It's our 25th Anniversary and I'm not sure what to say

September 04, 2018

It's our 25th Anniversary and I'm not sure what to say

You only celebrate making wine for 25 years once.

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 encouraged me to wonder about the people who lived, farmed, suffered, celebrated life, and died on the farm even further back, whom which there is no visual record of. The original structures on this property were erected before the first shot of the Civil War! Who was here then?

There is also the global context of wine making and viticulture to consider. I recall a documentary on German Riesling houses I watched while studying for a sommelier certification. A proprietor of one of these castles pulled out a book with  written histories of vintages spanning centuries. We often say at Unionville that after 25 years we're learning what works best for our sites. We probably shouldn't say that. We can say that we've learned something, and we can say that we know what works well. But to know what is best will take generations after me to discern. Wine growing is an excruciatingly slow process. I am a late Millennial with the world's information at my fingertips. I wasn't born with a smart phone, but I've had one most of my life. I could spend the rest of my life at Unionville, and I will not be a part of knowing what is best here. Forcing myself to slow down and accept this truth has been a part of my anniversary process.

I've been careful not to succumb to this morose line of thinking. Perhaps the 25 year iteration of this property as a winery and my six years within it do not need to be viewed within the broader context 19th century New Jersey, or the nearly immeasurable wine world continuum. What I have come to realize is that given our lifespans and how much time we have to share together allows for, no, calls for celebrating the incremental successes of the great undertaking of developing a world class winery. Perhaps the decisions I take part in today- plant more Rhone varieties on the Amwell Ridge, plant Pinot Grigio at Home Vineyard, bud over the Vitis riparia, rip out the Petite Sirah- will not reveal themselves to be wise or foolish before I leave Unionville, or even before I leave this Earth. 

What is worth celebrating is that today, the winery has never had a more dedicated team working to elevate the winery to higher heights than ever before. Likewise, the work done by countless- some nameless- individuals before us laid the foundation for what we are doing today to be possible. In the grand scheme, the broader historical context, it is a short tradition. Yet I would celebrate the passionate, dedicated work we do every day and the tangible successes whether the winery was one month or one thousand years old. I can't wait to come back to work again tomorrow and help Unionville make great wine. Thank you for making our passion possible. I raise my glass to you. 

-John Cifelli, General Manager





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