Summertime is a celebration of passion and flavor. Those seeking to savor the season need look no further than East Amwell, New Jersey. There they will find Unionville Vineyards, home of premium award-winning New Jersey Wines, where excellence is at the heart of each stage of wine production.
Amid lands dotted with horse pastures, nestled in the cradle of Hunterdon County, lies a cool climate perfectly suited to the cultivation of classic European grapes. Unionville Vineyards is a locally operated wine haven dedicated to sustainability, preserving the pristine rural landscape, and artisanal wine craftsmanship.
When describing the passion that the Unionville Vineyards team brings to their wine production, General Manager John Cifelli emphasizes that they are “farmers first.” Each team member embodies this mantra and brings this mindset to both the lands and the wines. As Cifelli explains, “not only do we source from four properties, because sourcing could imply that we purchase them, but we farm these properties.” With 42 acres under the vine, practically everything in a Unionville bottle comes from the estate and the team’s farming. This is something those at Unionville take immense pride in, as it is essential to both their vision and their ethos.
It is this philosophy that cements the singularity of a visit to Unionville Vineyards. A visit that is more than just a wine tasting, rather, it is an “immersive cultural experience in the breadbasket of Hunterdon county” Cifelli shares. Because Unionville is situated in the heart of the Sourlands, the largest contiguous forest between NYC and Philadelphia, all car horns and traffic noise dissipate into a peaceful backdrop of horses and tractors, allowing the world-class wine to be the focus of the day. It is a chance for guests to have a conversation with those who are truly passionate about wine, about the history of the property and about the farming practices behind each bottle. Each trip offers opportunities to explore.
It is hard to find a Vineyard that is more quintessentially “New Jersey” than Unionville. Each of Unionville’s properties, reaching across the state, has its own history and own flavor. Unionville Home, the original estate vineyard of the winery, has fertile, channery silt-loam soil with decomposing red shale that lends itself to the limey-minerality of a Chardonnay, fruity acidity in Riesling and brooding, berry flavors in Cabernet Sauvignon. The Amwell Ridge Vineyard brings strong southern exposure and excellent drainage to form clean and expressive white wines and bright reds with savory notes of anise, white pepper, and cocoa.
Unionville’s other two locations, Pheasant Hill Vineyard in Hopewell, and Coventry Vineyard in Princeton, also bring a wide array of lands to source their European-style grapes. This allows them to make what Cifelli describes to be “very complex and interesting and layered wines.”
Hunterdon County’s conditions are a reflection of the Northern Rhône region in Southeastern France in terms of climate, weather, and soil composition. This allows Unionville to showcase unique varieties of wines in comparison to some other local wineries. For instance, they are one of only a handful of vineyards making wine from Viognier and are the only winery in NJ to make wines from Marsanne, Roussanne, and Picpoul Blanc, all classic varieties of the Rhône Valley. The winemakers at Unionville believe that the environment allows these grapes to not just grow but absolutely thrive. One of these unique wines to be excited about is the 2019 Hunterdon Mistral Blanc. This blend of Rhône original grapes is a special addition to their portfolio. A fantastic vintage, the Hunterdon Mistral Blanc is rich, textural, broad and ripe, with tropical fruit flavors; a perfect encapsulation of the summer experience.
There is one wine that truly shines out above the rest in the Unionville collection and that is the single-vineyard Pheasant Hill Vineyard Chardonnay, their flagship white. While Unionville is able to blend grapes and wines from different locations in order to add unique concoctions to their portfolio, they also, in special years, keep the lots separate after picking to create their hallmark single-vineyard bottlings. In what Cifelli deems “the best years,” Unionville is able to separate the various Chardonnay from the different vineyards, (Home Vineyard, Coventry and Pheasant Hill) and create three distinctly different expressions of Chardonnay. While the Pheasant Hill Vineyard Chardonnay specifically boasts flavors of sweet Meyer lemon and a nose of coconut oil, each single-vineyard Chardonnay has its own body and taste. Cifelli proudly shares that “we hang our hats on our Chardonnay and at any given time you can find four of five expressions of Chardonnay in our tasting room.”
Three different Chardonnays from three different locations are offered in the tasting room showcasing how subtle differences in soil, soil composition, weather and climate result in different and dynamic variations of Chardonnay. Cifelli explains that visitors can truly “taste the distinction, which is really driven by the land itself,” since the farming practices across the locations are consistent, the picking dates fall relatively close to each other, and the fermentation practices, oak program, types of barrels and amount of time spent in the oak are similar.
Unionville tends not to pay too much heed to commercial competitions and ratings, instead they prefer to get their wines in front of real critics. And the critics love them. Their wines have been scored and highly rated in The Wine Advocate, which is arguably the most important wine publication in the United States. They have also been reviewed by Wine Enthusiast and named one of the top 500 wineries by Food & Wine Magazine,
There is a reason that Unionville has been heralded as one of New Jersey’s best vineyards. Boasting the only Wine Advocate 90-point red wine to be scored from New Jersey for their Pinot Noir, Unionville also proudly presents numerous Chardonnay, Syrah, and Rosé wines which have received scores in the high 80’s and above.
Overall, a visit to Unionville is a favorable experience for any wine lover. As Cifelli tells it, “you’re going to have a conversation, you’re going to explore, and, of course, the wine is fabulous.” The surrounding areas of Lambertville, Hopewell, and Clinton are also beautiful places to stay, as havens of horse pastures, farm-to-table restaurants, wonderful agritourism, and beverage tourism opportunities. With world-class dining and amazing bed & breakfasts, it’s hard to find a reason to not stop by this gorgeous part of the East Coast for a visit.