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Unique U.S. Wineries

Alba Winery and Vineyard


The state of New Jersey may strike you as an unlikely location for a vineyard and winery. Even more unlikely is the fact that New Jersey touts 29 wineries. One of these wineries fits our criteria of a unique U.S. winery.
Alba Winery and Vineyard, located in the historic Village of Finesville. Alba states on their web site “Our goal is to be recognized by the discerning consumer as a producer of quality wines.” We have visited Alba many times and suggest they add high quality wines to that statement. Alba’s tasting room is located in an old historic barn built in 1805. Trust me you will not feel like your in an old barn once inside. The building also houses the winery, and the Musconetcong Art Gallery. The tasting room is located in the oldest portion of the building, along with a complete selection of their award winning wines, all of which are produced on the premises. A selection of gift items and a large array of past and present awards as well as other items are also on display. The tasting price includes an Alba wine glass. By the way Alba was awarded winery of the year at the 2006 New Jersey wine competition, and they boast a long list of local, national and international awards. Let me say the tasting room and winery building reminds me of several rather famous ones in the Napa California area, so much so that I love to return often to hold me over on memories until our annual Napa trip. Of course let me also mention their excellent wines also bring us back. One of our favorite Alba wines is a very reasonably priced everyday Red.
Old Mill Red, tasting notes describe Old Mill as a blend of mostly Marechal Foch and Chambourcin with a small amount of Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon, all are aged and fermented separately until blending. Aging takes place in small American Oak barrels for 8-10 months then bottled. I can tell you this is a fantastic everyday wine priced very reasonable, that drinks like a higher priced wine. Old Mill is priced at $8.99 a bottle or $97.09 per case, Alba also offers mixed case discounts.
Alba has far too many wines for us to list here including whites, reds, sparkling and desert wines. They host numerous events through out the year, most based around holidays. Tasting and tours are always available during hours of operation. Hours are Sunday-Friday 11:00am-5:00pm and Sunday 11:00am-6:00pm. I have to tell you Alba is a must visit whether you live in New Jersey or get the chance to visit. You will not be disappointed!
Check out their web site below:

Demarest Hill Winery and Vineyard


As we try to do as often as possible, this past weekend we traveled our state and New York State to visit and taste at local wineries. Our last stop in the afternoon was Demarest Hill Winery and Vineyard. Nestled on a hillside in lovely and historic Warwick New York. This place for lack of better words is a find. After a scenery packed drive through Pine Island, known as the black dirt capitol of the world and Warwick. We drove up a long driveway to the top of a lovely hillside. After parking we walked up to a beautiful home perched on top of the hillside. The tasting room is attached to the house, and as you walk up, just behind the tasting room is the most spectacular view of rolling hills and farmland.
As we rang the bell, an older gentelman rode up on a quad to greet us. We later learned this was Francesco Ciummo, the owner and Master Vintner, who at the young age of 73, still works his dream daily. Francesco was born in Molise Italy and learned his wine making skills from his father. As the story goes, after years of hard back braking labor in jobs around the world. Francesco set out to build his dream in America, and what we happened upon is the result.
Francesco welcomed us, complete with his still strong Italian accent and happy demeanor.
Entering a lovely tasting room we were amazed at the selection of wines and distilled beverages before us. All are made and bottled by Francesco himself, of course with a little help. We tried a selection of ten red wines, all of which were very good. At Francesco’s suggestion we also tried several of his distilled selections. I am not a big fan of Grappa, yet I can tell you his Grappa was the smoothest I have ever tasted. At 105 proof, that’s saying alot. His tropical blended liquor, appropriately named “Mamajuana”, a must try if you visit, was so good some actually came home with us. Another liquor well worth mentioning was the Limoncello, again one of the best I have tasted. I would be remiss if I left out another Francesco suggestion, the Basamico, a Balsamic Vinegar touted as the best in the United States on his web site. I am not a vinegar expert so I can not confirm this as truth, but I will tell you we loved it and again some came home with us. My two favorite red wines were the Warwick Black Pearl Local, and the Bacchos Noir Local. Without a doubt this is a unique winery and a must visit! The trip is well worth your time, and if you plan a day trip several other wineries are in the area. Brotherhood Winery, the oldest working winery in the United States is about a half hour drive from Demarest. Be sure to ask for Francesco when you visit Demarest.


Ehlers Estate Winery

A very unique winery located in Napa Valley, is Ehlers Estate Winery. It is a very old winery started by Bernard Ehlers in 1886. It happens to be the only winery in California that is non-profit. All profits are donated to cardiovascular research. They have a lovely tasting room housed in the original 1886 winery, a rather big stone building with alot of history. The tasting room is very rustic and low key with many wine related knick knacks around. You would almost think you walked in the door and went back in time to 1886. Bernard Ehlers was a grocer from Sacramento who started his winery (as the story goes) with $7000.00 and a gold coin. Mr. Ehlers planted olive trees along with the grapes and today the remaining trees produce fruit for the winery’s own Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Mr. Ehlers passed away in 1901 and his wife took over. In 1923 a local resident named Alfred Domingos purchased the land from her. This was during the prohibition era when only home winemaking was legal. Among many stories told, one was that alot of bootleg wine was sold by Mr. Domingos during the era.
The current owners, the Jean Leducq family eventually purchased some of the the land in 1985. They began producing wine under thier own name, then after purchasing all of the remaining property in 2000, went back to the Ehlers label.
The Leducq Foundation, established in 1996 by Jean and Sylviane Leducq, is a non-profit philanthropic entity whose purpose is to support international cardiovascular research. The foundation serves as the beneficiary of all profits from the winery. The vineyards are biodynamically farmed. And today they produce three red wines, a Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and a Cabernet Franc, all of which are produced from grapes grown on the Ehlers Lane property, by the way all are excellent wines. Also produced is a Sauvignon Blanc, their only white wine, which is produced using grapes from the Oakville and Pope Valley region. The wines are award winning and this is one trip worth making. The winery is located in historic St. Helena on Highway 29.
Jean Leducq passed away at the age of 82, and today his wife Sylviane still watches over the foundation.

Raymond Burr Vineyards


In our travels around Sonoma last week, we happened upon a small wooden sign that read “Raymond Burr Vineyards”. We all thought, could it be the Raymond Burr from Ironside, and those of you a few years wiser, the Raymond Burr of Perry Mason?
Our curiousity got the best of us, and we dialed the number that displayed the words “appointment only” underneath it. Sure enough when we asked could you accomodate a tasting for four like…right now, cause we are at the end of the driveway, the voice said “come right up”. What a great little find. Off the beaten path, a long driveway up to Raymond Burr and his partner, Robert Benevides piece of paradise. The grounds were beautiful, a greenhouse growing prize orchids sits off to the left of the driveway. The tasting room full of Raymond Burr memorabilia, even his two Emmy awards, big as life, right there to touch. The walls contained every TV Guide cover that featured Mr. Burr all the way back to the sixties. Now, mind you this impression is all without having tasted a drop of the premium wines the lovely tasting room manager was about to pour. The wines were excellent, and our pourer told stories of the man, a legend in our minds. As you know Mr. Burr has since passed away, but let me tell you the view from his desk, where we are told he spent his last days is breathtaking. Hard to describe. That is the one of the reasons we have decided to start this page with historical notes from what we consider unique wineries with a history. Below are some historical notes from the Raymond Burr Vineyards website. We hope you enjoy reading the notes and we will continue to post as many unique winery stories as we can.

Raymond Burr and Robert Benevides had met, as professional actors, in the middle 1950s on the television program which was to make a legend of Burr, “Perry Mason.” Motivated in the beginning by friendship, the Burr/Benevides relationship was bolstered and advanced by their individual interest in, and knowledge of, the cultivation and hybridization of orchids. In the next several years this shared hobby began to grow until the obvious resolution was to make it a commercial venture. And so, Sea God Nurseries was born, becoming in the 20-odd years of its life an international presence with ranges in Fiji, Hawaii, the Azores Islands and in Southern California. During this period, the partnership was responsible for over 1,500 new orchids added to the world-wide catalogue.

Simultaneously, Benevides had become Executive in Charge of Production on Mr. Burr’s very successful television series “Ironside” and together they managed an island in Fiji they had bought, where they raised copra and cattle.

In 1976 Benevides, on the advice of his father, had purchased an eminently desirable farm in the Dry Creek Valley and in the following months, as the nine-year “Ironside” drew to a close, Burr and Benevides traveled in northern California, the scene of both their young lives (Burr was raised in Vallejo, Benevides on the Peninsula, both attended school in Berkeley). Benevides took Burr to see his property in Sonoma County.

Around this time, the Dry Creek Valley was in transition; having for a long while produced hops, and then prunes, the area was just beginning to be recognized as the prime terrain for grape-growing that it now is. By 1980 the Burr/Benevides partnership had moved their orchid nurseries to the valley and work on the manzanita covered benchlands began…the clearing, the tilling, the sterilization; the wells dug, the drip-systems installed, the Roman drains, the French drains, the trellises built, the wires strung…all while the two men were actively engaged in the Viacom presentation of the new adventures of “Perry Mason” which over a period of five years was filmed in Denver, Colorado, Paris, France and Toronto, Canada!

The grapes were planted in 1986: Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, and, for the proprietors, a small section of Port–the bareroot stock imported from Portugal. (The Port, originally intended for family and friends, has somehow found its way onto the Cartes du Vin of a couple of upscale San Francisco restaurants, and in 1996 took Double Gold at the wine fair there.)

In 1990 the beautiful south-facing vineyards produced their first vintage. Carefully hand picked, they were carried down to the Pedroncelli Bonded Winery where they were handed into the wise and gentle hands of John Pedroncelli, a second-generation winemaker and inheritor of the Sonoma tradition. After 18 months in small French and American oak cooperage, the wine was bottled in November, 1992, released in 1995.

Fully matured vines and a perfect growing season in the Dry Creek Valley in 1991 produced a bigger and more complex wine with a potentially extraordinary cellar-life.

By 1992 the vineyards were in their prime — and Raymond Burr�s health was failing. At a time when he could have legitimately retired to �watch his garden grow� he made — primarily to protect his 200+ crew — four more of the six-week-shooting-schedule two-hour Perry Mason television films and found time to watch, to protect, to nurture the splendid grapes. Found time to confer with the winemaker, to taste from the barrels the 1992, and finally, a few days before his death, to watch the harvest.

By some coincidence, and not a little skill, the 1992 Raymond Burr Cabernet Sauvignon is very like the man; big, full of gusto, complex and jubilantly alive. On a television documentary about Northern California wines he made several years ago he remarked that “…probably one of the most important things in a vineyard are the footprints of the grower between the rows…” And if those big, wide-paced footprints are actually no longer visible in the earth, they are imprinted certainly in the memories, and hearts, of the vineyard people.

POSTSCRIPT: Raymond Burr didn’t want the vineyards named for him. But Robert Benevides, his partner, colleague and companion of 35 years, after much struggle and thought, decided that, in this case, the parallels of man and wine could not be separated; it is not so much a memorial to Raymond Burr as it is his living, breathing presence.

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