High on the list

Cava Winery

One of the appeals of operating a winery in New Jersey is scalability. Whether it’s a small family business or a growing corporate enterprise, the ability to address scores of niches in a population of umpteen million potential wine lovers within an hour’s drive is a natural energizer for a wealth of ideas. Some wines take a month, some take years. In Sussex County, three wineries have emerged that appeal to a broad range of people, all of whom appreciate good wine.

Anthony Riccio and Larry Ciccarelli have been friends since they met at Fort Dix over twenty years ago. Both went on to distinguished service in the Army—Anthony in Afghanistan, Larry mostly stateside—and they remained close when they returned to civilian life. In 2007, Anthony and his wife, Deneah, after tracing the family lineage back to Italy and finding their name on a wine bottle, decided bring a taste of the Old World to a piece of property across the road from where they lived at Crystal Springs in Hamburg. Their first call was to Larry.

Larry Ciccarelli and Jeff Blake in production at Cava Winery.

“I thought it was joke,” Larry remembers. “I’ve been his accountant for years, and I figured he was going to make a little wine for fun.” But it was no joke, and seven years later Riccio and Ciccarelli find themselves partners in a multi-faceted business with a promising future. “You see all this beautiful stuff now, which is a credit to Anthony and Deneahs’s ability to keep it going through tough times that were lean for everybody,” adds Larry. “It started to get busy in 2011, and I started to get more involved. Now we employ forty-five people, full and part-time, including a highly skilled management staff that handles production, hospitality and distribution sales.” Neither Anthony nor Larry counts himself among the paid employees. Concentrating solely on growth, they have taken nothing out of the business, both still busy with their other careers.

The winery, which they called Cava (Italian for “cave”) in tribute to the mining heritage of the surrounding highlands, occupies acreage along Route 94 that has a long history as a restaurant and bar. In fact, Jeff Blake remembers spending some time there years ago, before he left his home in Franklin to attend the University of Colorado where he studied geology. He became fascinated with the fermentation process when creating a model for a solar distillation apparatus, and went on the graduate studies in malting and brewing science and oenology at the University of California at Davis. Having helped open beer breweries in California, Idaho and Utah, and, in the meantime, visiting over two-hundred wineries around the world, Jeff finds himself back home as winemaker (the “mad scientist”) at Cava.

Jeff Blake readies the bottling machine at Cava, which can fill and label eight hundred bottles an hour. “It takes three hours to do what it would take three guys three days to do,” says Blake. “Between hospitality and sales, we’re never sitting on too much wine.”

In addition to the robust European-style wines that inspired the Riccio’s original vision, a portfolio that includes recognizable traditional barrel-aged wines (Sangiovese, Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir), Cava produces white, blended, and fruit-infused wines. The winery also makes fruit wines from peaches, blackberries blueberries, pears, and the very popular “Skylands Apple Pie”; from the highest quality cider apples infused with flavors “right down to the pie crust.” Some wines take a month, some take years, but Blake is prolific, and his skills are gaining a dedicated following. A recent Pinot Noir gained particular notice. “Pinot Noirs can be difficult grapes to work with,” says Jeff. “There’s things at the very end of the aroma wheel, that smell like old leather and burnt rubber that can crop up really fast. I’ve never really liked Pinot Noir—burnt rubber doesn’t appeal to me—so I was very careful to avoid those!” The vineyards at Cava, five acres planted at the winery’s inception in 2007, gain character from the soil’s high mineral content, and are used primarily in Cava’s sparkling estate wines. “You can grow grapes anywhere,” says the winemaker. “The trick is getting the right ones. We grow a lot of hybrids designed for cold weather.”

For the visitor, Cava Winery is unique in that it also contains a restaurant where a tour and tasting can culminate with dinner chosen from full bistro style menu. Tastings come in two flavors; either a quick visit to an indoor or outdoor bar or a more complete experience in the tasting room where parties are presented with menus of wine flights (sweet, dark red, white, etc.) with food. The tasting rooms and café are open 12-6pm on weekends, with hours extending until 9pm on Saturdays beginning late this spring.

Ciccarelli’s guidance in Cava’s business development is deliberate and steady, but always forward. This winter he developed an intensified marketing effort to distribute Cava wines to liquor stores, high end golf courses, a private aircraft company; any outlet that can help balance the seasonal nature of their local hospitality business. Other sales come through Retail Outlet Premises agreements, by which restaurants without a liquor license can sell under the Cava license. More revenue comes from direct sales to the consumer at various New Jersey wine festivals. Even if you don’t make it to Hamburg, you’re likely to enjoy a bottle of Cava wine soon!

Cava Winery and Vineyard
3619 Route 94, Hamburg, NJ 07419 • (973) 823-9463

Nearby accommodations and attractions

  • Franklin Mineral Museum
  • "The Fluorescent Mineral Capitol of the World" Fluorescent, local & worldwide minerals, fossils, artifacts, two-level mine replica. New activity "The Adventure Package" includes gem panning, fossil dig and rock collecting! Gift shop, picnic area. Open daily.

    32 Evans Street, Franklin 07416, 973/827-3481

  • Milk Street Distillery
  • Makers of fine hand crafted spirits: Black Vulture Vodka, Wooden Leg Rum, and Dam Break Rye. We are new, but striving to bring you aged whiskeys as soon as nature will allow us. Open for tours and tastings: Fri., 4-8; Sat. 1-7; Sun 1-6.

    1 Milk St., Building 1, Branchville 07826, 973/948-0178

    Makers of fine hand crafted spirits: Black Vulture Vodka, Wooden Leg Rum, and Dam Break Rye. We are new, but striving to bring you aged whiskeys as soon as nature will allow us. Open for tours and tastings: Fri., 4-8; Sat. 1-7; Sun 1-6.

    1 Milk St., Building 1, Branchville 07826, 973/948-0178

  • High Point Mountain Motel
  • Pet friendly, AAA-rated motel offers all the comforts of home on seven country acres on a spectacular hillside location minutes from High Point State Park and Appalachian Trail. Cozy, warmly decorated rooms with up-to-your-door parking offer free Wi-Fi and flat-screen TVs, plus microwaves and minifridges. Kids age 12 and under stay for no extra charge.

    1328 Route 23, Wantage 07461, 973/702-1860

  • Ochs Orchard
  • Homegrown fruits and vegetables available when in season. Honey, peanut butter, jams and jellies, homemade hard and soft ice-cream. Cider made on site from Red Delicious for sweetness, Winesap for tang, McIntosh and Empire for body. Honey, peanut butter, jams and jellies, homemade hard and soft ice-cream. Market open June through January.

    4 Ochs Ln, Warwick 10990, 845/986-1591

  • Tall Timbers Seasonal Resort Community
  • Private campground community offering affordable vacations that include central water and sewage disposal, boating, hiking,fishing and planned activities throughout the summer for all ages. Located minutes from Mountain Creek and only 55 minutes from New York.

    100 Tall Timbers Rd, Sussex 07461, 973/875-1991



25 Sep 2014, 14:01
Try the apple pie wine, deeeeelicciousssss!
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