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.
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Desk or vineyard? This is the question I asked myself when making the leap of faith to leave my corporate life behind to pursue my passion for wine. After working in the medical communications space for 10 years, 2022 was the year of epiphany. It may sound old fashion, but I did have a major realization in the beginning of the new year that I was not meant to work behind a desk and chug along doing work that I was no longer passionate about.
My first notion of my interest of wine came during my frequent business trips to Boston about 4 years ago. For the first time I was immersing myself in the world of wine through client dinners, networking events and a lot of self-exploring through Beantown. During this time was my first encounter with sommeliers and wine experts. I was fascinated and intrigued by the expertise knowledge of wine, wine making and learning about the intricacies that goes into producing a bottle of wine. At this moment, I thought about how amazing it was to witness such passion for the craft of wine.
I enrolled in an online sommelier level one course at the Wine School of Philadelphia and began studying and reading everything I could about wine. This is where my 2nd major epiphany happened – I asked myself, the question that I stated in the beginning “desk or vineyard?”
This is the question that started the major stepping stone to my journey. I no longer wanted my wine passion to be in the background – I wanted to be 100% committed and both feet in. Unionville Vineyards was the first winery that popped into my head when I thought about making my “9:00- 5:00” switch. I attended a wedding at Unionville the year prior and loved the atmosphere, the wine and the people. The position that I applied to was half farm work half hospitality. I was instantly attracted to the idea of being out in the field to where it all begins in wine making. Thoughts of my “office” transforming into the beautiful vineyard was something I desired. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Unionville has multiple vineyard sites with the Coventry site located within Coventry Farm in Princeton being my favorite (love the views there!) Working at the different sites allows you to see how the different micro climates, soil and land impact the vines and fruit cluster growth. Also working in the field to me was the perfect learning opportunity to understand the craft of wine making soup to nuts. Being surrounded by vines that produced grapes such as Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Chardonnay was eye opening to me. I was so used to seeing the finished product of these grape varietals in their bottled form, but actually being able to perform farming techniques on the vines starts to create another level of perspective and appreciation for wine.
One of my favorite farming tasks to perform in the field on the vines is leaf pulling. Leaf pulling is when you remove leaves from around the fruit clusters. The rule of thumb is to remove leaves that are across and below from the fruit cluster. Removing the leaves creates oxygen flow, openness for pesticides to be sprayed and exposes the fruit to more sunlight. I enjoy seeing the satisfying result of a perfectly balanced vine with the right number of leaves removed. Working in the field creates a huge bond between you and your other field peers. You become a family unit and learn how to work together and communicate as a team. To me, this is a very important factor for having a successful vineyard. My experience with people at Unionville in general has been amazing. You have the opportunity to interact with people from all different backgrounds (teachers, college, corporate, etc.) which makes for some great conversations and comradery.
To anyone reading this, do not be afraid to follow your passion and take a chance on doing what you want to ensure your happiness. It was scary to make such a drastic shift from corporate to farm work, especially since the two are extremely opposite ends of the spectrum, but I have no regrets and I am happy with where my career and focus is going.