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2019: Once in a Lifetime Vintage

October 25, 2019 1 Comment

2019: Once in a Lifetime Vintage

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 Riesling at Unionville Vineyardshow wet that is. It's not easy growing wine grapes when it rains every other day from August through the end of harvest. This year, as we slogged through a wet May and June, we were making preparations to endure another difficult season. To be honest, there isn't really that much you can do, so most of the preparations were probably emotional fortification. 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.
The most critical period for quality wine grapes begins around verasion. As the grapes get ripe the skins soften and they change color. That's when too much rain can dilute flavor and introduce disease pressure. Verasion occurred in late July, just as drier conditions began. As the grapes matured, the fair weather never stopped. Day by day as each variety came in, we pinched ourselves as we peeked ahead at the forecast and planned the next pick. Over 70 tons of gorgeous grapes made their way to our crush pad, with some of the ripest flavors we've ever tasted. Great wine is made in the vineyard, and as you can see from the collection of photos of beautiful grapes on Instagram, we've already started to make some great wines. 
Amwell Ridge Vineyard Pinot NoirWe were so busy and overjoyed by the harvest that until this blog post, we haven't even mentioned some other truly momentous news for Unionville. As members of The Winemakers Co-Op, we have a selection of our wines tasted each year by Mark Squires, critic for The Wine Advocate. He published his reviews just before Labor Day, and awarded the first-ever 90 point score for a red wine from New Jersey. Our 2015 Pheasant Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir earned this recognition, and its incredible to have broken this barrier for the state industry. The wine is sold out (although we have a couple cases available to Club members) but the 2017 Pinot Noir Reserve is delicious, and slated for an introduction in the tasting room this fall.
The first full weekend in December always marks the release of our next Port wine. Conor is excited to blend Vat #25, especially on the heels of Vat #24, last year's bottling garnering a whopping 95 point score the distinction of "best fortified wine' in the 2019 New Jersey Wine Competition. Unionville will be honored at the awards ceremony in November at the Governor's Mansion in Princeton, along with the other category winners. 
What else? We've made some long-needed improvements to our energy infrastructure on the property, particularly necessary as we approach the groundbreaking of a ground mounted solar array that beginning in 2020 will power Unionville's entire operation with renewable energy. We've taken several steps towards adopting a more sustainable focus of how the winery and farm should operate. The solar field is certainly the most dramatic and impactful. Coupled with reducing chemical inputs, carrying out cover crop trials under the vineyard rows, and using a rain catching system to water our organic vegetable and flower garden, we're always considering steps to make great wine as thoughtfully as possible. 
We will continue to make more of these wines- much more in fact. Next week we will break ground on a six acre expansion at Pheasant Hill, dedicated mostly to Pinot Noir, Syrah, Viognier, and Mourvedre. Immediately after that, a 1.5 acre Syrah monoblock will be built on Amwell Ridge. Over the winter, we will repair and replace sections of Home Vineyard behind the 1858 Farmhouse that are in need of refurbishment. All of these sites will be planted or replanted in the Spring.
Only good things are going on at Unionville. With a little luck, I'll be able to update this blog a little more regularly to share them with you. Of course we would love for you to visit this holiday season, and share some of the good feelings going on here in person. 
It was a once-a-decade vintage for wine quality. Coupled with all of the other progress for the winery, it was one of the best years ever. 
  -John Cifelli, General Manager, Unionville

1 Response


November 04, 2019

So glad to heard of continued Unionville success! We were married there this past June and chose it partly because of the best red wine in NJ- can’t wait to try this new batch!!

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