THE TIMES By Susan Sprague Yeske SPECIAL TO THE TIMES Friday, October 22, 2010
Pam and Tannwen Mount in the newly opened tasting room. Photo by Cie Stroud for The Times
Trenton Times features cover story on the opening of Terhune Orchards Vineyard & Winery Tasting Room
LAWRENCE â€” When Tannwen Mount came home to the farm after working for six years in California, she had an idea.
Weekends spent exploring wineries and tasting wines in the Sonoma and Napa valleys had reminded her of her farming roots, growing up at Terhune Orchards in Lawrence. It also had taught her what she liked in wine. So she came home and asked her parents, Gary and Pam Mount, to consider expanding Terhune’s varied crops to include wine grapes.
Known for their apples, peaches, berries and field crops, the Mounts had no background in the specialized field of growing wine grapes. But Gary Mount said rejection was not an option.
“If your children are interested in your business and they have an idea, you listen,” he said. In this case, they also said yes.
With that, Tannwen became the 11th generation of Mounts to farm in New Jersey. She has taken on a variety of roles at the farm while she and her family made the six-year journey toward Terhune Orchards becoming the third winery in Mercer County and one of 39 in New Jersey.
The planning, planting, nurturing and winemaking came to fruition last month when Terhune debuted seven wines in its new tasting room in a 150-year-old barn near the farm store. The timing was deliberate; thousands are visiting Terhune during a fall family weekend promotion to pick apples, choose pumpkins and listen to music. A stop in the wine tasting room was an added bonus.
“The response to the winery has been great,” said Pam Mount. Adding wine, she said, “broadens the scope of the farm.” Now young adults who visited the family-friendly farm as children to eat apples and feed the animals are coming back to taste the wine.
Adding the winery also solved another dilemma that often hits family businesses. “One of the challenges of a family business is when the next generation comes in, being able to find another source of income,” said Pam Mount.
Wine is a growth business in New Jersey. According to the Department of Agriculture the 39 licensed wineries are a dramatic increase from 12 in the state just over a decade ago, and the Garden State ranks seventh in the nation in wine production. In first place is California, followed by New York.
In 2009, New Jersey wineries produced 1.7 million gallons of wine and the state netted $144,666 in tax revenue from the sale of locally produced wines.
While the Mounts make establishing a winery look easy, it took a lot of work. Gary, who learned to grow apples from his father while growing up in West Windsor and became an expert on growing coconuts while serving in Micronesia in the Peace Corps, has remained a student of farming. Each year he adds to and refines his repertoire and the farm’s range of crops.
But growing wine grapes is complicated, and it meant going back to school. “You buy $10 worth of seeds and $100 worth of books,” he said. Reading the books comes before putting any seeds in the ground.
“Wine grapes are a very demanding crop,” he said. “Getting the grapes right is very important because it’s critical to have good grapes to start with. You can make bad wine from good grapes or bad grapes, but you can only make good wine from good grapes.”
Sharing much of the journey has been Tannwen Mount. “It’s a whole other business,” she said. “Knowing what you like and how to make it is a big learning curve.”
Starting the vineyard coincided with the Mounts’ purchase of the former Johnson farm on nearby Van Kirk Road, which increased the farm’s total acreage to 185. The purchase “opened up a lot of possibilities,” Gary Mount said, allowing them to plant nearly five acres in wine grapes and the rest with certified organic crops.
As they planned and planted, Gary Mount spent a week at Cornell University taking a course in winemaking. He kept buying books, this time on how to make wine.
Wine vines take a while to grow, and their yield increases over time. So newly planted vines produce little juice for wine, which is one reason the grower must wait years for a return on his work and financial investment.
A professional winemaker has helped make the current wines except for the apple wine, which was crafted by Gary Mount and his son-in-law Mike Hanewald using the farm’s apples.
Daughter Reuwai and son-in-law Jim Washburn offered emotional support, the family said, helping to taste the early versions of the wines and sharing in decisions on the wine labels. Those feature common sights around the farm: the tractors that children climb on, the front porch where the family dogs sleep and one of the 100-year-old apple trees.
While a lot of work was involved, Tannwen is quick to say it has also been a lot of fun. “We always like a new challenge around here,” she said.
The challenges haven’t ended. Terhune debuted six wines made from homegrown grapes: Chardonnay, Vidal Blanc, Chambourcin, Barn Red (a blend of Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon), Front Porch Breeze (a Cayuga and Seyval blend) and Cold Soil White (Traminette with a hint of Riesling and Cayuga). The seventh is apple wine. More varieties are in the works.
“We want a full range of fruit wines,” said Tannwen. Peaches, blackberries, blueberries and cherries grown on the farm would be used in future wines.
More red wines also are in the future, she said.
Also part of the future is the next generation of Mounts, their five grandchildren, who could be the 12th generation of family farmers. Tannwen Mount’s 2-year-old son, Becket Washburn, already proclaims, “I’m the farmer,” when he climbs on his grandfather’s tractors.