Unionville Vineyards Review
Address: 9 Rocktown Rd. Ringoes,New Jersey 08551.
Phone Number: 908-788-0400
Tasting Hours: 12:00-5:00
Region: New Jersey
Reviewer: Charlie Toms
Review Date: 3/29/2014
Reviewer: Charlie Toms
Unionville Vineyards, located in the bucolic, rolling hills of western New Jersey, is one of the most renowned wineries in the state. Originally part of the largest peach orchard in the United States, the land was first planted with grapes in 1988, and the winery opened to the public in 1993. In 2008, founders Kris Nielsen and Patricia Galloway sold Unionville Vineyards to a group of investors. Today, it’s best known for its signature Chardonnay wine. At the 2010 International Wine and Spirit Competition, Unionville’s Chardonnay was the only wine from the United States to win a Gold (Best in Class) medal. Likewise, Unionville’s Chardonnay was the highest-scoring American wine at the Judgment of Princeton, a blind tasting where $20 wines from New Jersey outperformed $600 French vintages.
Unionville is led by renowned winemaker Cameron Stark and director of operations John Cifelli. They currently have 54 acres under cultivation and produce approximately 8,500 cases of wine per year from Alsatian, Burgundy, and Rhone grape varieties. Twenty-two different grapes – Albarino, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cayuga White, Chambourcin, Chardonnay, Counoise, Durif (Petite Sirah), Gewurztraminer, Horizon, Marsanne, Merlot, Mourvedre, Petit Verdot, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Riesling, Roussanne, Seyval Blanc, Syrah, Vidal Blanc, and Viognier – are cultivated in five separate vineyards. It is the only winery in New Jersey that produces wine from Counoise, Horizon, Marsanne, and Roussanne Horizon being a white hybrid grape developed in New York in 1945, whereas the other three varietals are vinifera grapes indigenous to the Rhone river valley of France.
The winery is located on a gravel road and consists of a large brick house and a distinctive red barn which was built in 1858. I walked up a flight of steps to get to the tasting room, which is on a landing of the barn and consists of a plain L-shaped wooden bar and multiple racks of wine. On the floor beneath the tasting area is a meticulously-kept fermentation room. There is also a barrel room where Unionville’s vintages are aged, and the “Cave Room,” which is a stone-walled special event facility. I visited twice and tried thirteen wines. During my second visit service was slow; the tasting room gets crowded on the weekend. The winery is not located in an official viticultural area but is a member of the Garden State Wine Growers Association and Vintage North Jersey, a subsidiary of the GSWGA. The winery is named for a former village near where the farm is located.
The tasting started with the Fox Series Pinot Grigio which was dry and elegant. It’s the type of wine that might be served at an art exhibit with its clean taste and crisp finish. Amwell Ridge Viognier was just as dry as the Pinot Grigio but had a somewhat rougher character. Fox Series Riesling, which contains 10% Gewurztraimer, was semi-sweet and calming. Light up the barbeque, grill some fish, and then sit back and sip some of this Riesling. Eureka, a blend of Riesling, Pinot Grigio, and Albarino was light-bodied but highly aromatic. Amwell Ridge Counoise was smooth with a spicy kick and would go well with jerk chicken. The last white that I tried was the famed Pheasant Hill Chardonnay. After experiencing the explosive fruit flavors and silk-smooth finish, I can attest that its fame is well-deserved.
Revolutionary Red is a blend of 50% Chambourcin, 25% Cabernet Franc, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 10% Pinot Noir. Pheasant Hill Syrah is mostly Syrah with a splash of Mourvedre. Both of these red wines are aged in French oak, and are soft and dry. Mountain Road Vineyard Pinot Noir, which is made from a Dijon clone (i.e., derived from Burgundy grape cuttings), was a bit too sharp for me. The Big “O” and CamJam are both full-bodied Bordeaux-style wines. I didn’t care for the Big “O”, but CamJam was excellent, dry but bursting with flavor. CamJam is named for the winemaker, and consists of Pinot Noir, Petit Verdot, Petite Sirah, and Cabernet Sauvignon. Serve this wine with a duck dinner.
I then indulged myself and tried Port Vat #18 and Cool Foxy Lady. The Chambourcin-based port would make a nice after-dinner drink, whereas the flavor and aroma of Cool Foxy Lady were incredible. The Vidal Blanc dessert wine, with 11% residual sugar, effervesced with fruit-like sweetness and would be the perfect complement to the richest piece of chocolate cake.
Unionville’s reputation is well-deserved their red wines are good, and their whites are truly outstanding, among the best that I’ve ever tasted. Unionville is somewhat more expensive than most New Jersey wineries, with tastings costing $10 for eight samples, and wines costing $13-$52 per bottle. Based on the quality of the wines, though, it’s a bargain. Unionville wines are sold at restaurants, liquor stores, and farmers’ markets throughout the state and can also be shipped to the residents of 39 states that permit wine deliveries.