Marla Cimini on January 7, 2017 0 Comments For wine drinkers, New Jersey may be considered an under-the-radar American region, but today, the wine business has improved dramatically in the Garden State. Although wine lovers may not instantly think of New Jersey when deciding which varietal to sip with dinner, things are changing rapidly as the region is being recognized by experts worldwide. It’s also receiving an abundance of awards and gaining devoted fans in recent years. Dating back to the Colonial times, New Jersey has always been considered a fruitful region for growing wine grapes. However, prohibition negatively affected the wine business, and for almost 50 years — from 1933 until 1981 (when the Farm Winery Act was passed) — only about six wineries existed in the state. Currently, there are over 80 varieties of grapes growing throughout New Jersey and over 2000 acres of wine grape production. Wine enthusiasts may be surprised to learn that the sandy soil of Southern New Jersey’s Atlantic and Cape May Counties provides similar growing conditions as the famed Bordeaux region in France. Some of the leading vinifera crops are doing especially well, such as cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, chardonnay, pinot grigio and vidal blanc. Some New Jersey wineries also continue to make wines from Native American grapes like Concord, Catawba and Cayuga, among others. Tom Cosentino, the executive director of the Garden State Wine Growers Association (GSWGA), explains why New Jersey wines are more popular that ever — and discusses why it’s the optimal time to get familiar with some of the wines, visit the wineries and taste a variety of vintages. How did you discover New Jersey wine? I love New Jersey wine and have been a proponent of drinking it since the early 1990’s when I first discovered the Atlantic City-area wineries Renault and Tomasello. I have attended GSWGA festivals for years with my wife and worked in the industry in a PR and marketing capacity. I also love being involved with agriculture. It is so exciting to actually represent the industry and be in a position to raise the public’s consciousness for New Jersey wine in my job. In the last ten years, the NJ wine scene has been growing tremendously. Can you explain why this phenomenon is happening? I attribute this growth to winemakers really honing their craft and experimenting with the grape varietals grown to produce great wines for the public. We have many fine enologists that are working with our wineries and now, through years of trial and error, our wineries know what grows best in their regions. Please tell us about the Viticultural Areas in the state of New Jersey. New Jersey also boasts three American Viticultural Areas (AVAs), which are federally recognized grape growing regions. The three regions are: the Central Delaware Valley AVA, which is shared with portions of eastern Pennsylvania; the Outer Coastal Plain AVA, covering nine southern counties and the Warren Hills AVA. What is so unique about NJ wines? What are the best-selling wines and why do you think that is? New Jersey has something for everyone and no one grape defines the state. Those wine drinkers who love sweet wine can enjoy numerous fruit wines made from fresh produce like apples, blueberries and peaches. Dry wine aficionados can enjoy a bevy of vinifera wines, like cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, chardonnay and merlot. Which varietals do you think NJ wineries do best? All of our varietals are meeting the individual tastes of consumers. This state is so diverse and our population’s tastes and the character of our wine is a reflection of that. From wines in southern New Jersey that can compare to European Bordeaux-style wines, to dry white wines up north to fruit wines, we have something the entire population of the state can embrace. Why are New Jersey wineries such great places to visit? Each New Jersey winery offers a unique experience. No two wineries look alike — nor are they encouraged to market alike. Visitors to our tasting rooms most often get to meet the owner and/or winemaker and are able to ask questions about the wines they are sampling. On weekends, many of wineries showcase live music and host other special events. What is the Wine Country Passport book and why should visitors use it? It’s a great way to visit the wineries and way to keep track of the wineries visited. Each winery has a page in the book, and as customers travel throughout the state, they get pages stamped when they visit different wineries. Customers have three years to complete the book. Finished books are mailed into a drawing that is held each May at our Memorial Day festival. The owner of the winning passport book wins a trip for two to a renowned wine destination. This year’s winners are traveling to Willamette Valley in Oregon. Previous winners have gone to Spain, Germany and other European locales. What would surprise wine aficionados the most about wines made in New Jersey? I would say the overall quality of our wines. Many people may not realize that wine is made in all 50 states — not just New York, California, Washington and Oregon. We live in a great agricultural state known for fresh produce that includes peaches, apples, corn and tomatoes. It is only natural to think we could grow good grapes. With three federally-designated AVA regions, and a wine growing history that dates back to the colonial era, New Jersey has a solid history of grape growing for wine and now is capitalizing on the emergence of dedicated winemakers and operations that can carry the product to the masses. What is needed now is a greater agri-tourism push to promote our vineyards and tasting rooms as destination hubs. Once people visit our wineries, they are hooked! Getting more restaurants and liquor stores to carry New Jersey wines will also help this along. What would surprise “occasional” wine drinkers about NJ wines? I think occasional wine drinkers would enjoy the variety of product made here, and especially how well it matches up with wines they may try at a big box retailer or liquor store. When is the best time to visit NJ wineries and why? Any time is a good time! We advise everyone to check out our website for a listing of all wineries and tasting room schedules. Most of our wineries are open on weekdays, which is a great time to stop in and have a tasting. Weekends are always busy at wineries, since most are hosting special events, musical performances and other activities. It’s always best to visit the individual winery’s website for updated scheduling information. What are some of the special events held at the wineries? There are a number of fantastic events each year that draw large numbers of visitors to our vineyards. Two popular events are the Valentine’s Wine and Chocolate trail; and our Holiday wine trail weekend that follows Thanksgiving each year. An economic impact study we commissioned in 2011 showed that over 100,000 customers visit NJ wineries and events. I believe that number has risen since then! What new trends are you seeing in the NJ wine business? We’re finding that our wine drinkers are really enjoying some of the complex blends. For example, the wineries are seeing a lot of requests for the Couer d’Est, a red wine blend made exclusively from grapes grown in the Outer Coastal Plain AVA. Coeur d’Est is a combination of up to five varietals; cabernet franc, chambourcin, syrah, cabernet sauvignon and merlot. Each of the participating wineries has established their own unique blend of Coeur d’Est. Why and how are NJ wines different from other nearby wine regions, such as PA or NY? I believe our variety makes us stand out. We do not focus on one signature wine like other regions do. Instead we let the consumer dictate what fits their palate best. That’s why so many of our wineries will make a high-end vinifera product like chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc while also making a sweet wine. New Jersey wines have been receiving a number of awards recently. Can you please tell us about them? New Jersey wineries continue to win awards in major wine competitions held all over the country. These are just some of the many honors our wineries have earned: Alba Vineyard recently won Best of Show — Best Pinot Noir for their 2013 Pinot Noir in the Atlantic Seaboard Competition. Tomasello Winery recently won a Best of Show — Best Dessert Wine for their 2014 Vidal Blanc Ice Wine in the New Jersey State Fair 1st Annual Commercial Wine Competition. The Tomasello Winery 2012 Palmaris won silver in the 2016 China Wine & Spirits Competition. In the prestigious Finger Lakes International Wine Competition, three New Jersey wineries took home Double Gold medals: Auburn Road Vineyards for their Vidal Blanc NV Sole; Natali Vineyards Other White Varietal — Vinifera 2015 Albarino; and Villari Vineyards’ 2013 Chambourcin. In that same competition, New Jersey wineries also earned five gold medals: Alba Vineyard 2013 Estate Pinot Noir; Chestnut Run Farm NV Spiced Sweet Asian Pear; Old York Cellars 2014 Syrah; Sharrott Winery 2014 Unoaked Chardonnay and NV Dry Riesling. Which NJ wines do you recommend for a holiday dinner? Red wines that pair well with heartier autumn fare are cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, merlot and syrah. If you prefer whites, then I think chardonnay, Riesling, viognier are excellent choices, and the native Cayuga wines provide a nice touch to any meal. Rosé wines go well with ham as well as turkey, assorted cheeses, fruit, salad and other appetizers. What about dessert? For dessert, you can combine some of the great fruit wines that New Jersey vintners produce, including apple, blueberry, cranberry, raspberry and blackberry wines — as well as port. And don’t forget…New Jersey’s cranberry wine is also great to serve with your turkey!