Our November #winestudio focused on the wines of New Jersey. I have vivid memories of my childhood, running through the family farm of my Great Aunt Stella (on my mom’s side) who raised chickens and vegetables. I remember chasing my brothers through rows of corn and playing tag in Manville, New Jersey. I remember visiting my grandparents in Lebanon, N.J. and going to the New Jersey State Fair, where I met my very first “boyfriend,” who won a Journey shirt for me playing a dart game. Those days were very long ago and I had to confirm the locations with my mom. Her response was – “I wasn’t even aware that New Jersey made wines.”
And that, I believe, is something that must change. It’s not like New Jersey is just getting started in the wine industry – it’s been growing grapes since the late 1750s. According to the Garden State Wine Growers Association (GSWGA), Great Britain’s Royal Society offered £100 to any colonist who would produce red or white wine ‘of acceptable quality, meaning the wine was of the same caliber as that being purchased from France. New Jersey Residents William Alexander and Edward Antill raised their hand and accepted the challenge.
The Hunterdon Grape Growers and South Jersey Wine Growers, both formulated in 1985, came together to form the New Jersey Grape Growers Association in 1987. The boom came in 2000 and there are three designated American Viticultural Areas (AVAs): Warren Hills AVA, Central Delaware Valley AVA, and the Outer Coastal Plain AVA with more than 50 members. The region is top 15 in wine production and has about 100 varieties in production.
I walked in not knowing what to expect and I walked out with an appreciation for the region. I definitely found myself wishing I could find more of Heritage’s Brut as well as Tomasello’s Palmaris 2013 Outer Coastal Plain Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve.
I didn’t love everything that I tried, but I liked a lot of what I did. We tried some of New Jersey’s premier producers with a selection of sparkling and still wines, including chardonnay, chenin blanc, syrah, and a cabernet sauvignon/petit verdot blend. The #winestudio program included online conversation and tastings with the Garden State Wine Growers Association, Unionville Vineyards, Tomasello Winery, William Heritage Winery and Sharott Winery. It was clear that the GSWGA and these winemakers had bigger plans for New Jersey domination than what existing today. I completely agree with their plan. This region has a branding and distribution problem, not a quality problem.