1. The Grapes:
I have unlimited access to delicious grapes. Fresh-picked wine grapes are juicier and more flavorful than anything you get in the grocery store. Even freshly-picked, each clone of Pinot Noir tastes unique. Each type highlights a different flavor profile, and when blended, the result is an aromatic and complex wine (hint: keep an eye out for our Pinot Noir reserve). These fresh grapes are so delicious I don’t even mind the seeds!
Freshly-harvested Pinot Noir grapes
Fun Fact: Assistant winemaker Stephen Johnsen reminds us how Pinot Noir got its name: the French word Pinot for pine cone, because the tight little bunches look like pine cones, and Noir for the dark skins.
Fun Fact: Our winemakers examine the seeds to help determine ripeness.
Our grapes are transported in these yellow containers called “lugs.” Each container holds about 20 pounds of grapes.
2. The Smells:
The cellar smells like bananas, and the lab smells like bread. We’ve got tons of grapes fermenting in our cellar right now, throwing off mouth-watering aromas, including something like bananas. Call me crazy! But bread? Really, bread? Cameron, our wine maker, chooses specific yeast strains for the fermentation of the white grape juices and red grape musts. Similar to bread yeast you would find in the grocery store, our yeasts arrives dry. With rehydrating yeast filling every container imaginable the lab begins to smell like a warm homey bread shop.
Fermenting Pinot Noir
3. The Sunsets:
Daytime hours are waning, yet there is more and more to do! Every once in a while, we stop and take in a deep breath - appreciating the beautiful sunsets we are blessed with in the valley of the Sourlands.
4. The Customers:
You – the customers – come out and see us more! As the weather cools everyone is out and about. This is prime festival, farm market, wine trail, and wedding season. Speaking of which, have you gotten your tickets yet for our Annual Fall Festival? You can try your hand…er, foot…at grape-stomping!
5. The Interns:
Unionville Vineyards has a couple of wonderful harvest helpers, including Kathryn, a current Rutgers University, School of Environmental and Biological Sciences (SEBS) student, Emily, a SEBS alumnus, and Pam, a sommelier. We couldn't do it without them.
Unionville's Phil Moran interviews the chefs at our outlets and restaurant clients. These pieces are not intended to be restaurant reviews. Rather, they showcase the relationships we have with others in the local food and wine industry.
This first piece highlights the longstanding relationship we have with Matt McPherson of Matt's Red Rooster in Flemington. We enjoy working with Matt and others who appreciate the value of fine wine, good food, and great meals shared with friends and family.
~Stacy Brody, Operations Coordinator, Unionville Vineyards
When Flemington native Matt McPherson came home to open his own restaurant Matt's Red Rooster Grill, his intention was not to create a great grill room. Like most CIA (Culinary Institute of America) graduates, Matt’s grounding was in classical sauces, nouveau and French techniques. His intention was to bring those refinements to his hometown.
At that time, ten years ago, Flemington was a thriving center of discount shopping (a business now eviscerated by the growth of the internet). Although white tablecloth, American and Italian cuisine, was already thriving, the world of “sauciers” and cuisine focused on sauté specialties hadn't penetrated rural West Jersey. Matt, who had honed his skills with the great Chef Ed Brown in the “Sea Grill” in Rockefeller Center, planned to build on that experience. He anticipated sautéing the finest fish, veal and local vegetables, then crisping those creations in a high heat oven and imparting a light wood smoke nose and flavor.
In Matt’s words, what we know today as “Matt’s Red Rooster”(an American Grill Room) and the area's unquestioned source of the finest grilled chops, aged steaks and quickly charred fish, was a serendipitous creation.
When I was planning the restaurant, I spent a week in Seattle with the intention of purchasing a wood fired oven. I wanted a wood oven for the very high heat I needed to quickly crisp, glaze and finish the dishes I envisioned. I stayed for a week and cooked with all the manufacturer’s equipment lines in their test kitchen. It was only after I had the opportunity to work on their high end wood fired grill that I realized this was what my cuisine needed.
It took some time and experimentation with the grill to get exactly what I wanted. I now burn a mix of oak, apple and cherry wood. At the Rooster, we go through 3-4 cords of wood each week.
Matt tells us although he is the first professional chef in the family, cooking at home was an event, not a chore, an event in which the entire family participated. My father was regularly behind the stove, cooking not just for the family but for the Flemington Elks and in charitable events.
For Dad, “cooking for others was his way of dealing with stress.”
By the time Matt was 16, he knew he wanted to become a chef. Matt enrolled in the culinary program at Hunterdon Central H.S., and Gary Peabody, the head of the program became a mentor. At that time we were not all pushed towards obtaining a college degree. I thought I could complete high school and get started on my career. Mr. Peabody had other ideas. He took me up to CIA knowing before I did that there was more to this business than just practicing in front of a stove.
CIA was a turning point for Matt. In the first two years the curriculum was entirely culinary arts. By the time those two years were over, I knew how much I didn’t know and stayed another two years to obtain a B.S. in Restaurant Management.
After school, Matt moved to NYC to increase his skills with the highest level of talent. He was recruited by Chef Ed Brown to re-open the Sea Grill in Rockefeller Center. I learned a lot at the Sea Grill: how to design and fit out a restaurant, hiring, training and motivating staff and a million other things. Ed Brown is a master motivator as well as a great chef. From the beginning my compensation package was tied to the number of stars we received from the major reviewers. Living in NYC, I needed every penny of a four star bonus. The key to that bonus was not only brilliance but consistency with every dish, every night. That is not easy, particularly when you are delivering 500 covers an evening.
That training, that learning, (if not the 500 covers in this 90 seat restaurant) shows at the Red Rooster.
Although the basic concept is grilling the finest beef, chops and fish, the “saucier” comes through, as there may be as many as six sauces available each night.
As Karla Cook noted in her New York Times review: Standout appetizers included an appealingly fragile pan-fried crab cake with a sweet roasted red pepper rémoulade; a composition of roasted red and golden beets with goat cheese and a balsamic-chive drizzle; and an intense mushroom soup with a base of chicken stock enriched and brimming with roasted wild mushrooms and a touch of cream. Another treat was the wood-fired romaine heart, its tender exterior yielding to crunch and smoothed with a parmesan dressing, a smattering of grated parmesan and the lingering flavor of wood smoke.
Other favorites were a Griggstown Farm charcuterie platter that hit all the right notes with its grilled chicken-apple sausage, house-made truffled chicken liver pâté and slim slices of Manchego cheese; and the poblano pepper stuffed with pulled pork (the source of that outdoor aroma, perhaps) in a delightfully gloppy pool of aged Cheddar, salsa and a lime-sparked sour cream.
The Artful Diner’s review focused more on the entrées available on the night of their visit: Entrées highlight Mr. McPherson's love affair with the grill. And should you entertain a passion for finny fare, the grilled whole fish of the day (branzino during my two most recent visits) -- which may be served intact or filleted in the kitchen -- is clearly the way to go. The skin is crisp and crackling, the flesh marvelously moist, and the accompanying lemon caper butter stunning in its simplicity. The grilled scallops, a daily special, were also quite nice....
The pork chop roulade is another winner. The meat is pounded thin then rolled with provolone, Swiss, and mixed herbs and grilled to tender perfection. The consummating touch is a heady mushroom Marsala sauce.
Lovers of red meat, of course, also have some very appetizing choices: rib-eye steak with cabernet demi-glace for instance, or peppercorn-encrusted New York strip with tarragon shallot butter. … I opted for the filet mignon. Velvety of texture and grilled to a mouthwatering medium rare, you will find the accompanying blue cheese sauce vividly assertive but not overpowering.
Matt is also a true believer in the power of fine wine to elevate great cooking. I didn't really have a background in wine appreciation until my years at CIA. In school I took a series of wine courses as part of the curriculum. After graduating I went to Napa for 40 days in the dessert, cooking and tasting the finest California wines. It’s funny, I had absorbed a lot in school and in Napa, but I was really just a cork-dork. I didn't get it until I was able to spend a few afternoons at Unionville listening to Cam rhapsodize about the power of fine wine to compliment and even enhance the power of food. That was my “lightbulb over the head” moment.
To this day, ten years after meeting Cam and being introduced to Unionville, Matt remains amazed at the quality of Unionville wines he is able to offer in the Rooster. My overall favorite is the 2010 “Big O”. The power and elegance of that Bordeaux blend is a perfect foil to the finest steaks and chops.
I asked Matt for a recipe to share with the Unionville faithful, and he provided the following recipe for Creamy Parmesan Dressing for his Grilled Romaine, the only dish always on the menu at the Rooster and for Matt the only dish “ I’m sure I've got right”.
Creamy Parmesan Dressing
2 T Dijon mustard
1 Anchovy filet
1-2 garlic cloves
1/2 c shallots
1/4 c olive oil
2 egg yolks
(1/4 c of mayonnaise as a substitute for the oil and eggs)
Pinch of salt
I have a pretty tough day job. Especially when the winemaker makes me taste wines from the barrel. Those are such difficult days. You should really watch out for the next Syrah. It’s quite yummy.
Seriously, we all work hard here at the winery. Everyone in the local food and agriculture industry does. Most of us realize we could be making more money elsewhere, and let’s face it, the cost of living in New Jersey is pretty darn high.
Yet, you see us at markets and in tasting rooms. We offer tours and special events. We arrange festivals that bring thousands of people onto our property. We smile and serve and share our stories.
We do what we do because we love it. The winemaker and I recently met with representatives from Cherry Grove Farm, a farmstead creamery and meat producer in Lawrenceville, NJ. (Shameless promotion warning: I love their Havilah and Toma cheeses.) We met at a local farm-to-table restaurant (which only had one local wine on their wine list – let your local restaurants know you want local wine). Of course, we ordered the cheese plate to sample some of Cherry Grove Farm’s products.
Over drinks and small plates, we shared our own food stories and discussed the state of the local food and agriculture industry in New Jersey. We all agreed that we need to keep doing what we do not only because we are passionate about food and wine of exceptional quality, but also because we need to preserve farmland. And the only way to do that in a state like New Jersey is to produce value-added products, employ creative marketing strategies, and host both fun and educational events.
When I was younger, I saw the farm near my home razed and townhouses built in its place. I picked pumpkins there! I was devastated and wrote a letter to the editor of our local newspaper. That’s how I found my way into agriculture. And I love it.
Support your local farmers, and remember: we come in all kinds: from orchardist to cheesemaker to vintner.
May we be so bold as to suggest a great way to spend an afternoon in the area:
1. Pack just the supplies in your picnic basket. Make sure you have plates and knives.
2. Visit Cherry Grove Farm. Pick up a selection of cheeses.
3. Stop by Terra Momo Bread Company in Princeton or Brick Farm Market in Hopewell. Choose a selection of breads (and maybe a dessert).
4. Finish up at Unionville Vineyards. Taste some wines. Have a picnic.
Why Local Wine Belongs at the Farm Market
Robson’s Farm grows fruits and vegetables. Brick Farm Market bakes delicious breads. Tre Piani makes mozzarella.
Unionville Vineyards produces wine.
What could be simpler than bread, cheese, and wine? What could be more delicious? In the height of farm market season, when the tomatoes are ripe, red, and juicy, making dinner just gets so much easier. Even early in the season, with local greens and strawberries, salads are simple and delicious. And have you tried kohlrabi? Try it.
The local winery belongs at markets alongside the farm, bakery, and dairy. Wine is meant to be paired with food (ask Andrew at the Unionville stand for some recommendations – you’re sure to leave hungry). Our wine is meant to be consumed with friends and family over shared meals.
And our wine belongs at your local farm market.
Unionville wines are artisan and hand-crafted, truly reflective of local people and place. We love interacting with customers, as well as fellow farmers and foodies, at farm markets throughout the state.
Wondering where you can find us this season? Check out our Farmers Markets page.
I don't know much about sharks, but I do know a little about great white wines.
At Unionville we offer some amazing dry whites, including award-winning single vineyard Chardonnays.
We also have a great off-dry white. I see a lot of folks turn up their noses when they hear off-dry or semi-sweet. I'd like to ask you to think again.
Think about it in terms of lemonade: When there's too much sugar, it's cloyingly sweet. When there's too much lemon, it's just too tart. When the sugars and acids are in balance, it's bright and delicious.Next time you try an off-dry white, like our Heritage White, think of that!
Port is a fortified dessert wine made by the addition of brandy into a fermenting wine. The brandy raises the alcohol level and kills the yeasts responsible for converting sugars to alcohol, thereby preserving the natural grape sugars.
At Unionville we start with the Chambourcin grape. Chambourcin has these really great cherry and raspberry notes, so the end product tastes something like chocolate-covered berries. It’s pretty wonderful.
Anyway, we start with Chambourcin. In some years, we bleed off free-run juice, which is rather light and delicate. We can put that into a blush or a light red blend. Then, we start fermenting the concentrated red that’s left. Once we get to a sugar level we like we add brandy to stop the fermentation.
In 2012, we released a 2002 vintage port, which was only made from grapes from that single year and was a tawny port. In 2007, we also released a 2006 vintage port, which was a ruby port. (Shortcut: Tawny ports are older, and ruby ports are younger. Tawny ports give you more caramel, cocoa and butterscotch tones, whereas ruby ports are more fruit-forward, and, in our case, give more cherry and berry flavors.) We only make vintage ports in really wonderful years, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed for another great vintage! Was 2013 one of those years?For our vat series, we blend the current vintage with those from previous years. Our Vat 18 won best dessert wine in the state in 2013. We are now on Vat 19, which is a blend of nine vintages going back to 2001. By blending different vintages we can include the cocoa and caramel along with the fruit. With flavors of chocolate-covered cherry, cocoa powder and oak spice flavors, our port is sure to delight!
Terry & Kathy Sullivan have visited thousands of wineries all around the world. Thousands! They have truly earned their pen name, "Wine Trail Traveler." They're traveling to visit us on Sunday, April 27th to give a couple talks about their new book: Georgia, Sakartvelo: the Birthplace of Wine. They're actually in Georgia now, digging their clay cask of wine out of the ground where it has been fermenting since they buried it there last Autumn. We are going to release the 2013 Dry Riesling this day, and will have live music and bites at the Tasting Room. It's a free event, no reservations necessary. The talks will be at 1:00 and 4:00pm.