New Jersey doesn’t get enough press for its ability to grow grapes, but it should. The history of New Jersey wine is long and storied, beginning in the late 1750s when, per 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,” and colonial New Jersey residents William Alexander and Edward Antill stepped forward to accept the challenge. The rest, as they say, is history. Since then, New Jersey producers have faced the same challenges as other cool climate wine regions in eastern North America (cold conditions, humidity, disease pressure, Prohibition, restrictive alcohol laws, etc.), but they’ve come out on top.
Flash forward to the modern-day New Jersey wine industry: According to the GSWGA, New Jersey is home to about 50 wineries and three AVAs (American Viticulture Areas): Warren Hills AVA, Central Delaware Valley AVA, and the Outer Coastal Plain AVA. The combination of Northern New Jersey’s humid mesothermal climate and Southern New Jersey’s breezy, temperature-moderating maritime climate allows for growing many different types of grapes…about a hundred varieties, to be exact. And 250 years of grape growing are paying off in more ways than just delicious flavors: Wine production contributes approximately $30-$40 million annually to the state’s economy.
A couple of months ago, I had the pleasure of participating in #winestudio’s four-week web-based virtual tasting of New Jersey wines, and we were introduced to some of New Jersey’s premier producers and a selection of sparkling and still wines, including chardonnay, chenin blanc, syrah, and a cabernet sauvignon/petit verdot blend. The online conversation and tastings with the Garden State Wine Growers Association, Unionville Vineyards, Tomasello Winery, William Heritage Winery, and Sharott Winery were definitive proof that we all need to pay more attention to New Jersey as a rising star in North American wine.
Week 1: 2013 Palmaris Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon from 3rd generation winegrowers, Tomasello Winery in Hammonton, NJ.
The nose is smoky and musky with a perfumy quality; think herbes de Provence with a healthy dose of lavender, lots of black fruit and dark plumminess, and a very subtle spice element from oak. All of these characteristics carry over onto the 13.7% ABV palate, and the oak is more apparent on the tastebuds. Overall, a very nice wine.
Week 2: 2016 Estate Grown Chenin Blanc from 6th generation winegrowers, William Heritage Winery in Richwood, NJ.
The aromas are simply beautiful in this wine: White flowers, peach, and tropical notes abound. The aromas are mirrored on the palate with a flinty character. I wished for a little more acid and mid-palate weight, but the ample residual sugar (10 g/L) was a great foil for our salty/fatty smoked sausage and cruciferous sautéed cabbage dinner pairing, and its sweet notes complemented our buttery sweet potato mash perfectly.
Week 3: 2016 Barrel Reserve Chardonnay from Sharrott Winery in Hammonton, NJ.
This is an American Chardonnay lover’s Chardonnay! There is a bold nose of smoky and spicy oak with lots of butter/diacetyl. Upon sipping, it has a nice weight and texture, with its ripe pear flavors not exhibiting quite as much smoke as its aromas until the finish, where the oak comes in with fresh wood, flint, and smoke characteristics. I’d really love to try Sharrott’s unoaked version of Chardonnay to carry that lovely fresh ripe pear trait to the next level.
Week 4: 2013 Estate Grown and Bottled Pheasant Hill Syrah from Unionville Vineyards in Ringoes, NJ.
The nose seemed to be a little bit horsey upon opening this wine, which distracted me from the fruit while swirling and sniffing. However, in time, it seemed to dissipate completely and turn into earth and wet stone aromas. With every sip, I became more entranced with this wine. Tart cherries, cranberries, and a hint of cedar flooded my taste buds, and juicy, mouthwatering acid, silky tannins, and a medium-minus weight made this wine extremely food-friendly. The very subtle oak influence is elegant and well-integrated, leading me to believe that it was 100% neutral oak (later confirmed by the winemaker). A beautiful violet/floral character completed the experience. I really loved this wine and could see adding it to my regular rotation if I can get my hands on some more.
I guess I need to plan a visit to New Jersey wine country ASAP! And so should you.