Sunday, October 03, 2010

Swansea Vineyards

Driving through a handful of counties into the southern part of New Jersey led me to Swansea Vineyards. The differences between northern and southern NJ are sometimes as distinct as crossing the Mason Dixon line. Instead of being the slowest car on the road I was the most aggressive. Not a single cop patrolled for speeders. Suddenly I was driving through towns where it seemed there were more cows than people. "Did I make a wrong turn and end up in Iowa?" I wondered, as I passed Scheese Farm, 'Field of Dreams' tractor sales, and saw a sign for a highway that was handpainted.

And can someone tell me what the heck you do when you are at a crossroads with two stop signs and two blinking red lights? This is cause for serious anxiety.

 (artist's rendition)

Albeit chilly it was a stunning day for a drive. The Jersey Fresh farms all had a variety of sales going on, and much to my delight, a number of pumpkins up for grabs.

An hour and a half after my departure I rolled through downtown Shiloh, NJ and arrived at Swansea Vineyards. Pulling in and following the driveway I encountered the Steelers truck, which only kicked off my day of familiar themes in unexpected places.

Turns out the owner of the vineyard is a Steelers fan; unfortunately I did not get to meet him.

The tasting room, which seemed like an old parlor, was covered in bears. Liz, my wine host, explained the previous evening the winery hosted a Bridgeton Rotary Club Hug-a-Bear event. It is a unique cause that offers bears to children in difficult situations as a source of comfort.

I began the tasting. For $5 you try six wines and keep the glass. All grapes are grown on site. The fruit wines, if not on site, are purchased from other NJ farms.

Dry White Wines
Cygneture White- Chardonnay grapes aged in stainless steel. Although I didn't try this one in the tasting I got a glass of it later just to experience it. This is aged in stainless steel. I enjoyed how crisp this was.
Chardonnay Reserve- This is a standard chardonnay; the difference from the Cygneture is it is aged in oak. The description of this wine explains it is balanced with vanilla, but I didn't detect this. Disclaimer: a following winery resulting in a similar experience has me wondering if for some reason I am unable to properly identify vanilla (but more on that in a later post). 

Dry Red Wines
Cygneture Red -  Pronounced like "signature", this red is from the chambourcin grape. This was acidic and a bit harsh to me.
Cabernet Sauvignon - I don't know that I've seen a bottle of cabernet for $10 anywhere else in NJ. The oak makes this very smooth but the flavor wasn't as full bodied as I was hoping.
Cabernet Franc - did not try
Ship John - Liz explained this is a popular choice and portions of the sales go to Cumberland County Historical Society. There is a lot going on in this wine and took a second sip to identify the flavors. It was my favorite of the reds, but it topped the price list at $20/bottle.

Semi-Sweet Wines
Serenity - Liz's favorite. She mentioned she took this to a friend's shore house this summer and it went over very well. It is such a neutral wine, not too sweet or dry, and pink, so it's a good medium for both the red and white drinkers. Definitely an easy please.

Sweet/Fruit Wines 
Garden State Peach - did not try. I wanted this one initially but they did not have any available chilled.
Orchard Nectar - did not try
Garden State Blueberry - did not try
Garden State Strawberry - Like strawberry juice. "That makes it dangerous," Liz said. Sweet and flavorful.
Kiwigold - did not try
Swansong - did not try
Spiced Apple - did not try

Jonaid was unable to join me on my wine adventures this weekend as he had other plans. This severely limited my tasting ability because usually we'd both pick different wines and would be able to cover more ground. Wine tasting just isn't as much fun alone.

Liz was a very friendly host who knows three other girls named Carinne. She said her whole day was steadily busy with customers. "The chilly weather means everyone is stocking up on things to keep them warm at night!" she joked, and I noted during my tasting a number of people came in simply to buy a bottle without even tasting. Swansea must have a good following of customers who know what they like.

As I was leaving the vineyard another group of five were coming in. All greeted me with such enthusiasm I gave a second glance to make sure I hadn't met them before. I certainly miss this level of friendliness. You just don't encounter it as you head more north.

All in all, Swansea is a unique experience simply from the personalities alone. The wines easily meet the textbook definitions of the main styles of wine and the atmosphere is pleasant. An enjoyable start to my Saturday.

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