Thursday, June 26, 2014

Cameron Stark - Master Winemaker at Unionville Vineyards Continues to Excel (NJ)

So I was driving through New Jersey the other day and decided to make a quick pit stop into Unionville Vineyards. I was only planning on buying a quick bottle of the Unionville Pheasant Hill Pinot Noir and heading out. But while I was there, I saw they had some new wines, and I found out Zeke Johnsen, the assistant winemaker was there. So, after my tasting, I popped my head into the tank room to say hello and he told me Cameron was in. So I popped in to see him too. What luck?! These guys are the best one-two punch in all of east coast winemaking.
In case you don't already know, 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. He is committed to crafting some of the finest wines on the east coast. He is absolutely on par with the guys from Long Island, the Finger Lakes, and Virginia. Cameron is a classicist at heart. But there is that other side of Cameron. To paraphrase Robert F. Kennedy, Some people see things as they are and ask why? Cameron sees things as they are and asks Why not? And that's one of the things I love about Cameron and Unionville, is that the are always trying to push the boundaries. My recent tasting, dropping by completely on a whim, had just confirmed that. 
The first thing on the tasting menu that caught my notice was an Unionville Albarino 2012. A New Jersey Albarino? Traditionally you find Albarinos from Spain and Portugal. And only very few wineries make it on the east coast. While you might scoff at a Jersey Albarino, you must remember it is Cameron's Albarino. I eagerly gave it a shot. Cameron (and Zeke) fermented the wine in stainless steel to show off it’s incredibly bright acidity. A beautiful nose of tropical fruit gave ways to spicy pear and white peach, but it also had the trademark bright acidity and citrusy notes Albarino is known for.  Fantastic!

Next was Amwell Ridge Vineyard Viognier 2012. This wine is grown on one of their Ringoes, New Jersey vineyards. It is actually a blend of 90% Viognier, 5% Marsanne, and 5% Rousanne. It was aged for five months sur lee in neutral French Oak. As promised, white flowers, white peach, apricot and vanilla all come through. A beautiful, fragrant wine with lovely mouth feel. Lovely!

Unionville Amwell Ridge Vineyard Counoise 2012 was next. Counoise is a dark-skinned wine grape grown primarily in the Rhône valley region of France. Counoise adds a peppery note and good acidity to a blended red wine, but does not have much depth of colour or tannin. There were 1,580 acres of Counoise in France in 2000. Counoise is one of the grapes allowed into the blend of Châteauneuf-du-Pape wine. Some producers who favor the variety use about 5% of it in their blend. Limited plantings also exist in California, and much goes into blending. But a few producers, such as Tablas Creek Vineyard in Paso Robles and Wente Vineyards in Livermore, do bottle varietal Counoise. Unionville Vineyards in Ringoes, New Jersey is the only producer on the East Coast of the United States bottling Counoise as a varietal wine.

The Counoise was magical. Bright cherry, dried cherries and other dark berries, and some plum come through as well a loads of white pepper and rose petals as promised. The wine is a light-to-medium bodied red, with incredible mouthfeel and great depth of character. for those who love Pinot Noir and Rhone-ish wines, this thing of beauty is for you!!!!! Gorgeous, complex, well balanced. Excellent.

I was luck enough to do a few barrel tastings. The first was the Unionville Amwell Ridge Counoise 2013. Amazing. Bright fruit. Almost Pinot Noir-ish, the wine had great fruit, good acidity, and tremendous complexity and balance. Elegant!

The next thing we tasted was the Unionville Pheasant Hill Syrah 2012. Cameron makes his Syrah in the French fashion, adding a little bit of Viognier into the final blend. In Cotie-Rotie, the syrah and viognier grow right next to one another...and are often blended). The viognier adds a lovely touch to the nose, and adds some acidity and flavor to the wine. In this case 8% . This was a lovely wine with dark cherries, prunes, and plum very much as the forefront. A beautiful, Rhone-ish styled red. Lovely and elegant.

Unionville Pheasant Hill Syrah 2013 was a revelation!!! Beautiful cherry and blackbeery up front on the nose and on the palate. A hint of briar fruits backs up the wine, but the bright cherry dominates. This is a gorgeous wine. Firm, bright, fruity but well balanced. Impressive. A gorgeous wine.

A New Jersey Albarino? A New Jersey Counoise? Who wuld think up such things?

But Cameron Stark is thinking such things...and doing it...and impressing everyone.