Sunday, February 12, 2012

Unionville Vineyards Just Keeps Getting Better and Better

Zeke Johnsen, the assistant winemaker at Unionville said hello as soon as I walked in. I was disappointed. I had wanted to go in unnoticed. On the other hand, Stephen "Zeke" Johnsen is one of the nicest people you'll meet. And one of the most affable winemakers in New Jersey. So much for going incognito, I was assure, however, a thorough and chatty tour. And I couldn't have asked for a nicer guide!

Unionville's home vineyard is an 88.9 acre farm that had originally been part of the largest peach orchard in the United States. The farm was split off as a dowry present when one of the original owner's daughters was married in 1856. The main house and the oldest section of the winery building were built in 1858. In the heart of America’s Colonial Crescent, Unionville Vineyards offers breathtaking natural beauty, bountiful terroir, historic significance and award-winning artisanal wines. In 1900 the farm was sold and became a successful dairy farm. In 1965 the farm was sold to developers who originally had it planted in grains. The property was purchased in 1980 with the goal of saving the farm, returning the land to its fruit growing tradition and starting the Unionville Vineyards. The first Unionville vines were planted in 1988 and the winery opened to the public on April 1, 1993. Unionville Vineyards is a collection of four farms with over 300 acres of preserved farmland and is currently operated by a group of local landowners.

Unionville Vineyards is an example of New Jersey’s commitment to enabling farmland to exist in the “Garden State,” the most densely populated State in our country. The property is part of New Jersey’s Farmland Preservation Program. Unionville Vineyards currently has over 40 acres of vine stock under cultivation.

Acclaimed winemaker, Cameron Stark, formally trained at UC Davis and spent his early career under the tutelage of Napa Valley wine experts perfecting his skills and mastering his unique, creative style of winemaking. Cameron’s wines have earned him respect and recognition in the wine establishment including Wine Enthusiast ratings of 90+ points.

I have been writing about Unionville Vineyards for almost a decade. In that time I have seen them go from a committed higher level local winery, to one of the best wineries on the entire east coast.

This trip was as much to confirm my belief in that conviction as much as seeing if they were being consistant. Consistancy in the wine business is not a bad thing. They'd accomplished a lot at Unionville over the years. To maintain would be substantial.

I did a wide swath of tasting with Zeke. Here's where we ended up. Some Beverage Tasting Institute (BTI) ratings included.

Fox Series Reisling 2010 - A semi-sweet light white. Great tropical fruits on the nose. Apricot and honey as well. But the taste was green apple and a bright, fresh zestiness. A wonderful, refreshing wine.

Next were the single vineyard Chardonnays:

Pheasant Hill Vineyard Chardonnay 2010 Tangerine and lemon zest come through come through as promised. A lovely dry Chardonnay with wonderful fruit. This is as lovely a chardonnay as you are going to find. Excellent.

Unionville Home Chardonnay 2010 BTI 91 This wine is made from some of the first chardonnay vines planted in the state of New Jersey. Kiwi and lime come through as promised. Also a nice hint of vanilla come though, as well as creamy finish. Elegant.

And then onto some reds:

Cam Jam #2 2010 - Pinot Noir, Petite Verdot, and Chambourcin - This is a wonderful blend of wines. The two vinifera grapes are blended with the hybrid. I really liked this. This was a wonderful blend. Big flavors of cherry, dark raspberry, plum, and some chocolate. I really liked this wine.

The Big "O" 2010 - This was barrel tasting. Won't be bottled at least for two months, or so. This is a classic Bordeaux style wine. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc. This is a big beautiful classic wine. Lots of dark cherry and blackberry, hints of cassis and prune, with a big whiff of vanilla. Touch of chocolate and a hint of leather. This is a fabulous big red wine. Buy it by the case - put at least half the cases away for five years, and put the rest in the rack to drink when you like. Fantastic!

Mountain Road Pinot Noir 2010 BTI 90 This is a single vineyard Pinot Noir. This has lots of bright, fresh cherry. Aged in neutral French oak This is as pretty and beautiful a pinot noir that you can find on the east coast.

Pheasant Hill Pinot Noir 2010 BTI 90 A delicate Pinot Noir. Lots of bright, fresh fruit. Big cherry. Lots of vanilla. This was an exceptional wine. Litter than some wonderful east coast pinot noirs, it is a classic Burgundian style pinots. A brilliant dark garnet color. This wine was chosen as the only east coast wine for Charlie Palmer's 7th Annual Pigs & Pinot event in Healdsburg, CA. Fantastic wine!

All of these wines were not just equal it quality to wines I have tasted in the past. Cameron and Zeke had raised the bar yet again. Their chardonnays were incredible. The red blends were awesome! An the two Pinot Noirs were among the best I have tasted on the entire east coast.

And thanks, Zeke!