Sunday, March 02, 2014

Lettie Teague, Wall Street Journal Rave About New Jersey Wine, Unionville Vineyards


New Jersey Matures as a Wine Producer
Uncorking the City: Lettie Teague Checks Out the Garden State's Wine Scene
Feb. 20, 2014 9:00 p.m. ET
Wall Street Journal
Lettie Teague

New Jersey jokes have always centered around transportation of one kind or another.

For years, it was the highways. ("You're from New Jersey? Which exit?") Now, it's all about bridges and tunnels. (See under: every story involving Gov. Chris Christie these past several months.)

New Jersey wineries are spared that sort of humor because "we're too far from the highways," explained Cameron Stark of Unionville Vineyards in Ringoes during our meeting at Escape restaurant in Montclair earlier this week.

But that doesn't mean New Jersey winemakers haven't been on the receiving end of some unkind remarks.

Cameron Stark

For example, when Mr. Stark moved from an assistant winemaking job at Sinskey Vineyards, a famous Napa Valley winery, to the head position at Unionville Vineyards in 2003, a California-based head hunter told Mr. Stark that it was "pretty much the worst career move that he'd ever heard of in his life," recounted Mr. Stark with a laugh.

Eleven years later, Mr. Stark (still) thinks he made the right move.

"In Napa they're just fine-tuning," he said, whereas in New Jersey he could be a pioneer.

I wondered much of a pioneer. When, for example, does he think the state's wines will win wider acceptance?

"If we can get through the next 30 years maybe we'll have more acceptance," said Mr. Stark.

Part of the challenge may be that most of New Jersey's vineyards are situated in the western and southern parts of the state—places that have little in common with the bridges and tunnels that most people register as the state's landmarks. (For example, Unionville Vineyards is at the far western side of the state, near New Hope, Pa.)

Also, many of New Jersey's 40-plus wineries are more focused on fruit wines and staging wedding parties than on producing world-class wine, said Mr. Stark, who figures there are 10 truly serious wineries in the state.

Most New Jersey wineries also make far too many different wine types, said Mr. Stark, who admitted to making a few too many himself (22). That's somewhat common among winemakers in emerging wine regions, hoping to please every palate. But what New Jersey grapes does he think actually do well?

Definitely Chardonnay, replied Mr. Stark, who makes Chardonnay as well as Gewurztraminer, Viognier, Riesling and Albarino—and a wide range of red grapes such as Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Grenache and even Counoise, which is native to the Rhone Valley of France. Mr. Stark brought a bottle of Counoise along to our lunch, but, alas, it was corked.

He also brought along a bottle of his 2008 single-vineyard Chardonnay just to show how well his wines have aged. (I had purchased a bottle of the 2012 vintage of the same wine several weeks earlier.) The 2008 Unionville Vineyards Chardonnay was a decidedly richer, more unctuous wine than the 2012, which was leaner and higher in acidity as well. Both are well made, but for $52 a bottle? I couldn't get over the wine's rather stiff price. That is a lot of money for any Chardonnay—and it puts Mr. Stark into some pretty fancy company as well. Mr. Stark acknowledged that the price is ambitious, but in fact, he said, the wine always sells out.

Read the rest at: