While the days are beginning to get longer, the temperature is creeping lower and lower. Just as we adorn ourselves with scarves and jackets, Unionville’s grapevines must also prepare accordingly for the harsh temperatures ahead. Lucky for them, they have a dedicated team of viticulturalists to help them stay happy in the most brutal of weather!
Grapevines, like most woody plants, go dormant in the Wintertime to protect themselves and their new growth from frost. However, grapevines are very sensitive plants, especially in wetter, colder regions like the mid-Atlantic. This sensitivity means that the vines are still susceptible to cold damage in dormancy. With that in mind, the vineyard team at Unionville likes to take a couple of precautionary measures, so when the vines wake up in Springtime, they are ready to bud, flower and grow the grapes used to make some of the tastiest wine on the East Coast.
The first of these precautionary measures started many years ago, with our choice to plant cold-hardy varietals such as Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc and Riesling, but even our hardiest vines need a little TLC on the coldest Winter days. For that reason, we rely on a process called “hilling-up,” which describes the method of taking fresh compost (made from organic waste accrued on-site) and mounding it around the top of the root system and the vine’s graft union, two areas that are more vulnerable to Winter damage. These piles of compost create a blanket of insulation around the vine, as well as a physical barrier to pooling of water on frozen ground. Of course, the roots are not our only focus in winter-damage prevention. Large offshoots from the base and center of the trunk (affectionately called ‘suckers’ because they require a lot of nutrients to grow), which would normally be removed during the three growing seasons, are left intact to prevent cold-exposure to the trunk of the vine. They also serve as great markers of vine health come Springtime!
With February fast approaching, pruning season is off and running. These next couple of months are the perfect time to monitor and correct growing patterns and vigor for the coming Summer by cutting back vine spurs to just a few nodes. This assures even and healthy canopy growth, as well as an appropriate and manageable crop load (for both the vines and the winemaking team).
Vines are being pruned, barrels are being topped, tank whites are being bottled and wine is being poured and enjoyed in our tasting room all day long. It's winter hibernation for most, but Unionville is always in full swing.
I asked our summer intern, John Endres, to give his thoughts on a couple months of winery work for Unionville's blog. John started with us in mid May and has been asked to do essentially every task imaginable. He's done a great job. He will check in a few times throughout the rest of the summer before returning to La Salle University in late August. -John Cifelli, GM, Unionville
In late March I began my summer work search in hopes to find something more challenging and more rewarding than bussing tables and taking food orders. I hoped to find some real, practical experience that the previous jobs could not offer. As a student enrolled in business school I hoped to maybe pick someone’s brain about the long term and short term operations that any business encounters. I was lucky enough to find Unionville Vineyards, a short drive from home, a place that has taken me in as their own, and has done nothing but teach me, impress me, and wake me up for what is ahead.
I started the first day I could, right after my last final exam, and though I had gone over the weekly schedule beforehand, I really did not know much as to what I was getting myself in to. My week is comprised of a day in the office, shadowing the General Manager John Cifelli, some time in the Vineyard, the Cellar (Winery Floor), and occasionally in the Tasting Room. As an intern at Unionville I really am getting a taste of everyone’s job. Shadowing John as he calls, emails, and interacts in person with customers and guests, listening to Events Liaison Olivia make event plans and truly make special days for the people who come and attend, and watching Zeke take care of the cellar and wine on a daily basis to ultimately create the product everyone can enjoy. Behind all of the glitz and glamour that Unionville’s wine presents are a bunch of jobs that require a ton of hard work and dedication to get to that point. Jobs like bottling, an almost all day event spent around an assembly line filling, capping, and labeling the bottles. Steam cleaning barrels to break down all of the “gunk” left inside, then ozonating the barrels (killing any micro-organisms left behind). While not the most strenuous of tasks, the summer heat and humidity are not one of my favorite combinations with endless hot steam. Outside in the Vineyards time is spent pruning and taking care of the vines, wrapping them in between the wires for more support, and clearing the plants of weeds and once alive shrubbery to set the plants up for nothing but success. While the big tasks are great and help put into perspective what it takes to run a business, the smaller things that I do here have had just as big of an impact, things that my sometimes naive and tunnel visioned self don’t think matters as much as the bigger jobs . When John asks to double count, or double check things, it’s not because he thinks I may have gotten it wrong, but the attention to detail can save time and money down the road. Organizing and saving data and documents so no time is wasted searching all over to bring it back up, maintaining a stocked tasting room, keeping record of customers, or even setting up tables and chairs for events. All of these things sometimes get overlooked, but are equally important in running a successful wine business.
Why I chose a winery out of every other possible business is hard to say. But the friendly and passionate staff and the small business feel which I wanted make it totally worth it. Entering my first day at Unionville the image I had of my self was the business student, future businessman. But after these fascinating weeks have gone on, and to my own surprise I would definitely consider future farmer to the list of possibilities. This experience, which hasn’t even ended, has taught me so much and has brought upon a greater understanding, and respect for farming and more specifically New Jersey Wine.
John and I have been trying use the latest social trend, “Pokémon Go”, as a marketing piece. An effort to get Unionville a “Poke Stop”. That task is still in the works, but for the time being it’s my job to teach him the tips, tricks, and Pokémon of Pokémon Go, equally as hard of a task.
I just returned from Vine Camp in Prosser, Washington. For those of you that don’t know, I am currently enrolled in the Viticulture Program (growing grapes) at Washington State University. The program is 18 months long with three “camps” required. The camps are two days of study where students fly in from all over the country-actually one woman flies in from the Netherlands. This latest camp discussed various diseases to be found in vineyards, with specific emphasis on Powdery Mildew and Botrytis Bunch Rot; both or which can wreak havoc on a vineyard.
Powdery Mildew is a fungal disease that affects the grapevine. The mildew attaches itself on leaves of the grapevines, seriously hindering the photosynthesis of the plant and therefore reducing yield. Botyrtis Bunch Rot infects the berries of the plant, sucking the moisture out of the grape and if left unattended, will destroy the entire bunch, vine and eventually large portions of a vineyard. Botrytis is a fungus on grapes when wet moist conditions prevail. Viticulturists will fight against this by opening up the canopy (removing leaves) to get better air circulation within the canopy. They will also add a host of fungicides to fight its spread.
Now, my class is on Viticulture, so the focus is on fighting diseases of the plant; but, Botrytis isn’t always a bad thing. As an Oenologist and a Sommelier, I know that Botrytis also has its good side. If you have ever had a Sauternes you will understand how Botrytis, when kept in check, is a good thing, though my professors at camp would never agree.
When Botrytis infects a grape, it sends finger like tentacles inside the grape to drink up the moisture inside. This reduces the water in the grape and concentrates the juice. Even better, it also imparts a honey like flavor inside the grape that is delicious.
When you are actually encouraging Botrytis, the trick for the growers is to find the balance between perfect infestation of the fungus and horrible blight. You see, Botrytis is only a good thing when you want it. If you are trying to make a dry Chardonnay or Cabernet Sauvignon for example, you want zero. The French however, specifically in their Semillons in the southern portions of Bordeaux want it.
Washington State is the second largest wine producer in the US. They are growing by leaps and bounds. Our class trip included a visit to Inland Desert Nursery, a family owned nursery that supplies the cleanest and healthiest grapevines available to growers across North America. Inland Desert Nursery works closely with Washington State virologists, and are leading proponents of certified clean and disease-free grapevines. This effort is key to building profitable, sustainable vineyards.
I would be lying if I didn’t say that each day’s agenda didn’t end with drinking Washington wines. All for the sake of study.
For those of you who haven’t had our award winning Pheasant Hill Chardonnay, you are in for a treat. Brag I must, this Chardonnay showcases the terroir of our Hopewell estate vineyard, with notes of Meyer lemon which our winemaker, Cam, has found to be a signature of this site. Fresh lemon rind and blood orange aroma waft from a powerful nose. In the mouth, Meyer lemon, hazelnut, orange and kiwi.
Lets get the lineage awards out of the way…
What makes Unionville Chardonnays so special is their restrained oak. Lots of times when you drink a Chardonnay, the first taste to hit you is oak. Somewhere along the way, winemakers thought if a little oak in the wine was good, a lot of oak must be better. Not true. The problem with over oaking a wine is you lose the character of the fruit.
Ok, I’ll step back for a second. New oak barrels impart oak, vanilla, smoke and tannins into a wine. The older the barrel the less oak. There was a term once used for California Chardonnays, “Chateau 2x4” and it was true. Too many wines were being produced for the oak flavor, and not the great fruit flavors of the Chardonnay. At Unionville Vineyards we back off of the oak and allow the fruit to stand front and center. The oak is there, but it’s subtle and in the background.
The second thing that makes Unionville Vineyard Chardonnays so special, is Cam makes them crisper, more on the green apple side than the butter. Most of you know that grape juice plus yeast ferment to make wine, but there can also be a secondary fermentation where the harsher acidic Malic acid is converted into a softer buttery Lactic acid. We call this MLF or malo-lactic fermentation. This is what makes big reds like Cabernets and Merlots drinkable. When it comes to white wines, Chardonnays get the lion share of this treatment. Rieslings, Pinot Grigios and other aromatic whites never have oak. It has both good and bad points. True, it can soften a very acidic wine, but if overdone the MLF can make a white wine flabby and heavy.
Cam arrests the secondary fermentation prior to going through a full MLF. This, combined with his restrained oak, makes the wine crisper and brighter, and translates to a wine that is counterpoint to your turkey dinner than compliment. Think of this as a palate cleanser between bites of gravy and stuffing and buttery rolls.
What’s also great, is this Chardonnay lends itself better to shellfish than most other Chardonnays. Shrimp, Oysters, Lobster, Clams and Mussels all pair perfectly well with this wine because they’re not weighed down with the oak and butter.
It’s for that reason I’ve paired the Pheasant Hill Chardonnay with Mussel in a Garlic and Tomato Broth. Why it works is the delicateness of the mussels come to life with our Chardonnay. The briny flavors in the mussels match perfectly with the crisp lemon notes in the wine. A wonderful balance that for lack of a better term is sublime.
This is a really nice appetizer for the holidays, and quick and easy to make. If you have all the ingredients ready, you can prepare the dish in 20 minutes. That’s not even half a conversation. Don’t forget a good crusty rustic bread to sop up the sauce.
If you have any questions, or need help pairing any other Unionville Vineyards wines, please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
First of all, let me say Happy Holidays to everyone. This is a great time of year to celebrate with friends and family. At Unionville we are celebrating another successful year. We just had our 21 Port release and the winery is hopping.
While we’re in a celebratory mood, we need to get the party started. For this I offer our Gold Medal winning Riesling. (2010 Riesling, Gold Medal, Beverage Tasting Institute 2012). This Riesling is a semi-sweet take on the Riesling grape, showcasing a great balance of fruit, sweetness and acidity. This is a wine of finesse, featuring Granny Smith apple, Bosc pear and honey. Perfect for any occasion.
Also remember, that Riesling is great for brunches and lunches. It’s naturally low alcohol means your guests can enjoy a glass or two and not head for the sofa when the meal is over for a nap. It is also great with spicy hot foods. Low alcohol wines reduce the heat; high alcohol wines exacerbate the heat. How do you not love Riesling?
What’s even better, is we have a dry style as well; same fruit in the nose and taste only fermented dry. If there is one wine that’s a true party animal, it’s Riesling. Its versatility is unparalleled. Recently, when we held our Wine and Food pairing class, I featured both versions of the same dish, with one slight variance, sugar.
Our semi-sweet Riesling is fantastic with Asian foods-especially if there is any sugar in the dish. Think of Thai lettuce wraps, Orange Beef or even General Tso’s chicken. All these dishes have sugar in their sauce. One of the first rules I learned during my Sommelier training was that sweet foods need to be paired with sweet wines. If you eat a sugary food with a dry wine, the wine will just taste like lemon water. Yuck. If the sugar in the wine matches the sugar in the food, you have a perfect and seamless harmony. That said, the dry version is equally great with Asian foods, sushi, and Indian as long as they aren’t sweet. Sorry Teriyaki.
Knowing this, I present my Chicken Wings Adobo recipe two ways. The basic ingredients are soy sauce, garlic, ginger, scallions and vinegar. You can vary it from there, but let’s stick with the basics. Now, let the chicken marinade for 3 hours in the mixture, and pull the chicken out and throw it on a grill. During this time, reduce the marinade by two thirds and add sugar. When the chicken is cooked, half is arranged on a plate and the other half of the chicken is tossed in the sugary sauce, then plated.
Now we bring in the wines. For the dry wings I serve the Unionville Dry Riesling and for the sweet version, the Unionville Riesling. It’s the same chicken wings and wine, the only difference is the sugar. Last Saturday night I was at a holiday gathering and I brought both wines and both chicken dishes. I made sure that the right wine was placed next to its counterpart and watched the crowd. What was so great, is that people didn’t realize the wine changed with the food. They just knew both dishes were balanced. I obsess a little about food parings, but this is fun and it’s also a neat lesson to teach your guests at your holiday parties. This can also be mostly made in advance so you don’t have to stay away from the festivities too long.
The following recipe feeds about 10 as appetizers, or 4 if they are going to sit down and devour. If you do serve it as a meal, may I suggest pairing it with coconut rice. The recipe is below.
If you want to prepare this ahead of time, marinade the chicken first thing in the morning. Remove from the marinade and place back in the fridge, then reduce the marinade as directed and place in fridge. Right before the party starts, grill the chicken, reheat the sauce and toss together. Easy.
Chicken Adobo Wings
Except for the sugar, throw everything in a large bowl and toss in the fridge for three hours. Every hour rotate the chicken to make sure all pieces are well covered.
After three hours, fire up the barbecue, remove the chicken from the marinade-keep the marinade, and toss the wings on the fire. Chicken wings cook fairly quickly, about 4 minutes per side. Meanwhile take the reserved marinade and pour it into a large sauce pan set at medium high and reduce by 2/3rds. Stir often to make sure nothing burns. You should end up with about 2 cups. Once reduced, add the sugar and stir to blend in.
Once the chicken is finished, place half on a platter and toss the other half in the sauce. Remove the sweetened version from the sauce and place on a platter. Top both with the reserved chopped scallions and serve with their respective wines.
Mix all ingredients in a small pan. Just as the liquid starts to boil, turn the heat to low, put on the lid and let simmer for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes remove from the stove and fluff with a fork.
If you have any questions, leave a comment below.
It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas at the winery. The grapes have all been harvested and are soundly asleep in their various barrels and tanks until next year, or the next. To the successful year we’ve had at Unionville Vineyards, I offer a glass of cheer. In this case, the wine that gives me lots of cheer is our 2014 New Jersey State Wine Competition Gold Winner, Vat 19 Port. This delicious Port is a blend of vintages dating back from 2001 to 2012. All produced from 100% estate grown Chambourcin.
If you would like to experience the Holidays in a glass, this award winner is it. Ripe fruit, chocolate, caramel, vanilla, baking spices all filling the glass. One taste, and you’ll think you hear relatives at the door. One glass, and you’ll swear you hear Santa on the roof. It is seldom that a wine evokes so much emotion.
I’m prone to the dramatic, and I like to set the scene. Dinner is over, the dishes are washed and put up. The kitchen lights are out, the kids are in bed and the fire is blazing. Just you and your port. Life is good.
Typically, when I’m enjoying port, I run to the freezer, break off a few frozen chocolate cookie dough pieces, and pop them in the oven. When the timer rings, I’m in that kitchen faster than a marathoner. Chocolate and port go together so well you almost feel guilty. Almost.
Now with the holidays upon us, I have to think of others and invite them into my Port and Chocolate quiet time. For this, I’m offering the following flourless chocolate cake recipe. Flour just gets in the way of chocolate, don’t you think?
Why this works so well, is the intensity of the Port and the intensity of the chocolate match perfectly. This is one of those times when the sum is greater than the parts. Both are sweet and both are rich, but with the Port’s 18.5% alcohol added to the equation, it elevates what you’d think would be too heavy, into pure enjoyment. After the holidays, you can return to the frozen cookie dough, but for now, it’s time to bake.
Flourless Chocolate Cake
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate-chopped (1 2/3 cups)
3/4 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
3/4 cups sugar
6 extra large eggs at room temperature (separated)
1 1/2 cups ground nuts
3 Tbsp. Cocoa Powder
Position a rack in the lower third of an oven (not the bottom), and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 10-inch layer cake pan or Springform pan. Line the bottom with a circle of parchment paper or waxed paper cut to fit precisely. Butter the paper and sides, then dust with cocoa powder, tapping out the excess cocoa.
Place the chocolate in a small heatproof bowl or the top pan of a double boiler. Set over simmering water but not touching the water. Stir until melted and smooth. Remove the heat and let cool slightly.
Place the butter and sugar in a bowl. Using a whisk or an electric mixer set on high speed, beat until light and fluffy, 8-10 minutes with a whisk or 3-5 minutes with a mixer. Add the egg yolks, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Beat in the cooled chocolate and the ground nuts.
With clean beaters, beat the egg whites until stiff and glossy but not dry. Using a rubber spatula, gently but thoroughly fold the egg whites into the chocolate mixture one third at a time. Pour into the prepared pan; smooth the top.
Bake until the top puffs and forms a crust, about 50 minutes. Be careful not to over bake. Cool in the pan for 15 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely. Peel off the paper. Transfer to a plate and spread the warm chocolate ganache over the top and sides.
1 Cup Heavy Cream
10 oz. (2 cups) Semi sweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped
Gently warm the cream in a small saucepan over medium heat until small bubbles begin to appear at the edges. Remove from the heat and stir in the chocolate until the mixture is smooth and the chocolate has melted. If there are any visible lumps, strain the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve. Ice the cake with the ganache warm.
Last Sunday we had our first Wine and Food pairing class. This was such a hit that all eight attendees have pre-booked for January. Since I am both a Sommelier and a Chef, I look at wine and food differently. I don’t look at them as individual components as much as a union of flavors. This was my goal for our food pairing class, and I think we did a pretty good job.
For those of you that don’t know, Unionville Vineyards produces a winning duo of Marsanne and Roussanne grapes. These are both French grapes from the northern Rhone region of France. Each grape has its own personality, that when combined, really become something special. Marsanne is known for fruit notes of orange, pear, ripe lemon and tropical fruit along with earthier notes of almond and spice. Roussanne has notes of citrus rind, white cherry, yellow apple and pear along with fresh herbs, herbal tea and honeysuckle.
Together these two become the dynamic duo of Thanksgiving wine. Marsanne pairs well with butter, cream and root vegetables to only name a few. Rousanne makes friends with thick and creamy soups, pasta, yams, mashed potatoes, goose, turkey and even honey-glazed ham. This team can match both these foods in texture and with it’s balanced acidity, cut through their richness. Need I say more?
For this wine, I paired it with a leek tart. In this tart I added mushrooms, peas and herbed goat cheese. Earthiness in the mushrooms along with the peas are counterpoint to the goat cheese; a perfect companion for our Marsanne/Roussanne blend. The ingredients of this dish can be made the night before and then fill the pie shell in the morning if need be.
Leek Tart with Mushrooms, Peas and Herbed Goat Cheese
1 basic pie dough (I use Pillsbury when in a crunch)
3 Leeks- halved and sliced thin
1/2 stick of butter
2 cups mushrooms-halved
1 cups fresh or frozen peas
1 log Herbed Goat Cheese-approximately 8 ounces.
1 1/2 cup milk
Salt and Pepper
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees and arrange rack on lowest setting in oven.
In a large saute’ pan add the butter and mushrooms. Try not to crowd the pan. The trick to getting the most flavor out of your mushroom is to leave them alone. Mushrooms are full of water and the moisture inside will allow the fungi to saute’ much longer than you would think. Once in the pan on medium high, the mushrooms will caramelize and bring out great rich brown colors and earthy flavors. If the mushrooms are moved around, they’ll cook, but you’ll miss out on their true potential.
Once you’ve achieved significant color add the leeks and saute’ until tender. Maybe 4-5 minutes. Add the peas and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Roll out the dough onto a non-stick Teflon pan (preferably the type with a bottom that can be removed). Prick the bottom of the dough with a fork and add your leek mixture. Now pinch off pieces of the goat cheese and arrange around the tart evenly.
In a bowl add the eggs and whip lightly. Once the eggs are well blended add the milk along with pinch of salt and a healthy grind of fresh black pepper and carefully pour over the tart.
Place tart in oven for 45 minutes. If the cheese starts getting too dark place a sheet pan on a higher rack. The main focus is to get the crust fully cooked and crisp.
I make this tart all the time with various ingredients. Once you get the hang of it, this shouldn’t take you 20 minutes from saute’ to popping in the oven.
Cutting into thin slices, this is a perfect starter for a holiday gathering. It also makes a great meal, but don’t forget the Marsanne/Roussanne!
Like people, some wines age well and others...well, not so much - they just fall apart. We’ve put together a few basic guidelines for selecting which wines to sip now and which bottles to save for later.
Take a step back. Ask yourself - is this wine fun and fruity, like our Heritage White, or a serious dessert wine, like our Cool Foxy Lady or a Sauternes?
If it’s fun and fruity, drink it now. It’s ready to pour. Enjoy a relaxing evening out on the porch. Whip up a pitcher of sangria. Invite some friends over. Have fun and enjoy - that’s what these wines are for.
If it’s a serious dessert wine, lay it down for later. Dessert wines like our Cool Foxy Lady or a Sauternes, will age beautifully. High levels of residual sugar preserve and stabilize wines during aging. These wines will age 5 to 10 years or more.
Not all big red blends are created equally. Some are ready to drink right away. They may have a bit of sweetness to them, a bit of juiciness, very ripe fruit, without much (if any) tannic grab. Such wines are not worth laying down. They seem easy to drink because they are - so drink them now.
Other red blends deserve a place in your cellar. These are dry reds with good structure and tannic grab. They are big and bold. The grab you experience on the palate is important - tannins are what allow the wine to age well. Our 2012 Big O is a Bordeaux-style red blend and, like its French counterparts, age-worthy. It will age well for 10+ years. The 2012 is similar in many ways to our great and highly rated 2010 Big O. Cam expects this wine to improve over the next 6-8 years, and to remain world-class for an additional 10 years. It's great now, but the future is genuinely huge.
Our 2012 Pheasant Hill Vineyard Syrah is a red blend as well. Reminiscent of a traditional Cote-Rotie, the 2012 Syrah includes a small percentage of the white variety Viognier. This wine is built to last. Put a bottle in your cellar. As Cam says, You can thank me later.
Think about the components of the wine. Does it have bright acidity? Does it have tannins? Are the flavors intense? Acidity and tannins are important for aging. The acidity will soften, the tannins will mellow, and the aromas and flavors will become more complex. The 2012 Pheasant Hill Chardonnay, for instance, will continue to evolve. Next time you taste this wine, consider the intensity of flavor and the bright acidity. At a 2015 staff meeting, the Unionville team enjoyed a 2005 Pheasant Hill Chardonnay...it was gorgeous.
Fortified wines are fortified with distilled spirits. With a good level of residual sugar and a warming alcohol content (our Ports top out around 18.5%ABV), Port wines are great candidates for your cellar.
When in doubt, ask the knowledgeable staff at your local wine shop or winery tasting room. We are happy to answer any questions - our tasting room is open 7 days a week, 12 to 5pm. Currently, we highly recommend stocking your cellar with The Big O, Amwell Ridge Viognier, Pheasant Hill Chardonnay, and Pheasant Hill Syrah (2012)- all are still evolving to higher levels.