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
Comments will be approved before showing up.
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.
It’s the most wonderful time of the year! I know that is cliché to say, but it truly is a great time at Unionville. We’ve got all of our reds pressed and in barrel. Cooler, stainless-steel fermentations are finishing up in tank, I’m finally able to breathe a little easier, and wake up a little later. With the holidays upon us, the wine making team has a lot on the mind, but one thing standing out is the blending, bottling, and release of Vat #23 – the latest rendition of our opulent Port wine.
Port has a storied history at Unionville – the fortified delight has been made at the winery since its first vintage in 1993, Before we delve into that, we have to talk a little about how Port is made and the different styles in which it can be presented. Port, named for its origin country, Portugal, is typically a sweet or medium-dry red wine, fortified with distilled grape spirit, then cellared and bottled at different times and in different ways to present specific stylizations. The two most recognizable presentations of Port wine are Ruby and Tawny Ports. Ruby styles are young wines usually aged for only a couple of years (or less). They’re released early to showcase juicy acidity and fruity characteristics of young wine with fuller mouthfeel and complexity
Sign up to be the first to hear about our events!