If you understood and enjoyed that pun without explanation, I have a glass of Counoise-based Rose' to share with you the next time you're in. For the rest (most likely all) of the Unionville blog reading population, cultivar is a fancy word for plant variety. In our case, we're talking about grapevines, and specifically, those that were born and raised in the Rhone valley of southeast France.
About ten years ago, the Amwell Ridge Vineyard was planted on the hill across from the winery. There were more varieties than you could count on two hands, and these varieties, while all French, come from all corners of that large country that has very different climate, weather, and soils from Bordeaux to Burgundy to Champagne, to the Rhone. Different parts of New Jersey share some similarities with each of these regions, but there are no perfect correlations between New Jersey's grape growing areas and the various viticulture zones of France. So the Ridge was planted to test plots of 11 different French varieties, and ten years later, we've drawn some conclusions. This is what makes wine making in New Jersey so exciting...we're still learning, and will be for quite some time. It's pioneering work.
With the 2017 harvest we will end the Petite Sirah and Cabernet Sauvignon production from Amwell Ridge. The 9 rows of Sauvignon will be budded over to two of our very successful Rhone white grape varieties- Marsanne and Rousanne. We will lose these rows from production in 2018, but by chip grafting- adhering young "bud wood" from the white varieties into a cut of the existing Cabernet Sauvignon trunk- we will see these 9 rows yielding Marsanne and Rousanne in 2019. Through the grafting process we take the shortcut around production loss that a vineyard feels when one rips out productive vines. That will have to be the case with the Petite Sirah. It doesn't ripen consistently enough as it requires a wider growing window than our climate consistently provides. We do not have the opportunity to chip graft in the replacement vines, because the selected variety- Picpoul Blanc- isn't accessible anywhere in the region. Without any in the area, there are no cuttings to be had, so we will have to source completely new plants as we introduce this new Rhone white variety onto the Amwell Ridge.
It will be 5 years before Picpoul weaves its way into production- either as a part of the Mistral Blanc blend, or as a varietal wine if it is special on its own. Again, that's part of what makes vineyard planning, and wine making in an emerging region so exciting. In ten years we may learn that these decisions weren't ideal, but they're markedly more informed that what was happening at Unionville 10, 20, or 30 years ago. With each vintage comes another year of knowledge, and this gets integrated into our entire operation.
I don't think the success of our Rhone grape varieties is happenstance. I think the weather comparisons are a better correlation than those between our part of New Jersey and any part of France. The average summertime high temperatures roast into the 90s, and average winter lows mirror our own in the low 30s. The total annual rainfall of the central Rhone valley and New Jersey are within 5 or 6 inches of each other (although it should be noted that like much of France, their drier months in France coincide with harvest time, which gives FR an advantage). Combine these weather similarities with the well drained clay loam soils of the Amwell Ridge, and I expect these Rhone wines to continue to become a focus of our brand in the years to come.
General Manager, Unionville Vineyards
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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.
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.