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.
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My name is Rachael White, and I am the new vineyard manager at Unionville Vineyards. I am thrilled to be part of the team and produce exceptional grapes for exquisite wine. I’m eager to begin this role and I wanted to introduce myself to share a little of my background.
I became interested in grape production right out of high school while working at my local research and extension center with the viticulture team. Little did I know when I started that viticulture would become my passion and career going forward. I got to work with industry famous people like Dr. Tony Wolf and Dr. Cain Hickey and interact with growers that were more than happy to share their joys and dismays about farming grapes. I fell in love with the seasonality and the fact I could always be outside! With a newfound purpose, I attended my first semester at Virginia Tech in the fall of 2013 and immediately focused my degree on wine grape production. I took every wine and vineyard related course offered at the time and enjoyed other horticulture courses along the way. I studied
abroad in Cortona, Italy where I learned old world wine tradition and began refining my palate.
I finished my Bachelor of Science degree in December of 2016 and looked to gain more knowledge from elsewhere in the world. I decided to work a vintage in the southern hemisphere and set my eyes on New Zealand. In March of 2017, I started work at a contract winery in the Marlborough region that produced Sauvignon Blanc, but also small batches of Pinot Noir, Gewurztraminer, and Pinot Gris. I worked on the “Red Team," and processed mostly Pinot Noir
in small orders for clients.
What a difference a year can make. August 2018 through July 2019 was the second rainiest 12 month stretch in the recorded history of New Jersey weather. These records stretch back into the late 19th century, which gives context just to how wet that is. It's not easy growing wine grapes when it rains every other day from August through the end of harvest. As we slogged through a wet May and June, we were making preparations to endure another difficult season. A torrential thunderstorm on July 11th dropped over three inches of rain on most of our vineyards. Todd Wuerker, winemaker at Hawk Haven Vineyard said to me on the phone "it has to stop, it always evens out" and I scoffed at that idea. The weather today doesn't know what happened the day, week, or month before.
Todd was right! An atmospheric switch flipped in mid-July, and high pressure dominated the mid-Atlantic for the rest of the season. There were isolated thunderstorms to dodge through the rest of summer, and Unionville fared particularly well in this stretch. Over the 10 weeks of harvest, less than three inches of rain fell across our vineyards. We went from a historically wet stretch to historically dry, and it came just in the nick of time.
Today, we are picking the first grapes for what is Unionville's 27th harvest. Two years after the first grapes were picked and fermented, they were sold in the newly-opened tasting room- 25 years ago. Although I've been thinking about this moment for about a year, we've started our anniversary celebration and I'm still struggling to put it all in context.
In the past few years I've learned so much that could be shared with you now. I've spent hours at the township building, reading through letters written back and forth between parties involved in the winery's founding in the early 1990's. I've walked the vineyards, pausing with each "King of the Vineyard" as Conor calls them- the craggy, gnarly vines nearly as old as me. I've stared at the black and white photos in the hallway of the 1858 Farmhouse of the family and workers who tended to this property many decades ago.
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