Talks with Todd

50 Shades of Green: A Very Veraison Affair

Recently, veraison was in full swing at Hawk Haven and you know what that means, right? No? You don’t? Oh… well… this is awkward…

Not to worry, most people have no idea what “veraison” is, let alone how to pronounce it. Todd says it like the word “version” but with an “ay” between the r and s. But fancy Lou pronounces it the French way so it sounds like “vera-ZON” (say it with a French accent). I say it like… well, mostly I try not to say it at all, so instead I’ll just tell you what it is and show you some pictures.

Simply put, veraison is what is happening when the grapes turn from an opaque green to whatever color they’re meant to turn when they’re fully mature. That means your red wine grapes like Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon are turning different hues of purple, violet, and even blue. Similarly, the white wine grapes like Riesling and Chardonnay are changing to a golden tone, or a more translucent shade of green.

Below are some photos of our grapes in transition. You’ll notice that some varietals are farther along than others. The best way to see them, though, is on our Vineyard & Winery Tour where you’ll get up close and personal with the vines. You can also see more photos of veraison from our 2009 harvest by clicking here.

Pinot Grigio

Pinot Grigio











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Talks with Todd: Filtering the Wines

The Hawk Haven tasting room is not a bad place to work. We get to meet new people every day, they all come in with a smile on

Lou and Todd discussing the filtration process.

Lou and Todd discussing the filtration process.

their face (or if they don’t, we know they’ll be smiling after a few sips), and we’re surrounded by delicious, locally made, award winning wines. Sometimes, however, it’s nice to get out of the tasting room and check out what else is happening, and there’s always something to see. On weekends it’s the folks outside enjoying crepes and live music on the crush pad. During the week sometimes we’ll see Todd or one of his guys out in the vineyard. And since the other day I had such a fun and informative visit to our winery building while they were blending, I figured I would stop by again to see what Todd and Lou were up to. On this day’s agenda: filtration.

The wine pump moves the wine from the tank, through the filter, and into a new tank.

The wine pump moves the wine from the tank, through the filter, and into a new tank.

During filtration, the wine is pumped out of its tank and pushed through layers of pads in a process called “depth filtration.”  This process removes lees (dead yeast), tartrates, and other particles that might be hanging around in there. While I was there, they were pumping wine they had blended last week  through the filter and into another tank. Todd said the whole process can be a lot like a sliding puzzle, where you have one empty slot and you have to move all the pieces around to form the final picture. “You always have to have at least one empty tank, and it should be the biggest one.”

That seems like such a waste, doesn’t it? Those tanks are not cheap! But

Todd and the handy dandy filter.

Todd and the handy dandy filter.

when you have to pump 1,320 gallons of Riesling through a filter, you’re going to want to be able to put it into something that will hold it all. On this day they were filtering Pinot Grigio, Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, QUILL, and a red blend that will be part of our new Flying Press series, all in preparation for bottling. Once bottled, we just have to wait until the wines get settled in their new homes, before it is finally time to move out of the bottle and into your glass.


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Blending In: Our 2012 Reds


Pumping Wine out of French Oak Barrels

It’s been nearly two years since the red varietals, which we harvested back in the fall of 2012, were first put into the French oak barrels where they began the aging process. While they sat in there soaking up all the flavors that the oak lends to the wine, like vanilla, mocha, and caramel, we waited patiently for them to finish. Well, somewhat patiently, since this past February we eagerly dug out the wine thief for some barrel tastings. They were so good then that I brought over any container I could find in the hopes of bringing some home, but Todd said no, they need just a little more time. He also was very against the idea of pouring his precious Cabernet Franc into a tupperware container.

But now that the bottling date is finally approaching and the wines are more than ready to go, we have started moving them out of the barrels and into stainless steel tanks. Meet Lou, our wine maker Todd’s new assistant.

Hi Lou!

Hi Lou!

Lou is using the wine pump to transfer some Tempranillo into one of the tanks you see in the background. The tanks will be sealed shut until we are ready to bottle (August 4th, come see us in action!), and once in the bottle we will let them rest for a few weeks to allow them to settle and to allow any instances of bottle-shock to dissipate.

Taste-Testing the Blends

We will have several standalone varietals like Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc, but this is the time when we will also do any blending that Todd has planned. For instance, yesterday he and Lou were working on blending a NEW wine from our NEW Flying Press series (it’s NEW!). They basically get a bunch of glasses, put different amounts of wine into each glass, and taste them all to see which one was best. Those of us working in the tasting room that day were lucky enough to try some as well, and I’ll just say we cannot wait for you to try it.

By now you’re probably wondering, “When???? WHEN do I get to try these delicious wines!?” Some of you may have even pre-ordered them at one of our barrel tastings earlier this year. Todd says that we will start releasing the reds in mid to late September. I know, it seems like forever, but just remember that time always flies. And in the meantime, there is plenty of good wine to be had here in the tasting room! We are open daily for wine tastings and tours, and visit us on the weekend for Saturdays on the Crushpad and Sangria Sundays!


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The Rutgers Research Project at Hawk Haven

Something exciting is underway at Hawk Haven (in addition to our regular, everyday exciting) that we wanted to share with you. We’ve been calling it “The Rutgers Research Project at Hawk Haven” (or Rutger’s Project for short) because it is headed by Dan Ward, the Assistant Extension Specialist, and Peter Oudemans, the Associate Professor, both of Rutgers’ Plant Biology and Pathology department. Together with the Outer Coastal Plains Association, they developed a four year trial to see how two rare and unique varietals grow here on the East Coast.

It all began a few years ago when Todd’s quality management of the vineyard caught Dan’s attention. He saw a guy who really cared about the plants and worked hard every day to bring each vine to its full potential. So Hawk Haven Vineyard was chosen, along with three other vineyards throughout the state, to participate in a mutli-year study of the different growing climates of New Jersey. Each vineyard was chosen based on their location as well as the dedication and commitment of the vineyard managers to their land. In that respect, we were very honored to have been selected and look forward to seeing the results.

Lagrein varietal

Lagrein varietal

We were provided with ten vines each of two different varietals. The first, Lagrein, is a red grape native to Northern Italy, known for its full body and high acidity. Besides Italy, it can also be found growing in Australia and New Zealand, and it is related to Pinot Noir and Syrah. The second is a relative of the Lagrein grape, another red Italian varietal called Teroldego, an even more rarely found grape. Teroldego is known for producing a deeply pigmented, fruity wine. Both varietals are almost nonexistent here in the states and have been quarantined at UC Davis for several years to test for inherent diseases and to see how they stand up against any diseases and pests that are native to North America.

The experiment also involved the installation of a weather station out in the vineyard that will record various factors like wind, humidity, precipitation, and temperature. There are even these little “leaves” that are placed within the canopy among the real leaves and will record leaf wetness. This information is uploaded via cell tower to a website that Dan & Peter will use to study all these factors at each of the four vineyards. The best part is that we also get access to this information which will be extremely useful to us going forward in planning future vineyard maintenance.


Teroldego varietal

We planted the vines earlier this spring, the weather station is all set up (you can check it out during our Vineyard & Winery Tour), and we also hired an intern who has experience in plant physiology. She will be helping Todd with petiole sampling to monitor nutrients, testing the sugar content in the grapes (°brix), and other information recording for this Rutgers Project. And get this: once the grapes are grown, we get to keep the fruit! So in a few years you might see some blends featuring Lagrein or Teroldego in the racks of our tasting room. In fact, we should probably start practicing how to properly pronounce those varietals.

By the end of the experiment, Dan and Pete will have collected enough weather information to see the difference in climate across the state and how it affects the vines. We think this will be really great for the New Jersey grape growing industry because in addition to producing award-winning wines, we will have cold, hard facts to support NJ as an excellent growing region.  So stay tuned, we will continue to give updates on the progress of this experiment, and we can’t wait to see how these varietals grow here and if they will produce good wines for us.

A lot of new varietals were planted this year in addition to Teroldego and Legrein.

A lot of new varietals were planted this year in addition to Teroldego and Legrein.

The weather recording station (left) and anemometer (right, in vines).

The weather recording station (left) and anemometer (right, in vines).

Leaf Wetness Sensor

Leaf Wetness Sensor

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The Grapes, They Are A Changing

Véraison is a viticulture term meaning “the onset of ripening”. The word is French in origin, but has been adopted into English use. The official definition of véraison is “change of color of the grape berries.” véraison represents the transition from berry growth to berry ripening, and many changes in berry development occur at véraison. It’s also what the vines at Hawk Haven have just finished going through.

Pinot Grigio grapes, before véraison.

That’s right, the new grapes have finished their major growth spurt, and are now focusing on changing from a tart, green acidic berry into the sweet juicy berries that we want to change into wine. The first phase of a grape’s life is marked with rapid growth and a build up of water and acids. As the grapes go through véraison and change from bright green to their ripened color, many of the acids break down and new sugars are formed and accumulate within the berry.

The same clusters of grapes, during véraison.

While the change is most noticeable in the dark skinned grapes, even the lighter colored berries go through the same process, changing from bright green to a more golden color. As the change occurs, the grapes also become more attractive to pests such as birds and insects; as the smell of the ripening grape changes from acidic to fruity and sweet. The berries themselves are now more susceptible to disease, and extra care must be taken to make sure that they all have a chance to make it into your glass.

The same Pinot Grigio clusters, post véraison.

The next part of the vineyard schedule is wrapping the vines in nets to protect against the biggest threat; birds!

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Maggie the Vineyard Dog

Hey everyone, I figured it was time to introduce myself. My name’s Maggie, and I’m the newest member of the Hawk Haven family! I was born on August 15th in 2010, and I came home to my new family at Hawk Haven on October 6th! People say that I’m a full bred German Short-Haired Pointer, but I just know that I’m a lucky dog with a whole vineyard to run around in every day!


Here I am in front of the Tasting Room. Do you like my collar?

Ever since my first week here I’ve know that I’m a vineyard dog. I spend every day with Todd, we walk up and down the rows, prune and take care of the vines, and I even help greet customers that come to the tasting room sometimes! Some days I don’t get to come out, so I just sit and keep a lookout through the window for my people to come home. I don’t mind, sometimes it’s good to take a break!


Taking breaks in the shade is great!

My favorite thing in the whole world to do is play fetch! I like chasing my ball, and even fetching cut vines. My newest trick is pretty great, I can catch a ball in mid air! The other thing I like to do is point; it’s something Pointers like me are made to do, you know? I make sure to point out all the critters that run around the vineyard, and I help chase off the birds. Todd and Kenna say that if I keep the birds away from the grapes at harvest time that I’ll be earning my keep. That sounds pretty great to me, I figure that people appreciate all the work that Todd and Kenna put into the grapes more than those old birds do!


That's me with my ball!

If you want to be a vineyard dog like me, just stop by Hawk Haven and say hello. If you get your people to take a picture of you while you’re here, and send it to Todd and Kenna, they might even put it up on something called Facebook. That sounds fun right? A great time to stop by is on Sundays, we have a party every Sunday here!

Anyway, I hope I see all of you at the vineyard someday soon! Bye!

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Pruning Vines for Future Wines

So you might be driving past a vineyard like Hawk Haven this time of year, look out at the dried brown vines and think that there’s not much going on. Sure you might see someone out there once in a while, if you’re lucky, and they’ve certainly done some trimming or something. I mean, some of those vines look like they’ve been cut back to nothing at all. You might think to yourself, “This must be a slow time of year for the vineyard. Just sitting back and waiting for spring and summer, when the real work starts.” Maybe you picture Todd and Kenna sitting back with a glass of wine, relaxing and resting up for the coming year.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

While it might not look like much out there, this is the most important time of year for the vines. What happens in the vineyard now sets the stage for the entire year, and you only have one chance to get it right.

Some Hawk Haven vines before pruning starts.

Some Hawk Haven vines before pruning starts.


Pruning the vines starts in late January or early February, once the coldest of the weather has passed. The goal is to cut away last year’s growth, and make sure that the vines are correctly prepared to grow the right amount, in the right direction.

Let’s start out with a little terminology. The grape vines grow from root stock, chosen specifically for the ground conditions of the vineyard, which has a specific varietal grafted on. The vines grow up several feet and are pruned to create a horizontal section of vine called the cordon. From this section even more vines grow vertically every year, called canes. The fruit grows close to the cordon, and the canes produce a bushy canopy of leaves.

A properly pruned spur.

A properly pruned spur.

If you left the plant to itself, each vine would produce more vines all along its length. Then those vines would produce more vines. It would quickly become a bushy and unmanageable mess. What the pruning process does is cut the canes down until only a small portion is left sticking up from the cordon, called a spur. Each spur is left with two or three buds, which grow into new vines. For each bud left on the spur, you get about two clusters of grapes.


If counting buds and cutting down canes wasn’t enough work, you also have to check the plant for a myriad of other issues. You have to make sure the cordon is healthy, producing enough buds, and growing in the right way. If it’s not, you cut it off, and lay down a healthy cane to replace it and grow into the new cordon. You also check each vine for disease and damage.

It takes a skilled eye and an intimate knowledge of each variety of grape to know where to cut, and only two people in Hawk Haven are up to the challenge, Lalo Serra and Todd himself. Between the two, they prune over 200 rows of grapes in over 9 acres of vineyard. Each row takes about two to three hours to prune correctly. Then the cut vines are taken out of the vineyard immediately, as old dead vines can spread disease to the healthy existing growth. The cut vines are taken away and recycled.

Over 600 hours of pruning has to be finished before bud break in April, once the vines start growing in earnest it’s too late. This critical step is what ensures that there are enough grapes to harvest, and that the plants stay healthy and productive.

Todd and Lalo pruning Cabernet vines.

Todd and Lalo pruning Cabernet vines.

So the next time you drive past Hawk Haven and think that it looks like nothing’s going on, just remember that there is a game being played behind the scenes. Todd is making his moves, and setting up the playing field for another great harvest. The choices made today will affect everything that happens to the vines throughout the year, and eventually filter down into the glass of wine you will enjoy years from now.

Still think he’s just sitting back and relaxing?

Just a few of the cuttings from this year.

Just a few of the cuttings from this year.

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The State of the Vineyard

This week we talk with Todd Wuerker about viticulture at Hawk Haven Vineyard.

Q: How are things in the vineyard? What can we expect for the 2010 vintage or is it too early to tell?

I’m happy to report that we’re almost a month ahead of schedule.  Our bud break started on April 5th, due to the early and consistent days of warm weather.  Bud break in our vineyard historically begins towards the end of April.  This early bud break means that we’ll have a longer growing season.  For late ripening varieties, like our Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon, this means more ripe fruit, producing a fuller bodied more intense wine.  Also, if we get a jump start on the growing season, we can avoid pushing back harvest into late October for these varietals.  Being able to harvest just a week earlier will allow us to avoid late season rain storms and damage to the fruit which nets more volume.

Q: Speaking of storms, there has been some question about how the harsh winter and whether the flooding affected the grapes.  Have you noticed any lasting effects?

That has been a very popular question in the tasting room over the past several months!  Although the flooding and standing water created hours of extra work for me and my vineyard supervisor, Lalo, we were able to pump out all the standing water in the vineyard by the end of March.  Immediately following, we had several days of 80-90 degree weather.  Those few days of hot sun dried up any residual water just as the grape vines woke up from dormancy.  Thanks to our vineyard’s sandy soils, the excellent drainage of our fields and some dedication, there was no water damage to the vines.

Q: What’s happening with the vines at the moment?

Right now the vines are in bloom.  The buds have already burst open and the vines have begun to climb the trellising.  Today and for the next two weeks, the clusters of flowers on the vines are developing into tiny grapes.  The clusters are so small that it doesn’t seem to the untrained eye that much is going on, but I see the start of what could be a great vintage year.

Q: Do we have anything new to look forward to this coming harvest?

This fall will be the first harvest for three new grape varietals at Hawk Haven.  We have been growing the vineyard each year, increasing our staples and adding a few new varietals that have not been grown in the area yet.  Our goal is to find what grows best in our vineyard and make the best wines we can with what our vineyard produces.  It’s a surprise to many nearby vineyard operators that Merlot is our best varietal, which goes to show that there are variations from vineyard to vineyard even within our Outer Coastal Plain AVA.  We are in our third growing season for our tempranillo, gewurztraminer and viognier grapes.  We expect a nice harvest from each this year and will most likely get a full crop load within the next 2 to 3 years.  Look for our 2010 white wines to be released summer of 2011 and our 2010 red wines to be released late summer of 2012.  Don’t worry, our new releases for this season are just around the corner.

Q: Now, as far as the retail operations go at Hawk Haven, you’ve been busy with events this winter and spring.  What are your thoughts behind having events rather than just tastings at the winery?

Sales and Marketing are my wife’s side of the business.  I turn that question over to Kenna. 

I think a lot of people feel that the wine world has the stigma of being too serious and stuffy – with all the sniffing, swirling and spitting.  It even has it’s own special vocabulary:  body, tobacco, brix, buttery, decant, robust, barnyard (what the heck does all that mean?)  Our approach to retail is relaxed, but we certainly don’t want people to mistake that for a relaxed approach to viticulture and wine making!  Our tasting room is meant to be inviting.  We built a large tasting bar with seating, so patrons would feel comfortable staying for a while.  Our staff is warm and friendly, and my husband and I are always a few steps away to meet and greet customers.  We host wine pairing dinners, teaming up with local restaurants and pairing our wines with the local culinary talent.  We want our dinner guests to learn about food and wine pairing by experiencing it for themselves.  If you’ve ever been to one of our dinners, you know that we want you to have fun and meet new people too!  In the summer, we have a weekly event- Sangria Sundays.  This is the day the winery takes off.  No vineyard work, no wine making chores, no maintenance projects.  We take the day to relax and have fun with our customers, listening to live music and enjoying a little sangria and Caribbean food.

NEXT WEEK: Get ready for the new face of Hawk Haven winery!  Todd and Kenna, now with a year in business under their belt, have had the opportunity to catch up on a few improvement projects they’ve been planning on since they opened.  The rich family history and the help of a few talented friends/contractors, has brought even more of a feel of Old World charm to the winery.  See the transformation of a working farm into an operating vineyard & winery in the before and after photos.  You will not believe it’s the same place!

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Talks with Todd: The Booze and the Bees

Last wednesday we harvested the Pinot Grigio.  I decided to to try my hand at harvest, but I think I was more harm than help.

My Grandpa also helped, so we were both in the parking lot by 6:30 a.m. 

Grandpa in the Hawk Haven Parking Lot Ready to Harvest

 The first step of harvest is to unload the grape lugs from the barn. Lalo and the Grape Lugs

Then we harvest!Pinot Harvest Picture

Little known fact: if there is even a small puncture in the grape, it can start to ferment on the vine, especially if harvest is late in the season and the sugar content is high.  Todd decided to pull the Pinot Grigio at a fairly high brick count, which means there was a lot of sugar to ferment in the grapes. 

 Ed Wuerker Harvesting Pinot Grigio

Grandpa Harvesting Pinot Grigio

So, when the bees buzz around and feast on grapes, they actually get drunk!  Of course, Todd told me this like it was no big deal.  I thought it was hilarious!  Until one of them stung me, which I promptly used as an excuse to get out of the  grass and the bugs and stop harvesting.

Pinot Grigio at Harvest 

Pinot and Chardonnay are my favorite grapes to look at; the pinot has such a beautiful maroon color.  Below is a picture of the offending bee…

The Offending Bee.  What a JERK!

Signing off from Hawk Haven Vineyard and Winery in Cape May County, NJ – Cape May Wine Country ~ Cate Hylas

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Talks with Todd: Combatting Feathered Foes

Vineyard managers battle mother nature everyday.  Fungi, bacteria, mold and deer are all common wine-grape pests.  Come late August, early September, there’s a feathery foe: warblers.

The warblers swing presumptuously down from the sky and pluck our grapes right out of their clusters.  The brick count (a measure of sugar content) in the pinot grigio is nearly up to 20, so I can understand why grapes have become the choice bird snack.  I can barely prevent myself from picking the grapes right now – they are so good – so it’s hard to blame the birds.

To prevent against the wino-warblers (and Katies), Todd puts nets up around the vines.  Bird-brained animals can’t conceptualize of reaching through the nets, so the grapes are protected.

Netted Cabernet Sauvignon

It’s nice that there is such a simple alternative to using pesticides.  Nets – so easy!

Net Jungle

The view through the nets is absolutely breathtaking.  The nets make the vineyard feel misty and enchanted.

View of Netted Vineyard

Unnetted Cabernet Sauvignon

This is a half-netted Cabernet Sauvignon vine.  The half-net technique tricks warblers, but not me!  I ate one, and it was delicious.

Signing off from Hawk Haven Vineyard and Winery in Cape May County, NJ – Cape May Wine Country ~ Cate Hylas

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