Monday, December 11, 2017

Wine Takes Root In Garden State With Bumper Crop Of Quality

New Jersey Wine -- We found it to be refreshingly good

I’m a Jersey guy. Even so, I had no idea that a renaissance of winemaking is underway in the Garden State. Read on as we explore a sampling of quality wines from New Jersey.

Images Of New Jersey – Shattered

Born and raised in New Jersey. That’s me. Over the years I’ve taken a lot of flak and the state has been the butt of many a joke. Say what you will, I’ve always known what many don’t: New Jersey isn’t just the Jersey Turnpike and smokestacks. There are areas of great natural beauty such as the Delaware Water Gap and the scenic southern shores. New Jersey also has a strong tradition of agriculture, in locales that seem worlds away from the major metro areas.

I’ve written more than 1,900 blog posts about wine, many of them featuring regional wines and wineries from states like Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Texas, Virginia and even Hawaii. I’m a big booster of regional wineries. There are many well-crafted wines produced outside the “big three” wine producing states of California, Oregon and Washington. You would think I’d know that the wine industry is on the rise in NJ – but it really caught me off guard.

Preparing Crimini Mushroom Ravioli
A Reserve Cab From The Outer Coastal Plain

I participate in the Wine Studio education program, and our most recent exploration was the wine of New Jersey. With trepidation I opened the first bottle: the 2013 Tomasello Winery Palmaris Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve. My daughter prepared some handmade Crimini Mushroom Ravioli.

On the nose, the Palmaris has herbal notes. In the glass the wine is garnet in color. The ravioli looked scrumptious. I wasn’t sure if the wine would measure up.

The first sip was solid assurance that it would. The body is medium to light medium with refreshing notes of cranberry. The blend is 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Petit Verdot and 5% Cabernet Franc. The grapes are 85% estate grown and all come from the Outer Coastal Plain.

The Outer Coastal Plain is no more than 35 miles from the Atlantic Ocean, which provides a maritime influence on the vines. The temperature in the OCP is similar to Rutherford Valley in Napa in terms of degree days, one of the world’s great wine regions. A shorter growing season promotes moderate alcohol and results in approachable, food friendly wines.

This is a very good wine! I was pleasantly surprised with the great winemaking ability shown in this bottle. Each grape variety was fermented and aged separately. The wine is then blended together and aged once more. The wine undergoes malolactic fermentation. It retails for $40.

Tomasello is a third generation winery that was founded more than 80 years ago. Today there are more than 50 other wineries in the Garden State. We sampled several other Jersey wines and its clear that good things are happening in my native state.

Garden State Growth

In the mid-19th century, wine flourished in New Jersey. Prohibition, outlawing the consumption of alcohol in the US, was enacted in 1919 and dealt a crushing blow to the wine industry nationwide. The wine industry remained small in New Jersey until the 1980s. In 1981 the NJ Legislature passed the Farm Winery Act, which exempted low-volume family wineries from restrictions and allowed them to open outlet stores. By 1988, the number of wineries had more than doubled to 15.

In 1984 the Garden State Wine Growers Association was founded and this coalition of wineries, vineyards, grape growers and other industry-related companies have amped up the marketing and created special events. One of their most visible creations is the New Jersey Wine Country Passport. Passport users get their passport book (or app) stamped at each winery. Once a passport book is completed, the holder can receive a pair of free tickets to any GSWGA wine festival and be entered in a drawing for a grand prize trip.

Sharrot Barrel Reserve Chardonnay with fish entree
Diverse Wines, Surprising Quality

There are more than 90 different grape varieties grown in New Jersey – everything from Albariño to Rkatsiteli. We enjoyed a sampling of several wines:

William Heritage 2016 Outer Coastal Plain Chenin Blanc – A limited production (209 cases) of one of our favorite grapes. Finished in stainless steel tanks, this wine has tropical flavors. This family-owned winery has been named New Jersey’s Winery of the Year three times. SRP is $18.

Sharrott Winery 2016 Outer Coastal Plain Barrel Reserve Chardonnay – This is a wine that Chardonnay lovers will embrace. The barrel aging and sur lie process are evident and contribute to a fine wine to accompany fish or poultry. We enjoyed it with fish fillets, risotto and herb garlic pull-apart bread. A deal at $24.99.

Unionville Vineyards 2013 Pheasant Hill Syrah – I was speechless on this one. I had no idea that the winemaking in New Jersey has elevated to the point that we can enjoy a single vineyard Syrah like this one. What a treat. Medium in body with earthy tones, it has a tart flavor and is lighter in style than a typical Syrah. Retail is $32.95 from Unionville Vineyards, which farms six vineyards spread across three counties. They have a range of unique soils and macroclimates.

New Jersey, hold your head high. We found these wines to be engaging and they certainly exceeded all our expectations. You can go home again, and it is pretty tasty when you do!


Unknown said...

Glad you enjoyed the New Jersey wines last month. There is so much more to discover.

Dave Nershi, CSW said...

Thanks, Robin. They were enjoyable. What made it special is that it was unexpected. I didn't realize that wineries and winemaking in NJ had advanced so far. Cheers!

John Cifelli said...

Hi Dave,
Thank you for the very nice words about your home state. We'd love to see you back up this way some time. One item of housekeeping, and one point I'd contest. William Heritage has been named WOTY thrice not twice. (2011, 14, and 15).

I am no expert on the weather in Rutherford, but I am pretty well versed here in New Jersey. Our winters are much colder, and summers are much warmer. As a result, our vines come out of dormancy later, and race to catch up in terms of ripeness. Sometimes we push the upper bound of acceptable ripening temperature, and can lose time during the hottest part of the season. The shorter growing window is the cause for moderate alcohol wines, moreso than a moderating effect of the ocean (except along the immediate coast or maybe the Cape May Peninsula which has wind off water in almost any prevailing direction).
-John Cifelli, GM, Unionville Vineyards

Dave Nershi, CSW said...

Hi John. I've updated the post to reflect three WOTY honors for William Heritage. The original information about two wins came from the William Heritage website. That's quite a record.

Thanks for the insight on the growing window and its moderation of the alcohol level. My comment about temperature relative to Rutherford came from a tech sheet from a New Jersey winery that pointed out that degree days in the Outer Coastal Plain AVA are one degree day less than in Rutherford.

Congratulations to you for such a fine operation at Union Vineyards. I'm impressed with the unique wines produced and the vineyard management.


Dave Nershi, CSW said...

Unionville Vineyards, that is!