Heading even more east I went to Sylvin Farms in Germania, NJ. It was a leisurely ride as I blared my radio and sang along. Pulling up to the address I had noted there was a sign, but I was a little uncertain. It looked unlike any winery I'd ever seen.
The backdrop of the house was a wooded area with vines in front of it. To the right was a fence, and chopped wood that appeared as if it would be burnt in a bonfire. The house in front was shaded by trees and there was no actual parking lot. Grass overran the driveway; it seemed more of a personal property than a public business. Barrels sat in the garage; hoses were outside of it.
I pulled in next to the sign and got out of my car. Hesitantly I marched to the front door, but none of the lights were on. I turned around to head to my car when I saw a neighbor.
"Is this the winery?" I asked.
A voice erupted behind me. "Yes, you're early," it said. About half an hour earlier I called to verify the winery's hours. Turns out there aren't hours, you just make appointments. I had told the man on the phone it would take me an hour to get there, knowing my tendency to make wrong turns.
"Ah, yes, the trip was easier than I expected." I turned, and faced a man wearing a shirt that read Cabernet Frank. "Are you Frank?" I asked. He confirmed he was indeed Frank. I must admit multiple times when I've written out Cabernet Franc this week I've typed Frank in mistake. He led me inside.
Despite the strange, informal feeling I had due to the location's aesthetics I carried onward inside with a trust in Cabernet Frank's integrity, and I am glad I did. Heading indoors, the tasting room is a small side room to his home. The walls are lined with pictures, certifications, honors, and medals relating to the wines made by Sylvin.
Cabernet Frank gave me the wine list and explained if I didn't like something I was to dump it out immediately. I informed him I never waste wine. That's alcohol abuse.
We began the tasting. You try every wine on tap at no cost.
"I'm a little backwards," Cabernet Frank said. "I go red to white." No complaints from this peanut gallery.
Red Wines - Fermenting red grapes in their skins give the wines a red color. Removing the skins adapts to blushes such as white zinfandel. Frequently reds develop best simply by benign neglect, Cab Frank explained.
Pinot Noir - Very grapey and sweet.
Cabernet Sauvignon - First tasting of the winery. "Such a tannic wine," Frank said. I enjoyed it.
Merlot - A standard merlot that was slightly more acidic than recent tastes.
Cabernet Franc - Cab Frank says this is "Perfumy, but not in the Chanel No. 5 way." Very smooth.
Uva Accozzaglia - Literally meaning "grape medley" this is a blend that would work well as a standard table wine.
"Stop calling me Cabernet Frank!" He exclaimed.
"I can't help it!" I retorted. "It's all on your shirt and I just can't stop. I'm sorry."
He laughed and crossed his arms over the "cabernet" part of the shirt. "You take notes like a reporter," he said.
"Thanks. I like to remember things."
"And you talk too fast."
Not sure I'll ever be able to fix that one.
White Wines - Several of these wines were freshly opened. Frank poured himself a taste as well, which I was excited about so I wasn't drinking alone. He does this in case any cork get in it.
Chardonnay - I declared I just couldn't taste the vanilla in this, but also that I never seem to be able to taste vanilla. Cabernet Frank explained he learned to taste vanilla from Vanilla Coke, back when it was out. "I love vanilla coke!" I said. "Oh, it must be around again," he muttered. I hope he wasn't counting his age in his mind. Anyway, he explained vanilla coke made the flavor recognizable for him and now he knows it. He was surprised I wasn't able to pick it up, as he said 35% of women and 10% of men are supertasters.
Sauvignon Blanc - Cab Frank mentioned he enjoys this in the summer. Absolutely refreshing.
Pinot Grigio - Very grapey and sweet.
Viognier - A french grape that was remarkably tamed in this glass. Well done.
White Zinfandel - The label of this is a sketch of Cabernet Frank's daughter, drawn by her husband. This grape does not grow in NJ but instead from California. Typically, Cabernet Frank does not offer this in a tasting, but I asked and was able to try it. As was all others at this winery, very well done.
Frank continued expanding my knowledge of tannins, which had begun earlier in the day. Both aggressive acidity and tannins can give the feel of dryness in a wine. Whites have no tannins; reds have them but you want the balance so your wine does not go into tannic shock. These tannins, along with polyphenols in wine, help prevent heart disease and cancer and are all of the good health things you hear about in wine.
I have fewer notes on the wines themselves because I spent the majority of the day talking to Cabernet Frank. I learned of his growing up 13 miles from Manhattan, his education, his profession as a civil engineer, his profession as a professor, his service in the army (technically a Vietnam Vet although he was more involved in the Korean War), his children, one grandchild, his wine making... But through it all I just didn't write any notes down about the wine, although all were remarkable. I was simply enjoying the flavors and the conversation.
In the end isn't that what wine is about anyway? A bottle is only as good as the person you have to share it with. Cheers.