We are excited to share with you our experience from The Winemakers Co-Op Spring Portfolio Tasting event that was held on Sunday, May 19 at Hawk Haven Vineyard and Winery. The event features wines from the five wineries that make up The Winemakers Co-Op, which are:
- Beneduce Vineyards
- Hawk Haven Vineyard and Winery
- Unionville Vineyards
- William Heritage Winery
- Working Dog Winery
From what we understand, The Winemakers Co-Op objective is to showcase high quality, NJ estate-grown, vinifera wines which will help establish New Jersey as a premier wine region in the United States. As lovers and supporters of all things local, our hope is that The Winemakers Co-Op will help alter the thought of, “Wine from New Jersey? Yuck! No thanks…” to “Do you have any locally-sourced New Jersey wines available?”
The Portfolio Tasting events are held twice per year, one in the Spring and one in the Fall. As mentioned, the Spring event was held at Hawk Haven Vineyard and Winery in Rio Grande, New Jersey. Holding the event in the beautiful beach resort region of Cape May County was an excellent idea. Nothing beats an afternoon of tasting delicious wines and being less than 20 minutes to the beach! The weather was extremely cooperative as well which made the day even more enjoyable.
The highlight of the Portfolio Tasting is that consumers have an opportunity to taste the next vintage of the Open Source Chardonnay produced by The Winemakers Co-Op. The Open Source Chardonnay is a collaborative project between all five wineries where they collect and mix Chardonnay grapes from each property and split into equal amounts to take back to their winery. Once back at their winery, each winemaker has free reign to age and perfect the Chardonnay however they’d like. This year, The Winemakers Co-Op showcased the 2017 vintage of the Open Source Chardonnay. The first vintage which will contain grapes from Hawk Haven Vineyard and Winery is going to be 2018 due to them joining The Winemakers Co-Op after the 2017 vintage.
The tasting events run for four hours in total, with an extra hour allotted before the start of the event for a VIP showcase. The VIP showcase is hosted by each winemaker as they present their current vintage of the Open Source Chardonnay. The winemakers talk about how they aged their Chardonnay and each VIP participant has an opportunity to taste alongside each winemaker. Having the ability to hear the intimate details about each Chardonnay from the winemaker directly was such an exhilarating experience. The knowledge and expertise that gets shared during the VIP showcase is a must for anyone that is interested in knowing more about wine and where the New Jersey wine industry is heading.
If you did not have an opportunity to attend the event or taste the 2017 Open Source Chardonnay, most (if not all) of the wineries will have their versions available for purchase at their tasting rooms. Depending on availability, some may have sold out or have a limited batch left in stock after the event. Here are our thoughts and notes from the five Chardonnay’s tasted:
- Beneduce Vineyards: Aged in used neutral French oak barrels and aged on the lees (yeast sediment) which gives this wine a creamy mouthfeel. The wine has a weight to it, which provides a long finish. Low to medium acidity.
- Unionville Vineyards: Neutral acacia barrel for aging, stirred on the lees for five months. Did not allow the wine to go through malolactic fermentation so it has less of a creamy flavor and more fruit-forward notes.
- Hawk Haven Vineyard and Winery: As mentioned above, did not have a 2017 vintage of the Open Source Chardonnay. Hawk Haven showcased their 2017 Signature Series Chardonnay (Clones 95 & 76). This is barrel fermented as well in neutral oak barrels (eight year old barrels, so oak flavor has diminished). No malolactic fermentation for this wine as well so the Chardonnay has fruit forward notes.
- Working Dog Winery: Aged in neutral four year old oak barrels. Stirred the wine weekly on the lees and allowed it to go through a slight malolactic fermentation, but stopped it while in process to avoid too much of a creamy flavor. This wine has lemon zesty notes.
- William Heritage Winery: Aged in neutral French oak barrels. Winemaker had a hands-off approach to the wine during barrel aging, so the wine did go through malolactic fermentation which gave this a slight creamier finish than some of the others.
As you may notice, all five of these wines are neutral barrel aged Chardonnay’s. To summarize the four Open Source Chardonnay’s, we felt that they had similar characteristics and consistencies (most likely due to the similar aging variables). In our opinion, the creamiest mouthfeel was from Beneduce Vineyards and the most fruit-forward notes were from both Unionville Vineyards and Working Dog Winery. All four were great wines that we recommend everyone try if you’re given the opportunity.
Outside of the Open Source Chardonnay release and tasting, the event provides an opportunity to taste over 40 NJ estate-grown wines from the five different wineries. An added benefit to these events is having the ability to taste high quality wines from each winery that are geographically dispersed throughout the state.
A bonus was having the opportunity to hear a presentation from Clark Smith, one of the most influential wine consultants based on details from intowine.com and Wine Business Monthly magazine. Having Smith attend and speak at the event means a lot to those in the New Jersey wine industry and speaks volumes to where our industry is going in the future.
What was our overall impression of this event? Coming from two people who typically dislike a wine-festival-like event, we could not recommend the Portfolio Tasting events enough! Our dislike for wine festivals stems from them being over-crowded and chaotic with attendees focused on the amount of drinking that can be done versus actually tasting the wines. The Winemakers Co-Op Portfolio Tasting events are far from those characteristics. The events are limited in seats and are themed around the quality of wines being poured instead of the quantity of wines being poured and consumed. We had a relaxing and educational experience and, in our usual fashion, left the event with a few handfuls of locally-sourced New Jersey wines.
We love having the opportunity to reconnect with and meet new lovers of New Jersey wine. We had the opportunity to spend time with old friends (Dan & Cookie, Dave & Carol, Kristen & Tom, Heather & Dan, and Robin) and meet a new friend (@TeamFentress). Great to see you all and looking forward to seeing you again soon!
Wine is calling, we must go!
Nick & Ed