Hopewell Valley Vineyards

 

Owner(s): Violetta & Sergio Neri

Winemaker: Sergio Neri

Open to Public

Thu 12 to 9; Fri-Sat 12 to 9:30; Sun-Wed 12 to 5

46 Yard Rd, Pennington, NJ 08534

phone:  (609) 737-4465

email: wine@hopewellvalleyvineyards.com

website


Hopewell Valley Vineyards Profile

Written by Brian—Jul 10, 2018

Located in midway between New York City and Philadelphia in Pennington, New Jersey, Hopewell Valley Vineyards is a highly-regarded producer of fine wine. Twenty acres of the 75-acre estate are devoted to vines and another 20 are earmarked for additional planting.

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Estate wines are made from a combination of French and Italian varieties in addition to a handful of hybrid grapes. A number of cold-hearty Cornell hybrids are being considered for future planting. The estate fruit is used in at least 18 wines--three of which are sparklers that range from dry to sweet.

Hopewell Valley Vineyards hosts a number of public events. These include music Thursday through Sunday and brick oven pizza on Friday and Saturday evenings. Check the website for other events and, if you stop in, please let me know what you think.


Laurita Winery

 

Owner(s): Randy Johnson and Ray Shea

Winemaker: Nicholas Opdam

Open to Public

Wed 4 to 9; Thu 12 to 9; Fri 12 to 11; Sat 12 to 5; Sun 12 to 7

85 Archertown Rd, New Egypt, NJ 08533

phone: (609) 752-0200

email: See website

website


Laurita Winery Profile

Written by Brian—Jul 8, 2018

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This was my first “official” New Jersey winery visit and it was just dumb luck that I discovered a real gem. 

Ray Shea and Randy Johnson started planting grapes in 1998 with an eye toward producing wine. The winery initiative was just one of many on the Ocean County property. Just a half-mile up the road, Shea and Johnson also opened an inn and equestrian center.

 Laurita Winery opened for business selling wine out of a temporary structure in 2005. A permanent and palatial tasting room, constructed of material reclaimed from a pair of historic English-style barns, opened three years later. I am told that the 40 acres of estate fruit produces about 10,000 cases of wine annually and all of that is sold out of that space or through their wine club. 

That may seem like of lot of wine to sell direct to consumer, but Laurita has an aggressive event schedule. There are 32 weddings scheduled for 2018, but the calendar is packed with weekly (and almost daily) public events. Just a few of these include food trucks and fireworks most weekends, movie nights in the vineyard, dance nights, Monday mystery dinners, Wednesday grill nights and yoga on the lawn. 

With Philadelphia and New York just a short drive away, there is a very large urban audience drawn to the Laurita property. Events are certainly an attraction, but quality wine provides enough reason to visit.

During my visit, I tasted several of the Laurita wines. There were total of 15 on the menu, but I sampled only dry offerings. All of them were well crafted and worthy of note.

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I started with a pair of Chardonnays—one oaked and one unoaked. They were both perfectly balanced whites. The lightly oaked reserve Chard was a standout with its vanilla and apple notes ending in enough acidity to pair well with food. Oh, but the Cabernet Franc was just over the top with its berry notes mingling with structured tannins and a touch of spice. 

The biggest surprise of the tasting was the Norton. Laurita is likely the only New Jersey winery producing wines from this grape. Their tasting sheet describes it as Zinfandel-like, which is a fairly accurate description. The wine has all of the fruitiness of a Zinfandel without any of the off-putting stringency that can be present in Norton. It is an excellent example of a Norton wine.

When viewed in the aggregate, Laurita appears to be the whole package. A combination of venue, events and quality wine make this a must-visit winery. It is easily accessible from some of the east coast’s largest urban centers and offers an opportunity to escape to a beautiful rural location that seems far removed from the city. I strongly recommend stopping in and after you do, please let me know what you think.

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Unionville Vineyards

 

Owner(s): Robert Wilson and Catherine Eiref

Winemaker: Stephen Johnsen, Conor Quilty

Open to Public

Daily 12 to 5

9 Rocktown Rd, Ringoes, NJ 08551

phone: (908) 788-0400

email: jcifelli@unionvillevineyards.com

website


Unionville Vineyards Profile

Written by Brian—Jul 19, 2018

By any measure, Unionville Vineyards near Ringoes, New Jersey is a top-tier east coast winery. Of course, the beauty of the venue and customer-oriented staff are factored into this assessment. It is the wine program, however, and the quality of every offering that really puts Unionville over the top. 

Unionville occupies the site of a historic farm that dates back to 1855. The property was primarily devoted to pasture and peach orchards until blight destroyed that crop. In 1987, the original owners started planting vines with emphasis on hybrids. By 1995, the winery began to enjoy some success. It was in 2008, however, armed with a better understanding of local terroir, that new owners Robert Wilson and Catherine Eiref began to replace those grapes with vinifera. European varietals have been the basis of the Unionville program ever since. 

Today Unionville Vineyards has four vineyard blocks that total 40 acres under vine. They are producing about 4500 cases annually from 21 different grape varieties. Unionville does not source fruit, but hopes to acquire additional acreage and eventually boost production to 10,000 cases. The winery is capable of making 12,000 cases and currently engages in some custom crush to utilize the excess capacity.

The winemaking team is composed of a pair of extremely talented associate winemakers. Connor Quilty and Stephen “Zeke” Johnson bring varied backgrounds to their job and seem to compliment one another. Whatever they are doing works, because the wines are uniformly excellent. During our most recent visit, I met with Quilty who showed me around the property before settling in at the tasting bar to sample a few of the Unionville offerings. 

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Rhone blends are the winery’s “superpower,” but they are also bottling exceptional single-varietal wines from Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc. The Rhones are represented in the “Mistral” series. The Mistral Blanc is notable, but the Mistral Rouge is a standout. This blend is predominantly Syrah along with Counoise and a splash of Viognier. Bottled after 22 months in oak, this wine is filled with dark fruit and spices that end slowly with rich tannins in a very long finish. 

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One could go on at length about several of the other offerings. I feel compelled to give a special shout out to the Riesling that was packed with honey and fruit that mingled with floral notes imparted by a touch of Gewurztraminer. In addition, the Pinot Noir and Rhone-style rosé were world-class examples of what is possible in Central New Jersey.

So this one is a no brainer. Do not hesitate to visit Unionville Vineyards. Move it to the top of your short list and after you stop in, please let me know what you think.


Working Dog Winery

 

Owner(s): Mark Carduner

Winemaker: Mark Carduner

Open to Public

Fri 1 to 6; Sat-Sun 11 to 6

610 Windsor-Perrineville Road; Robbinsville, NJ 08691

phone: (609)371-6000

email: info@workingdogwinerynj.com

website


Working Dog Winery Profile

Written by Brian—Jul 20, 2018

As I understand the story, a group of friends were talking and the idea of making wine came up. That topic quickly became reality as the group started planting grapes in 2001 on land near Robbinsville, New Jersey. This was the beginning of what eventually became known as Working Dog Winery. 

It is often the case that winery ownership is romanticized with little understanding of how much work is involved in growing grapes, making wine and running a winery. Wine, after all, is an agricultural product. Nevertheless, the original group is still involved in day-to-day operations and they take turns working in the tasting room. One of them, Mark Carduner, took on the role of winemaker with pretty impressive results. Working Dog has established a reputation as one of New Jersey’s top producers of fine wine.

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Today the winery has 20 acres under vine planted in the site’s sandy loam and gravel soil. The grapes are primarily vinifera (European varieties) and it is exclusively from this fruit that 4500 cases of Working Dog wine are bottled annually. Long-term expansion may include another 10 acres of vines.

When we stopped in, we were lucky enough to find Mark Carduner behind the tasting bar. He was able to guide me through a few of the Working Dog offerings. There are some remarkable wines in the portfolio. For the sake of brevity, I will mention only a few.

The Viognier is a wine that simply must be highlighted. Harvested early, cold fermented and aged in stainless steel, Carduner managed to tease balance and bright acidity from a grape that can often be quite flabby. The 2017 vintage is as good as the best Viogniers you will find on the east coast.

The Pinot Grigio, Cabernet Franc rosé, Merlot and Bordeaux blend are all worthy of note, but the single-varietal Cabernet Franc really got my attention. Dark and complex, with rich cherry notes mid palate and ripe tannins, it is no wonder that they refer to this as their “flagship” wine. It is exceptional and a potential award winner. 

Since opening their doors in 2003, Working Dog has seen much local traffic filter through the tasting room. With both New York and Philadelphia only 50 minutes away, the winery has also been a destination for those urban centers. The 110-acre property provides space for a variety of outdoor events and activities. Games on the lawn and room to relax on the back deck provide simple distractions for visitors. 

Working Dog Winery is one of those venues that you simply have to visit. It is a top producer and should be high on your list as you explore the wines of New Jersey. After you stop in, please let me know what you think.