I asked our summer intern, John Endres, to give his thoughts on a couple months of winery work for Unionville's blog. John started with us in mid May and has been asked to do essentially every task imaginable. He's done a great job. He will check in a few times throughout the rest of the summer before returning to La Salle University in late August. -John Cifelli, GM, Unionville
In late March I began my summer work search in hopes to find something more challenging and more rewarding than bussing tables and taking food orders. I hoped to find some real, practical experience that the previous jobs could not offer. As a student enrolled in business school I hoped to maybe pick someone’s brain about the long term and short term operations that any business encounters. I was lucky enough to find Unionville Vineyards, a short drive from home, a place that has taken me in as their own, and has done nothing but teach me, impress me, and wake me up for what is ahead.
I started the first day I could, right after my last final exam, and though I had gone over the weekly schedule beforehand, I really did not know much as to what I was getting myself in to. My week is comprised of a day in the office, shadowing the General Manager John Cifelli, some time in the Vineyard, the Cellar (Winery Floor), and occasionally in the Tasting Room. As an intern at Unionville I really am getting a taste of everyone’s job. Shadowing John as he calls, emails, and interacts in person with customers and guests, listening to Events Liaison Olivia make event plans and truly make special days for the people who come and attend, and watching Zeke take care of the cellar and wine on a daily basis to ultimately create the product everyone can enjoy. Behind all of the glitz and glamour that Unionville’s wine presents are a bunch of jobs that require a ton of hard work and dedication to get to that point. Jobs like bottling, an almost all day event spent around an assembly line filling, capping, and labeling the bottles. Steam cleaning barrels to break down all of the “gunk” left inside, then ozonating the barrels (killing any micro-organisms left behind). While not the most strenuous of tasks, the summer heat and humidity are not one of my favorite combinations with endless hot steam. Outside in the Vineyards time is spent pruning and taking care of the vines, wrapping them in between the wires for more support, and clearing the plants of weeds and once alive shrubbery to set the plants up for nothing but success. While the big tasks are great and help put into perspective what it takes to run a business, the smaller things that I do here have had just as big of an impact, things that my sometimes naive and tunnel visioned self don’t think matters as much as the bigger jobs . When John asks to double count, or double check things, it’s not because he thinks I may have gotten it wrong, but the attention to detail can save time and money down the road. Organizing and saving data and documents so no time is wasted searching all over to bring it back up, maintaining a stocked tasting room, keeping record of customers, or even setting up tables and chairs for events. All of these things sometimes get overlooked, but are equally important in running a successful wine business.
Why I chose a winery out of every other possible business is hard to say. But the friendly and passionate staff and the small business feel which I wanted make it totally worth it. Entering my first day at Unionville the image I had of my self was the business student, future businessman. But after these fascinating weeks have gone on, and to my own surprise I would definitely consider future farmer to the list of possibilities. This experience, which hasn’t even ended, has taught me so much and has brought upon a greater understanding, and respect for farming and more specifically New Jersey Wine.
John and I have been trying use the latest social trend, “Pokémon Go”, as a marketing piece. An effort to get Unionville a “Poke Stop”. That task is still in the works, but for the time being it’s my job to teach him the tips, tricks, and Pokémon of Pokémon Go, equally as hard of a task.
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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.
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 the most wonderful time of the year! I know that is cliché to say, but it truly is a great time at Unionville. We’ve got all of our reds pressed and in barrel. Cooler, stainless-steel fermentations are finishing up in tank, I’m finally able to breathe a little easier, and wake up a little later. With the holidays upon us, the wine making team has a lot on the mind, but one thing standing out is the blending, bottling, and release of Vat #23 – the latest rendition of our opulent Port wine.
Port has a storied history at Unionville – the fortified delight has been made at the winery since its first vintage in 1993, Before we delve into that, we have to talk a little about how Port is made and the different styles in which it can be presented. Port, named for its origin country, Portugal, is typically a sweet or medium-dry red wine, fortified with distilled grape spirit, then cellared and bottled at different times and in different ways to present specific stylizations. The two most recognizable presentations of Port wine are Ruby and Tawny Ports. Ruby styles are young wines usually aged for only a couple of years (or less). They’re released early to showcase juicy acidity and fruity characteristics of young wine with fuller mouthfeel and complexity
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