Hands-On at Harvest 2014

 

"My" row, on the right

“My” row, on the right

Last Sunday was a truly special experience for me. You may recall my entry from last September when I stumbled upon the Cayuga harvest at a local winery, White Silo. Well, I did indeed follow up on a volunteering opportunity with their winemaker early last month, and on Sunday I had the privilege to participate in the harvest activities.  It was not only a barrel-load of fun, but highly educational.

Cayuga is a Cornell-engineered cold-climate resistant white grape that is therefore highly successful in the Northeastern United States. While this winery deals primarily in fruit wines, they do produce a few traditional grape wines. The Cayuga here is the main production, with smaller quantities of Marquette and Frontenac (also cold-hardy engineered hybrid grapes – these from the University of Minnesota), for their red. We stuck with harvesting the Cayuga on this day. All in all there were 7 rows of the grape, and I managed to fill 3 bins when I completed my row – about 250 lbs worth. I cannot tell you how much I enjoyed working out there picking grapes. I grew up doing a lot of yard work as part of my household chores, and as much as I moaned about it then, I clearly developed an appreciation for working the land. And seeing as hiking and skiing are two of my favorite activities, I am without a doubt an outdoor guy. So even after four hours in the blazing sun with swarms of bees, spiders and stinging nettle in my midst, and just a cap and a little sunblock as shelter, you heard nothing but laughter from me as I traded stories with all the pickers.

After picking, we moved to the de-stemming and crushing process. Some more nice photos of this process and equipment, as well as the winery itself, can be seen in the original post. I enjoyed loading the de-stemmer and transferring the free run juice and pressed juice (all blended here – no 1st and 2nd wines just yet) into the tank. We netted about 1,250 lbs of grapes, producing about 90 gallons of wine. We wisely set up in the shade for this portion of the afternoon and it took about 3 rounds of pressing with a nice lunch break in-between and a glass of their delicious dry rhubarb wine.

The de-stemmer at work

The de-stemmer at work

I spent the rest of the afternoon with the winemakers doing the acidity and pH tests as well as calculating, activating and acclimating the yeast to then add to the tank and get things going. This really took me back to my chemistry days, as we created solutions, and used beakers and pipettes to very accurately measure the acidity level. It was fascinating – I don’t think I ever enjoyed chemistry as much. The pH test was done by a simple device that saves some time, and a calibrated scale measured the right proportion of yeast. I enjoyed stirring the must while adding the final ingredients and we sealed the tank.

As my reward I got to take home a few of my favorite bottles, including their “Upland Pastures Dry White” which I watched them harvest and press last year. This is the wine I helped create the next vintage for today. This weekend I will be back in the area for another overnight hike and am going to stop in to see how fermentation is going. Stay tuned!

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Célèbrating with Dr. Konstantin Frank Célèbre Rosé NV

Dr. Konstantin Frank Célèbre Rosé

Dr. Konstantin Frank Célèbre Rosé

Wow… after all that snow, we’ve got some spring-like conditions and I’ve got some pink Finger Lakes sparkling wine from the one and only Dr. Kontstantin Frank, some fresh Gruyere Surchoix and Vermont common crackers to celebrate a fun little milestone. The wine is called “Célèbre” and today it is for a celebration of both warm air, sunny skies, and my new membership in the Wine Century Club.

In case you didn’t know, Dr. Konstantin Frank was a German man who came to the region in his 50s and was the first to grow and promote the culture of growing Vinifera vines in Central New York State, in the early 1960s. The New York wine industry was happy growing local varieties and remaining relatively obscure internationally. Dr Frank’s persistence and a new position in researching and experimenting with the old-world European varieties eventually put this region on the world wine map. He had a degree in viticulture and agronomy, experience as manager of a large vineyard in the Ukraine, and an ongoing interest in cold-climate viticulture. All of these helped land him a job at the Cornell Agricultural Experiment station in Geneva, New York. Despite much resistance to the idea that Vinifera could grow successfully in the climate, he succeeded in making believers then, and now. The region is now a blend of great wines made from Vinifera (particularly Riesling in many styles old and new) and many local stars like Cornell’s weather-resistant hybrid Cayuga, ice-wine star Vidal, Niagara and grape-juice-friendly Concord.

The Dr. Konstantin Frank winery has won about 79 gold medals since its inception, as well as awards for pioneering wine-making in the region.  The property, and the wine room are located on a gorgeous plot on a hill above the western coast of Keuka lake. The vineyards are now over 50 years old, making them some of the oldest vines in the country.  They are also the only winery I know to make the ancient varietal Rkatseteli —a racy, dry, peach-pear and honey-laden medium-bodied white.

In the glass, this lovely méthode Champagnoise rosé is a rich pink color with some orange hues. The bubbles are small and refined as a sparkling wine made in this method would display, with a nice consistent fizz stream. On the nose, wild strawberry and raspberry notes abound and on the palate these continue in the flavors therein. It is light and crisp, yet fruity. It also pairs very nicely with the dry hard cheese and the salty crackers. This sparkling wine is made with Pinot Noir and Petit Meunier — no Chardonnay here. I sipped this happily last July when visiting (more on Dr Frank here…) New York’s Finger Lakes region for the first time. I’m not a big bubbly drinker as it goes to my head too fast, but there is an occasion now and then that calls for it and I am enjoying this one again… which of course is why I bought it in the first place.

The Wine Century Club is a wonderful organization with many international chapters that celebrates the exploration of grape varietals. There are thousands out there, and while many of us have tried several, this encouraged me and the other members to go out there and try as many as possible. To fully explore the diversity and potential of the grape. There are several levels, with the initial application and membership beginning at 100 varietals. I am now working on level 2, “Doppel,” and eventually “Treble,” “Quattro,” and “Pentavini.” A few of my fellow favorite wine-bloggers are members and through their writings I discovered the club and began my quest. There are nearly 1,400 members around the world. I might just have to buy the t-shirt.

Next weekend I am heading back to the North Fork of Long Island for another anniversary celebration. I will be sure to review some wines I am yet to discover.  Can’t wait!

Harvest Festival – Haight-Brown Vineyards, Litchfield, CT.

Harvest Festival at Haight-Brown

Harvest Festival at Haight-Brown

Happy International Grenache Day! I will definitely be opening one tonight in celebration… now onto the story!

Last Saturday, while planning a visit to an upcoming harvest festival for some first-time-ever grape stomping and tasting, an unexpected opening appeared in our schedule.  And, I discovered there were several of them on this weekend in the area as well. As an added bonus, my wife’s sister was already in town, so she could share the occasion with us as we did in Delaware. We promptly got in the car and made the just-over-an-hour drive to Haight-Brown Vineyards, on the Connecticut wine trail. This was our first visit to the trail in our home state, and being mostly highway, we were there and back in no time.  The drive through the Naugatuck valley and up into the Litchfield hills was beautiful, as was the weather.

Main tasting room, Haight-Brown

The winery and main tasting room, Haight-Brown

When we arrived at the Harvest Festival at Haight-Brown, a band was playing, the lot was full and lines were long. Throughout a few misunderstandings on our part as newcomers, the staff was incredibly friendly, helpful, and professional. Off to a great start already… People were enjoying themselves everywhere in the newly-harvested vineyard rows and surrounding grassy areas, set up either on picnic tables or their own portable chairs. Fortunately ours were still in the trunk from soccer games and camping trips, so we followed suit… I had never had lunch in a vineyard, as for most of the season it was off-limits unless you paid for a special tour or experience. A staff member told us they had record crowds this weekend. In fact such record crowds on the previous day that there were no grapes left for stomping! Well, good for them. This is only my first or second harvest since I entered the world of wine, and there are many for me to experience in the years ahead. I will stomp grapes, and you will get to see pictures! There were still a few unpicked (albeit unripened, and not picked for that reason) grapes on the vines. Just enough to make it more authentic. I picked one or two and down the hatch! Not quite that tasty, but still, all part of the experience. I also don’t know which varietals they were. The term for these unripened, undeveloped grapes is millerandage. It happens.

It turns out that much of the crowd was dispersing at this time as it was almost 2:30pm and lunchtime had passed. By the time we got in the first line, it (and all the others) had virtually disappeared and we made our way through the tasting at our own pace.

Millerandage

Millerandage

Speaking of the tasting, lets get to the wines. There were eight wines that we tasted on the tasting card, spread out at several tasting booths inside and tables outside. The glass you got at the first tasting was yours to use and keep for the remainder and bring home. Good news, cause without a dishwasher, I keep breaking ours!

We started with the barrel-aged Chardonnay. As you know, I’m not a Chardonnay fan, but this was pleasant. The worst thing you can do to Chardonnay in my opinion is over-oak it. This was not the case. I found it to be light on the oak and easy-drinking with some light citrus notes. Not a white Burgundy, but then again, sometimes those can be too intense for me too. This is a Chardonnay I would drink.  Next came the ‘Railway White.’ This is a dry white made from Seyval Blanc, an early-ripening hybrid that does well in cooler climates like these and north in the Finger Lakes. I enjoyed this one more than the next, the ‘Covertside White,’ a fruitier white made from their estate Seyval blanc grapes. This makes me assume the Seyval in the Railway white was made from must from somewhere else, but I could be wrong. There was nothing unpleasant about this wine, I just preferred the Railway because it was drier. Their Riesling was your basic German-style Riesling, and I really enjoyed this one. We bought a bottle of this, and I am glad they have the blue glass and standard Riesling-shaped bottle as that to me is part of the Riesling experience. Classicly off-dry with honey and mineral notes on the palate. The ‘Picnic Red‘ was a fruity, unique red, ‘made from four Italian varieties,’ one of which was Barbera, a favorite of mine that I drink often.  I couldn’t tell you the rest, and it’s not on their site. I liked it, probably because it was primarily Barbera, and I just love Italian reds. I’d need a good food pairing and more than a sip to give it a full critique though. We moved on pretty quickly, so I’ll have to go back and give it a go with a full glass and some Italian sausage.

Haight-Brown Riesling and 'Big Red'

Haight-Brown Riesling and ‘Big Red’

The ‘Morning Harvest‘ was a full-bodied richer red, made from Malbec. A good wine, but again with rich reds like this, I feel I need to sit down and have a meal and a full glass to fully experience the intensity. At $20 a bottle, it might be a tough sell compared to a French or Argentinian Malbec at comparible price. But for Connecticut, it was pretty darn good.  My favorite was the next wine, the “Big Red,” a Syrah made from must from the Alexander Valley in North Sonoma County, California. You could tell. It had all the smoke and toast and depth of a good California red, and full of typical Syrah spice. Big indeed, and we brought home two. Which are now gone. This one really made an impression on me and was worth the $20 price. There are no lost points in my opinion for using must from elsewhere. It is done all the time, even in top wine-producing regions, and it was aged and fermented here, instilling the stamp of this winemaker. This was a full-bodied, rich and aromatic wine with a nice finish. Last was the “Honey Nut Apple,” a sweet spicy wine made from fermented apple juice with local honey and cinnamon added. This is a nice fall sipper – pair it with a pumpkin pie!

I was excited to see the grape press and harvesting trays still out on the grounds from the recent harvest, and of course to point them out to my wife and sister-in-law with accompanied lesson! I’m like a kid seeing a fire truck when I encounter these things, and it definitely adds to the authenticity of the experience.

Harvesting and pressing machinery

Harvesting and pressing machinery

They also had a cheese monger, and a nice gift shop with crackers, jams, and accessories and souvenirs. So, you could stock up on cheese and crackers and head out to the vineyard to enjoy with your wine. During the event they had a BBQ tent, which also had cheese trays that came with 3 of their shop varieties and some of their blueberry jam, and crackers. This is what we had with our wines. The bees seem to love the jam as much as we did.  And we discovered they have a nearby wine train. I went on the Napa Valley wine train about ten years ago, and it was an amazing experience.

We will be taking my sister-in-law back for a ride on that wine train on her birthday weekend at the end of October. Can’t wait to write about that one, let alone experience it! I am hoping to taste more local wines from other vineyards on the train, but if not, I will be back on the Connecticut Wine trail next season… its right in my back yard.

I never expected I’d make it to so many vineyards this year throughout the cycle and I am so glad that I have. I get to end the season officially in Bordeaux in just over a week, for a company trip. I cannot wait… Maybe there will be some grapes to stomp there? Don’t think I’ll get to another vineyard before then, but that’s a pretty fantastic way to end a season.

Robibero Family Vineyards

A nice view

A nice view

Hoping everyone is enjoying the longer format. I figured since I can’t write as often, I’d write more when I do… while I find quick reviews and tasting notes useful, anybody can do that, and I’d like to share my experiences and stories with you as well. After all, the experience is much if not all of enjoying a wine.

Last Saturday morning we visited a vineyard in the Hudson Valley AVA for the first time.  Not only was it great to explore another upcoming wine region so close to home, but we managed to get some lucky travelers’ perks and upgrades given to members at our hotel. Other than a little traffic on the way back (and a tornado watch) we were impressed with the ease of a quick trip to the area. So while we only got to experience one of the wineries, there’s no doubt that getting back, and often, is on the agenda.  We had never been on the Shawangunk wine trail, or to New Paltz, which we saw on the way out. It is a charming and quaint little town with B&B’s, restaurants, bars and shops, as well as a thriving college scene from SUNY New Paltz. Next time we go back we are staying here, rather than a chain hotel, although that WAS a good experience!

Vineyard view from the deck

Vineyard from the deck

Robibero family vineyards is relatively new. They opened in 2010. Previously in this location was a vineyard called Rivendell. (Lord of the Rings reference anyone?)  It is also the newest addition to the wine trail. The tasting room and deck overlooking the mountain ridge are elegant and beautiful and pets, and kids are welcome. In fact, they have a pet Yorkie, who’s also on the label of their “New Yorkie Rosé.” They also have regular events including live music, and “wine with your K9.” The head winemaker was formerly at nearby Benmarl winery, also on the trail. The people were very friendly; no snobbery here. The man who took us through the tasting, Kevin, clearly loves what he does, and we spent a good hour talking with him about life and wine and how we all became passionate about the subject. They were very gracious and since our two guests were unable to attend, they allowed us to taste all of the wines. They are all made in small lots, right there on their property. Kevin said they had just harvested the Merlot a few days before we had visited, and they had hand-corked all 2,500 bottles! That takes some strength, folks. Makes one appreciate how hard this work can be if you don’t have fancy expensive machines to do the job for you. We tasted ten wines in all, 4 whites, one rosé and 5 reds. They serve their wines at many restaurants in Westchester County, and they are available to buy in retail shops there as well as in New Paltz, and in Riverhead, NY at the entrance to the North Fork of Long Island. They also ship to you if you can’t find your favorite.

New Yorkie Rosé

New Yorkie Rosé

There were several nice whites, and I think they were the superior wines here. Before I get into my notes – I just want to clarify that I’m not at all saying the reds were bad. But I am such a red wine enthusiast with an amazing collection of and experience with reds from around the world, that I guess I’m hard to impress or am looking for something I hadn’t come across before. The following wine was exactly that. The  “Rabbits Foot Red,” was a velvety, bright fruity wine with a really interesting and more importantly new taste to me, a blend of 75% Baco Noir, 15% Merlot, and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. Baco I had heard of only in the production of Argmagnac, and that’s Baco 22A, aka Baco Blanc. Baco Noir is a French vitis vinifera hybrid of Folle Blanche, and also an American vitis riparia variety that is resistant to black rot and powdery and downy mildew (as well as phylloxera like most American roots) and so it does very well here. It was brought here in 1951 to many states but is most widely known and grown in Ontario, Canada. It also is a bit of an up-and-comer in the Willamette Valley of Oregon. It was very smooth, and distinctly unique and peppery and smokey, which is what attracted me to it. The Merlot I believe adds smoothness, and the Cab a bit of structure.  At $14.99, I bought two. My other favorite was the 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, but I found the price tag prohibitive. I do like to support local wineries in the US, and bought 6 bottles of my favorite wines. But for $26, I am looking for Napa or Bordeaux quality. So there you have it. Call it what you will. The rosé, while it had a cute name and label featuring their pet Yorkie, was really a white Merlot (with 6% Cab Franc) and had it been marketed as such, I’d probably have had a better first impression. I do like a white Merlot, having tried one at Sherwood House vineyards in March. For a white Merlot, it had its merits. Calling it a rosé just kind of threw me off. It had the bitterness and aroma characteristics of a tannic red wine for obvious reasons, and it just wasn’t what I think of in a rosé. I mentioned my thoughts on the matter, maybe they’ll give it some consideration, not that I’m anybody.  Here’s the whites highlights:

87 South red wine

87 South red wine

The 2011 Dry Riesling was my favorite of their three Rieslings. It had citrus and pear aromas, was crisp and refreshing and had a nice finish, as well as some slate character and a bit of honey.  A perfect dinner white. In reality, it was off-dry, but not much, so I think the name is fair, especially compared to the other two which are noticeably sweeter.

The 2010 Riesling had more of a peach and apricot palate and nose, and a bit more sweetness. A nice wine as well, but a better dessert wine.

This brings me to the 2011 Arctic Riesling which was the first time I ever had a Riesling that was oaked. For this reason I also picked up notes of French oak, which gave it a bit more structure and typical vanilla notes. But for this reason I found this wine exciting. I really go for unique wines where the winemaker is doing something of their own to make a wine special. While not super sweet, it was not as dry as the dry Riesling and not as sweet as the other. The range of styles they make the variety in is also appealing and shows that they are excited about making wine and trying to take it to another level.

The Serendipity was a blend of 35% Chardonnay and 65% Seyval Blanc, another cool-climate hybrid found in the Finger Lakes and England, though there are some issues there because it contains some non-vinifera genes.  While I’ve had some nice white Burgundy, I’m usually the ABC type. ‘Anything but Chardonnay.’ Perhaps its all the cheap over-oaked American bulk Chard that I used to think was what all Chardonnay tasted like before my formal education. I am trying to change my perspective, and have had SOME that have made me happy. And the right pairing with food can make a big difference. I find that I like it more in a blend for sure, so this was no exception. It had a nice full body but was also crisp, with apple and floral notes.  It works well together.

Our favorites

Our favorites

The last white I tried was the 87 North (named after the nearby interstate and complete with a local map and I-87 on the label), a crisp and well-balanced wine with honeydew melon and grapefruit aromas and flavor.  It is 50% Vidal Blanc (of Canadian Ice Wine fame) and 50% Cayuga, another local American variety we encountered in the wines of Renault in New Jersey. The grapefruit on the palette I contribute to the Vidal, and the melon to the Cayuga. Cayuga is also an upstate New York lake and region in the vicinity of the Finger Lakes, and with a wine trail of its own. It was engineered specifically for the cold climate of the area by the brilliant Cornell University viticulture program. It is a cross of Seyval Blanc and Schuyler and is very frost-resistant. It is picked early, gives high yields and has floral aromas and acidity similar to that of Riesling, which also excels in the area. A very nice wine.

They also had a port made by nearby Brotherhood winery, which we look forward to opening on a special occasion. This is also where our new friend Kevin used to work. I tried it and it was very good port for a small American winery.  I’ll review it when we open the bottle.

Visit them online at http://www.rnewyorkwine.com, or in person! They’re located at

714 Albany Post Road

New Paltz, NY 12561

(845) 255 wine (9463)

Lenz Blanc De Noir 2008

Lenz Winery. Chalkboard art by Dan Krupin.

Lenz Winery. Chalkboard art by Dan Krupin.

As promised, I wanted to tell you about yet another amazing wine I tried in the North Fork.  I of course enjoyed several of their wines, but this was an event for me because, like the white Merlot at Sherwood House Vineyards, this was my first white Pinot Noir. And most of you know by now, that Pinot Noir is my all-time favorite variety. And that being my first trip to a large number of different wineries in one visit, I underestimated how much I was going to want to bring home. It adds up fast, so I was sparing overall, amassing about 2 cases from 8 wineries and only one or two of each favorite. This was a major failure on my part because most of these I would kill to drink again right now, though I’ve been able to locate a few in shops in New York City as mentioned with the Bedell first Crush and some of the Paumanok. And every single one I want to write about, and probably will! I was able to get hold of another bottle of this one from a co-worker when he visited the region and winery in May.

Seeing as how my father-in-law introduced me to my first love in the grape world, I was eager and waited to share this 2008 Blanc de Noir from Lenz Winery with him. We had an opportunity in June but never got around to it, so it stayed in my fridge for a month, so as not to risk spoiling it with any drastic temperature changes. This was an ordinary kitchen fridge, but I have plans to pick up a temperature-controlled wine refrigerator when I have a home with more room. I was nervous it would spoil, but fortunately, it did not. I chalk it up to it being a new refrigerator with reliable temperature control.

2008 Lenz Blanc De Noir

2008 Lenz Blanc De Noir

Anyway, I not only shared it last weekend with my father-in-law, but my wife, my dad and my sister-in-law. It was a hit. My wife had tried it at the winery with me in March but it was amazing all over again, for both of us. The color was a pale gold, similar to that of Champagne, for obvious reasons. (okay well if you don’t know, Pinot Noir is one of the three grapes and one of the two red grapes used in traditional Champagne.) It was nice and dry and made in the same style with the same methods as its European red counterparts, though lightly pressed and the skins removed before fermentation. This is not a bulk-made, blended sweet rosé unfortunately now associated with America due to white Zinfandel. So of course on the nose you had French oak and baking spice — I picked up some noticable cinammon — and white cherry. The palate echoed the nose, with more white, and red cherry. It had medium acidity, body, and finish. It had such a unique character, really like nothing I’ve had yet. An absolute prize of a wine and one of their top five most popular.  I will be back for more, you have my word.

We also picked up an amazing two-bottle wine tote in their shop, which included two plastic wine glasses and a corkscrew for the consummate picnicer. We use this on a regular basis – for outdoor concerts, camping, the beach and whatever occasion calls for it. It is padded on the inside and canvas on the outside. It doesn’t have any cooling elements but you can easily wrap those little freezer cooling bags around a white and slip it in to its compartment.

There is also a talented artist on the staff, Dan Krupin, who does custom chalkboard art for the winery, and also their friends at the Harvest Inn, where we stayed that weekend. I will be telling you about that great place, people, and the amazing time we had there soon.

In the meantime, visit the Lenz website or winery, and order some for yourself before I drink it all…

Lenz Winery
38355 New York 25  Peconic, NY 11958

Sherwood House Vineyards, North Fork, Long Island

Sherwood House Vineyards, North Fork Long Island

Sherwood House Vineyards, North Fork Long Island

Yet another highlight of my trip to the North Fork was Sherwood House vineyards. It was the last of the vineyards we visited on the trip, just before we made for the Briermere Farm stand (amazing, amazing pies!) and then the ferry. They have a beautiful old wooden barn with a magnificent fireplace in the back of the lot (which at the time was filled with sounds of live jazz music for the North Fork ‘Jazz on the Vine’ festival) as well as a large room full of antiques in the main building, adjacent to the main tasting room. The main room is a nice mix of quaint and modern; barn-like in feel but with all the modern appointments, including a modern tasting bar and just outside, a large deck. On this particular day, there was a raw bar set up on the deck as well. It was a perfect day and we took in some of the jazz, sun, antiques and a tasting of several wines. They also have pads of tasting note paper, so I did my due diligence as a student and filled out a few. As a result, I am able to tell you about a few of them today.

The 2007 ‘Oregon Road’ Merlot poured a medium ruby, and had a slight rim variation. On the nose there was black fruit and spice. Notably this wine has the shortest fermentation time of their wines, at 12 months. On the palate was smoke, an earthiness I loved, and more black fruit. The body, tannins, and finish were all about a medium. I don’t usually love 100% Merlot, but this had a nice distinct flavor that pleased my palate.

We next tried the 2008 Double-Gold Merlot. This too had similar color and rim variation as the Oregon Road, as well as the smoke, spice, and black fruit present in the former. However, there was a little more ‘smoke’ in the nose and it had a slightly fuller body, tannins, and finish. Very balanced and pleasant, and obviously good enough to win a couple of medals.

My tasting notes

My tasting notes

Next up was a fantastic Cabernet Franc. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, this region is really where I discovered the full potential of Cabernet Franc all on its own, and they are doing great things on the North Fork with it. This 2008 vintage poured a medium ruby color, but on the nose there were fragrant baking spices, and a little bit of that floral and pepper aroma characteristic of the variety, and some cherry. The body, tannins and finish were all about a medium as would be expected in this true Chinon style wine. These are expensive at $40 and made in such small numbers they are each numbered on the bottle.

My favorite of all though was a white Merlot (also branded ‘Oregon Road’). It was a recent vintage, I believe a 2011, and my very first of this kind of wine. (Incidentally I have a white Pinot Noir from Lenz I will review this weekend once I’ve shared it with my father-in-law.) A pale straw color, it had distinct melon on the nose. On the palate, it was dry, with pear and more melon. Body, tannins and finish were light but overall it was refreshing and really delicious. This is one of those I wish I had bought more of. Oh well, I’ll just have to go back!

You can find almost all of these on their website.

The tasting Room is located at 1291 Main Road, Jamesport, NY 11947

Renault Winery, Egg Harbor City, NJ

Founder Louis Nicholas Renault

This past weekend, my wife and I were staying in Atlantic City for an event and while looking through the regional attractions brochures at the hotel, discovered a brochure for New Jersey’s wine country and another specifically on the Renault Winery. A mere 8 miles from our hotel, in Egg Harbor City, we made the obvious choice to pay a visit to Renault. While I’d heard there were vineyards in just about every state, whether a recognized AVA or not (this one is part of south Jersey’s outer coastal plain AVA), I really was not expecting to find this little gem right off the beaten path of Atlantic City. Apparently, it is one of the oldest wine-growing regions in the country.  According to the receptionist who offered us a full tour and tasting (we were in a pinch for time so did not do the tour) it is the oldest continuously running vineyard, and second oldest continuously running winery in the country. It is definitely the oldest in the state, and was started by Louis Nicholas Renault – an immigrant from France – in 1864. His father and grandfather were barrel-makers in Champagne.

Shoot and leaf growth

As this is my first year as a true oenophile, I was thrilled as we were driving up to the winery to discover significant shoot and leaf growth on the roadside vineyard sites. When we spent our wedding anniversary in the North Fork of Long Island in March (that will be another entry), there was no budburst yet. This is also my first season of observing the vine and grape growth from beginning to end. Plus, it’s much more fun to experience this way than a chart in a book.  For this reason we plan to visit more wineries in June and July, and I may have the opportunity to visit Bordeaux at harvest.  I can’t think of a more special place to experience it.

Antique wine-making equipment

The decor includes many frescoes, a vintage ‘glass museum’ and a room full of antique wine-making equipment spanning their entire 147 years. My favorite items were the masks worn by the rumeurs when riddling the sparkling wine. One is reminded that 6 atmospheres of pressure exist between that cork and the contents of the bottle. A cork set loose could cause significant harm to one’s face! It was fascinating seeing all of these relics compared to the stainless steel tanks and automated machinery of our day. The winery is also part of the ‘NJ Wine Country passport’ program. These are common programs among wineries, the ‘Bourbon trail’ in Kentucky, and even our national state parks. The fun is in visiting them all and getting a stamp just like you would on a real passport. The regional soil here in the eastern coastal plain is sand over loam, and the land here is surrounded on all sides by water. It is just 100 ft above sea level, and being this close to the sea of course moderates the climate making for ideal growing conditions.

But now lets get to the wines…

Although it was 10am, we had experienced the early morning tasting scenario before on our trip to the North Fork. This was mainly due to time restraints, which meant packing as many winery visits as possible into the time we had. We paid a scant $3 each to have a wonderful one-on-one tasting of 8 or 9 different wines. The woman doing the tasting really knew her stuff, and was friendly and generous. She walked us through each, telling us of their origins, and any relevant points of interest with much enthusiasm.

Some of the wines we bought

Many of their wines were made from local varieties such as ‘Noah” (white) and “Cayuga” (red) as well as some Vidal Blanc, which I’d only had in ice wine from Canada and Vermont (delicious, from East Shore Vineyards).  The native varieties are all of the Phylloxera-resistant Labrusca (Native American) species.  Vidal Blanc, while being a hybrid of the two and mostly of the Vinifera species, has enough Labrusca to also effectively resisit Phylloxera. We also sampled their barrel-aged Chardonnay which was nice but didn’t knock my socks off. I was particularly fond of the ‘Garden State Red’ – that I believe included Baco Noir (a Pinot Noir hybrid), and common Vinifera varieties of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc. Their Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, as well as a wine called “Burgundy” (you won’t find 100% Pinot Noir here) were all enjoyable as well. Of those I’d say the Cabernet Sauvignon was my favorite. I love real red Burgundy too much to love a faux Burgundy I guess. Overall, they make approximately 20 different wines with up to 12 different grapes, so we didn’t get to sample all of them. When looking over their site again I saw that most of their wines from the last three vintages have won medals at this year’s Finger Lakes International Wine Competition.  Some of the other local varieties used in their wines are Cynthiana (also called Norton) and Fresello, which grow well in NJ and along the east coast states.  The Noah was very interesting because the nose was like a bouquet of their local terroir – the soil and the smell of a grassy field, wild with flora. But then on the palate it was tart and semi-dry. A complete disconnect, but a learning experience for me that is all part of why I am here! The Fresello was light and sweet, and my wife loved that one.

Spectacular regional blueberries make the grade in this American “Champagne”

We also sampled their unique and delicious “blueberry Champagne”  and “American Port.” While only Champagne can be called by that name, they are hardly the only American winery to use the name – perhaps to make it clear to the less wine-savvy of what to expect. Sparkling wine, while the correct term, is less likely to excite, some would say. And most of the world’s other most famous sparkling wines also go by their now-famous names like Prosecco and Cava, for instance. This area of the country is known for growing great blueberries, so it makes for an even more unique terroir-centric wine. And while Port can only be made in Portugal, they are at least acknowledging this fact with their ‘American Port’. And it too, was very good.

They also offer wine education classes. There’s plenty of information on their website about the classes, and the inn, golf course, and hotel on the estate.  Incidentally, they only sell their wines on site. So if you would like to try them, you will have to pay them a visit yourself! Nothing like an impromptu visit to a wonderful historic winery with unique wines well worth the visit.