tends to create wines that are more delicate, aromatic, and soft - wines that taunt the senses not break down the door with wood and butter.
 
When we work, we keep this in mind. There are no tricks. Only treats. Let me tell you it isworth the wait.
 
Here are the facts:
The length of time our wines stay in barrels depends on the wine and the flavor profile we want it to have.
  • Select white wines, including Chardonnay, Viognier, and a blend of Marsanne and Roussane, complete primary fermentation (sugars → alcohol) in barrel. The wine is then left in the barrel on the lees, which is composed primarily of dead yeast, and aged sur lee for 5 to 8 months. Stirring up the lees during the topping up of the barrels contributes to the glycerol content of the wine imparting a creamy rich mouth feel. About half way through the aging process, we stop stirring the wine so that there is a balance between the creamy mouth feel and the brightness and freshness of the acidity.
  • Our red wines complete primary fermentation on skin in macrobins. They are then racked off the skins and into the barrel. They, therefore, do not age sur lee.
  • Lighter-bodied red wines such as Counoise and Pinot Noir are barrel-aged for 9 months. They do not need long to age and round out in barrel. Their tannins are lighter and the acidity brighter, something which we strive to maintain.
  • Heavier-bodied reds, such as our Pheasant Hill Vineyard Syrah, age in barrel for at least 18 months. This allows time for heavier grape tannins to round out and soften and for the components of the wine to come into balance.
It is in barrel, that these wines complete secondary or malolactic fermentation. (malic acid → lactic acid, a softer acid) The bacteria consume Malic or Apple acid and create Lactic or Milk acid that is softer on the pallet. Some bacteria strains produce Diacetyl that is the same compound as the fake butter flavor on movie pop-corn.
 
Another byproduct is carbon dioxide - so if you have ever had a wine that had just a hint of carbonation and was slightly cloudy it went through Malo-Lactic fermentation in the bottle. Not something a winemaker aims for.
 
Although the wines spend varying lenghts of time in barrel, they are all worth the wait. During the Rhone Red Release weekend you will have an opportunity to try two different styles of red; Counoise a softer red that aged in barrel for approximately 9 months and Syrah a heavier red that spent almost 18 months in barrel.  While tasting these wines, you will not only be able to taste the difference in terroir but also the length of time the wine aged in barrel.