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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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.
Unionville Vineyards provides guests with a safe, comfortable environment to relax and enjoy fine wine in the serene countryside of pastoral Hunterdon County. With this vision in mind, several important updates to our hospitality policies have been put in place related to group size, children, dogs, food, & more. Please click here to read them before planning your visit to Unionville, to ensure a pleasant experience for all. Thank you.