From Barrel to Table: A Unique Wine Tasting at Old York Cellars

At the Garden State Wine Growers annual Wine Trail Weekend, oenophiles got the chance to sample the stuff straight from the barrel.

This past weekend, the Garden State Wine Growers Association held its Barrel Trail Weekend. For wine enthusiasts around the state, it was a unique opportunity to sample what will eventually become bottled wine, directly from the barrels.

The GSWGA is an association made up of more than 40 wineries around the state. Its mission is to raise awareness and promote growth about the New Jersey wine industry through education initiatives, marketing efforts and annual events. The coalition is comprised of five regional wine trails: Vintage North Jersey, Two Bridges, Jersey Shore, Pinelands Reserve and Cape May.

We paid a visit to Ringoes-based Old York Cellars (and a few others) on the Vintage North Jersey Grand Wine Trail. Long before its current name, the original vines planted on the property in 1979 were the first to produce wine under the New Jersey Farm Winery Act of 1981. Passed by the state legislature and signed by then-governor Brendan Byrne, it was one of several movements to ease lasting Prohibition-era laws and promote the growth of the state’s alcoholic beverage industry.

Formerly Amwell Valley Vineyards, the winery opened again in 2010 under a new name and a new owner, David Wolin. It has been thriving ever since. The winery has earned acclaim from the New York Times, as well as dozens of accolades from international wine competitions. Winemaker Scott Gares clearly knows what he’s doing.

Photo by Lauren Bowers

Photo by Lauren Bowers

The tasting room, although fairly small, has rolling views of its vines set against the backdrop of Sourland Mountain. The view from the adjacent covered patio, where guests can enjoy a glass (or bottle) of wine, is even better. Tasting room manager Chris Principato certainly had his hands full. There was no shortage of people pouring into the tasting room to sample the vineyard’s award-winning wines.

Photo by Lauren Bowers

Photo by Lauren Bowers

During regular tastings, visitors may combine chocolate and wine—a classic pairing with an undeniable chemistry. The tasting menu, with its helpful notes, suggests the cocoa percentages that work best with each of the wines available for sampling.

Photo by Lauren Bowers

Photo by Lauren Bowers

The Barrel Trail Weekend events at Old York happened every hour on the hour from 1-4 PM. After our tasting, we hopped onto a vineyard tour. It was there we met our enthusiastic and knowledgeable tour guide who led us out to the vines first. He talked about the vineyard’s estate wine, a wine unique to each individual winery that cannot be duplicated. But, to be honest, we were a bit distracted by the view.

Photo by Lauren Bowers

Photo by Lauren Bowers

It was time to get up close and personal with the grapes. This was the first of three different areas the tour guide showed us.

Photo by Lauren Bowers

Photo by Lauren Bowers

Soon enough, we found ourselves in the next section of the vineyard. The tour guide explained to us that, despite the color of these grapes, they would eventually be used to make a red wine. Within the next few weeks, the grapes will turn to a deep purple. Harvesting these grapes usually takes place in the late summer around the beginning of September.

Photo by Lauren Bowers

Photo by Lauren Bowers

Leaving the vines, we followed our guide to the wine making and barreling facility, where the much anticipated barrel tasting would happen.

Photo by Lauren Bowers

Photo by Lauren Bowers

Just as the heat—and humidity—of a summer day started to become too much, we made it into the perfectly cooled facility where we were surrounded by the barrels. A tasting of three different not-quite-ready-to-be-bottled wines later and our thirst was quenched.

Photo by Lauren Bowers

Photo by Lauren Bowers

Old York also sells wine for a cause—red, white and rosé—under its What Exit label. With this label, the winery supports one local charity a month by donating $1 from every purchase to that cause. This month’s charity is Hometown Heroes, a Toms River-based non-profit committed to providing support for individuals and families in times of crisis. Since the introduction of the label, more than $13,000 has been donated to Sandy Relief, Juvenile Diabetes and much more.

In addition to labels for specific charities, exit sign labels with customized towns (as shown below) as well as personalized postcard-style labels can also be made.

Photo by Lauren Bowers

Photo by Lauren Bowers

Of course, we couldn’t leave without bringing some bottles home with us. Our personal favorites? The 2013 Vidal Blanc and the 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon.

We’ll be on the lookout for the bottled versions of those wines we got to taste straight from the barrels, too.

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