I just returned from Vine Camp in Prosser, Washington. For those of you that don’t know, I am currently enrolled in the Viticulture Program (growing grapes) at Washington State University. The program is 18 months long with three “camps” required. The camps are two days of study where students fly in from all over the country-actually one woman flies in from the Netherlands. This latest camp discussed various diseases to be found in vineyards, with specific emphasis on Powdery Mildew and Botrytis Bunch Rot; both or which can wreak havoc on a vineyard.
Powdery Mildew is a fungal disease that affects the grapevine. The mildew attaches itself on leaves of the grapevines, seriously hindering the photosynthesis of the plant and therefore reducing yield. Botyrtis Bunch Rot infects the berries of the plant, sucking the moisture out of the grape and if left unattended, will destroy the entire bunch, vine and eventually large portions of a vineyard. Botrytis is a fungus on grapes when wet moist conditions prevail. Viticulturists will fight against this by opening up the canopy (removing leaves) to get better air circulation within the canopy. They will also add a host of fungicides to fight its spread.
Now, my class is on Viticulture, so the focus is on fighting diseases of the plant; but, Botrytis isn’t always a bad thing. As an Oenologist and a Sommelier, I know that Botrytis also has its good side. If you have ever had a Sauternes you will understand how Botrytis, when kept in check, is a good thing, though my professors at camp would never agree.
When Botrytis infects a grape, it sends finger like tentacles inside the grape to drink up the moisture inside. This reduces the water in the grape and concentrates the juice. Even better, it also imparts a honey like flavor inside the grape that is delicious.
When you are actually encouraging Botrytis, the trick for the growers is to find the balance between perfect infestation of the fungus and horrible blight. You see, Botrytis is only a good thing when you want it. If you are trying to make a dry Chardonnay or Cabernet Sauvignon for example, you want zero. The French however, specifically in their Semillons in the southern portions of Bordeaux want it.
Washington State is the second largest wine producer in the US. They are growing by leaps and bounds. Our class trip included a visit to Inland Desert Nursery, a family owned nursery that supplies the cleanest and healthiest grapevines available to growers across North America. Inland Desert Nursery works closely with Washington State virologists, and are leading proponents of certified clean and disease-free grapevines. This effort is key to building profitable, sustainable vineyards.
I would be lying if I didn’t say that each day’s agenda didn’t end with drinking Washington wines. All for the sake of study.
Like people, some wines age well and others...well, not so much - they just fall apart. We’ve put together a few basic guidelines for selecting which wines to sip now and which bottles to save for later.
Take a step back. Ask yourself - is this wine fun and fruity, like our Heritage White, or a serious dessert wine, like our Cool Foxy Lady or a Sauternes?
If it’s fun and fruity, drink it now. It’s ready to pour. Enjoy a relaxing evening out on the porch. Whip up a pitcher of sangria. Invite some friends over. Have fun and enjoy - that’s what these wines are for.
If it’s a serious dessert wine, lay it down for later. Dessert wines like our Cool Foxy Lady or a Sauternes, will age beautifully. High levels of residual sugar preserve and stabilize wines during aging. These wines will age 5 to 10 years or more.
Not all big red blends are created equally. Some are ready to drink right away. They may have a bit of sweetness to them, a bit of juiciness, very ripe fruit, without much (if any) tannic grab. Such wines are not worth laying down. They seem easy to drink because they are - so drink them now.
Other red blends deserve a place in your cellar. These are dry reds with good structure and tannic grab. They are big and bold. The grab you experience on the palate is important - tannins are what allow the wine to age well. Our 2012 Big O is a Bordeaux-style red blend and, like its French counterparts, age-worthy. It will age well for 10+ years. The 2012 is similar in many ways to our great and highly rated 2010 Big O. Cam expects this wine to improve over the next 6-8 years, and to remain world-class for an additional 10 years. It's great now, but the future is genuinely huge.
Our 2012 Pheasant Hill Vineyard Syrah is a red blend as well. Reminiscent of a traditional Cote-Rotie, the 2012 Syrah includes a small percentage of the white variety Viognier. This wine is built to last. Put a bottle in your cellar. As Cam says, You can thank me later.
Think about the components of the wine. Does it have bright acidity? Does it have tannins? Are the flavors intense? Acidity and tannins are important for aging. The acidity will soften, the tannins will mellow, and the aromas and flavors will become more complex. The 2012 Pheasant Hill Chardonnay, for instance, will continue to evolve. Next time you taste this wine, consider the intensity of flavor and the bright acidity. At a 2015 staff meeting, the Unionville team enjoyed a 2005 Pheasant Hill Chardonnay...it was gorgeous.
Fortified wines are fortified with distilled spirits. With a good level of residual sugar and a warming alcohol content (our Ports top out around 18.5%ABV), Port wines are great candidates for your cellar.
When in doubt, ask the knowledgeable staff at your local wine shop or winery tasting room. We are happy to answer any questions - our tasting room is open 7 days a week, 12 to 5pm. Currently, we highly recommend stocking your cellar with The Big O, Amwell Ridge Viognier, Pheasant Hill Chardonnay, and Pheasant Hill Syrah (2012)- all are still evolving to higher levels.
Counoise is a unique red wine grape variety, late-ripening and plump, with a thin skin. In the Rhone region of France, Counoise is typically used in red blends, for instance Chateauneuf-du-Pape.
We grow Counoise right here in Hunterdon County, New Jersey...right in your own backyard! At Unionville, we celebrate Counoise by bottling it as a varietal wine. (According to federal regulations, at least 75% of the grapes used to produce a wine with a varietal designation must be of that variety.) Like Pinot Noir, Counoise has big berries with thin skins. As our winemaker Cameron Stark likes to say, Counoise is like Pinot Noir...but with attitude.
Here are three reasons why we like Counoise as a single varietal:
1. It's Unique
Don't deny it. You've never heard of this variety before. Why should you have? It's a typically used in blends, never celebrated on its own. Unionville is one of only a handful of wineries in the world to produce a varietal.
2. It's Got Attitude
Counoise, as a varietal, is a light-bodied red with good structure and bright acidity, making it very food-friendly. The acidity works wonders when paired with richer meats like duck. Good structure allows for graceful aging - our 2013 vintage will age well for 5 years and hold for another 3.
3. It's Flavorful
Like Pinot Noir, Counoise is lighter in color, but don't be fooled. This wine has beautiful aromatics and is full of flavor.
Aromas of rose petals, violets, blackberries, and blueberries, all surrounded by a note of white pepper. Beautiful. On the palate, notes of blueberry and blackberry, hints of sweet vanilla, again with the white pepper surrounding. The finish is long with flavors of blueberry and a lasting white pepper glow. A very pretty wine.
In short, it is a yummy wine and one of my favorite wines for picnic. Cheers!
~Stacy Brody, Operations Coordinator and former Cellar Rat
Selecting Chocolates for the Wine and Chocolate Trail Weekend
The Unionville Vineyards team went to great lengths to find the perfect wine and chocolate pairings for the upcoming trail weekends. We even went so far as to try our hands at making chocolates, but don’t worry - we’ll serve truffles made by the professionals...and we’ll stick with growing grapes and making wine.
We learned quickly that, as in winemaking, there are no shortcuts in chocolate-making. Try taking a shortcut and you end up covered in chocolate. I suppose there are worse things in life.
We also learned that, like winemaking, chocolate-making is both science and art. There is the science behind tempering, a process in which specific crystal structures form and which produces shiny, snappable chocolates.
Yet, there is also art. As we treat our grapes differently based on variety and vineyard, so do chocolatiers treat their chocolates differently depending on cocoa content and origin.
Unionville Vineyards will be offering chocolates from Carol’s Creative Chocolatez for the Chocolate and Wine Trail weekends because Carol just gets it. She knows where her chocolate comes from. She also knows how to turn raw product into something absolutely exquisite, while still showcasing its origin.
We had a tough time deciding on our chocolate and wine pairings. And we ate a little bit too much chocolate (you thought there was no such thing). We tried solid pieces and filled truffles, we paired with our red wines and our white wines (gasp!). We worked very hard to find the perfect pairings for the trail.
We hope you’ll visit us and celebrate two loves: wine and chocolate. With each extended tasting, enjoy selected chocolate pairings. Tastings are $10 per person and include a selection of 8 wines. Unionville is located near several other New Jersey wineries participating in the trail weekends. For full information, please visit: http://www.newjerseywines.com/events/category/trail-weekends/
Who will you bring on the 2015 Wine and Chocolate Trail?
Unionville’s winemaker Cameron Stark is dedicated to creating wines that highlight varietal flavors and terroir. Driven to showcase the fruit character and food-friendly acidity of wines from our estate vineyards, Stark forgoes the “butter” and sweet oak by limiting malolactic fermentation, using neutral French oak barrels, and using pure fruit.
Malolactic fermentation occurs in the wine making process after primary fermentation (sugar → alcohol) has finished. Oenococcus oeni, one of the key players in malolactic fermentation, is responsible for imparting the buttery notes found in some Chardonnays.
At Unionville Vineyards, we limit malolactic fermentation in our Chardonnays. The result: fruit-forward wine that has a higher acidity, which imparts a crisp clean finish on the palate and makes it perfect for pairing with food.
Stacy Brody, our Operations Coordinator, likes to compare oak barrels to tea bags. “Neutral oak barrels are tea bags that have been used a few times. The essence is still there, but it is muted.”
By using neutral oak barrels, we allow the unique flavors of each varietal to be prominent in the final wines. New oak, particularly American, can impart strong wood and vanilla notes, which often dominate the delicate flavors of the grape. At Unionville, we use all French oak, mostly neutral.
Varietal and site typicity are our main focus at Unionville Vineyards. Managing five estate vineyards, totaling 54 acres under vine, we know that each site is unique.
We continually showcase each vineyard and its unique characters. We have Pinot Noir Clone 115 on four different sites, and each one tastes different. In order to express the grape in its truest form, we are very diligent about harvest time and yeast selection. This diligence creates a balanced fruit-forward wine with depth.Unionville’s goal is to make the best wine on the east coast. Period. Cameron pays homage to the grape’s varietal expression by using fresh hand-picked berries. Neutral French oak barrels and limited malolactic fermentation allow the pure expression of a grape’s typicity as well as the vineyard’s terroir. A recipe sure to create a yummy wine.
There is no rest for the wicked, but there are parties!
The Unionville Vineyards team celebrated the season with a potluck dinner, and we throw a darn good potluck.
The buffet table was overflowing with everything from grilled Haloumi cheese to chicken Marsala to Moroccan tagine to honey whiskey cupcakes. You know those cupcakes were gone before I could whip my phone out to snap a photo.
We love food almost as much as we love wine. Just look at all the mouthwatering recipes we share! Cam even broke out the grill and cooked up some flank steaks for the team.
We were all enjoying ourselves when we learned Cam had yet another trick up his sleeve…
He quieted us, a tough task, and announced that we should empty and rinse out our glasses because he was about to start us on a blind tasting of five white wines, broken into two rounds.
For the first set of three wines we were told the following
We tasted the first wine. Immediately, aromas of vanilla and caramel leapt from the glass, followed by citrus, orange. In the mouth, creamy, rich, buttery. Definitely some new oak. Definitely malolactic fermentation. This has to be California, we guessed. This is not Unionville’s wine.
We tasted the second wine. This one showcased the fruit: white peach and lemon zest, with notes of white flowers. Much sleeker, leaner than the first. Flint on the finish. Had to be French. Had to be!
We tasted the third wine. Pure fruit. Meyer lemon and those same white flowers. Good acidity and flavor throughout. No oak on the nose or on the palate. A pure expression of the variety and the terroir. This was ours. We were proud – ours runs with the best of them.
Then the reveal!
Number one: Mount Eden 2011 Chardonnay. California. 95 points from Wine Spectator. From the producer’s technical notes, we learned the wine was fermented and aged in 75% new French oak and completed 100% malolactic fermentation. Average retail price $70.
Number two: Meursault Sous le Dos D’ane. Côte D’Or, Burgundy. 92 Points Wine Spectator. Average retail $150.
Number three: Unionville’s 2012 Pheasant Hill Vineyard Chardonnay. New Jersey. Featured at the New Jersey Food and Wine Festival at Crystal Springs. Fermented and aged in neutral French oak barrels. Retail $51.95.
Unlike many consumers, we believe great wines can come from New Jersey. We were proved right.
The second round of blind tasting included two wines. We could see these wine were white. We knew nothing beyond that, not the region or the variety. Nothing.
Cam was testing us.
The first had notes of flowers, oak and hazelnuts, with a hint of Gewürztraminer-like spice. In the mouth, rich, full-bodied, almost oily, viscous.
Cam started pouring the last wine. Wow, white flowers! Strong floral notes, minerality on the palate. Start to finish a beautiful wine with a rich mouthfeel.
“Vouvray,” someone guessed.
“Our Marsanne-Roussanne,” suggested Natalie.
“How did you know?” Cam was flabbergasted.
“We tasted it at Matt’s a few weeks ago.”
She was right! We had brought a bottle to a team dinner at Matt’s Red Rooster a few weeks ago, and she remembered!
The first wine - Saint Joseph “Lieu-Dit,” produced by E. Guigal, a well-respected producer in the Rhône region of France. This bottle retails for around $58.
The second wine - OUR Amwell Ridge Marsanne-Roussanne to be released in mid-January. It will retail for $29.95.
We know our wines are good. Now, we tell you from experience our wines are as good as the best of them.
Great things do come from New Jersey.
After a savory dinner, I love to wrap up the night with Unionville’s Vat 19 Port and a cheese plate. The salty cheese and sweet Port are bold enough to stand up to one another yet play with your taste buds. This pairing has tantalizing flavors that fall on opposite ends of the flavor spectrum. Pair our Port with a mix of aged blue cheeses such as Stilton or Gorgonzola and a soft goat cheese like Chevre. For added sweetness, roll your goat cheese in either dried cranberries or apricots. Round out your cheese plate with some roasted almonds, walnuts, chocolate-covered cherries, and dark chocolate. Yum.
Photo courtesy of Brick Farm Market
a great place to find the perfect cheese
If you have not already figured it out, I believe Port is a very special red wine, for a number of reasons. But I promise you, I will only name a few.
Currently at Unionville, our Port is fermenting in stainless steel tanks. Once the sugars dropped to 12°brix, we added high-proof brandy. The grapeskins were left in the tank in order to extend contact between the wine and the skins. This pulls out intense flavor and color. The grapes and wine marry or macerate until about Christmas in the stainless steel tank in which it was fermented. We then press the wine very lightly and store the Port in a new tank for a month. The wine is then racked to neutral French oak barrels with virtually no oak character to impart to the wine. Once in barrel, the Port is not removed or topped until it is used in a blend for one of our Vat series Ports.
In the field
It’s official - harvest season has come to an end. The grapes are in. The bird nets are down and we can all take a deep breath. Inhale. Now, let it out.
Whew, I’m tired!
As we reviewed the season, Cam noted that the daily temperature shifts we experienced this year were similar to those of Napa or Sonoma.
The significant variation between daytime and nighttime temperatures helps maintain the natural acidity of the grapes. The dry weather results in smaller berries, which pack a bigger juicier punch.
Mother Nature – the festival may have been a little wet, but you did give us some really yummy grapes.Thank you!
In the Cellar
At this point, most of our red wines are still in primary fermentation. With cool temperatures, red wines such as our Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon, are able to have a long fermentation, enriching both the color and flavor profile.
Our famed Pinot Noir is currently in the barrel. Among the first grapes to be picked, Pinot Noir is the first red to be strained off its skins. After separating the wine from the skins and seeds, the wine is put in barrels, where it undergoes a secondary fermentation, also known as malolactic fermentation, and picks up very subtle hints of oak. At Unionville Vineyards, we use neutral French oak barrels, which impart only the subtlest hint of wood. Pinot Noir is characterized by its lighter color and more delicate flavor profile, due to its relatively thin skins and high pulp-to-skin ratio.
Coming soon: Thanksgiving Side Dishes
Two savory recipes filled with all the fall favorites. They pair with Pinot Noir and make excellent Thanksgiving side dishes.