New Jersey wines: A rising tide

harvest worker in vineyard
WInemaker Mike Beneduce during harvest at his New Jersey Beneduce Vineyards.

America’s defining ethos of freedom, at times a stereotype, is nonetheless a guiding principle that binds the nation. New Jersey embodies this ideal, even when it comes to winemaking. From Bordeaux-style blends, sparkling wines, and ambitious co-ferments, Jersey is paving its identity through freedom of expression. Grape expression.

‘Older European regions have a lot of rules for wine – when to pick, what to grow. American wine doesn’t,’ says Julianne Donnini, an attorney-turned-winemaker at Auburn Road Vineyards.

‘New Jersey has even fewer rules. People have very few expectations of what we’re doing here. It gives us a lot of creativity and flexibility to try making different wines.’

More than 80 varieties are grown in the region (with about 57 wineries), including Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir, Riesling, Sangiovese, Albariño, Chardonnay, Merlot and Petit Verdot.

Small family businesses operate most vineyards. Setting up viable winemaking has taken time, especially because history has not played in Jersey’s favour.

Prohibition and over-regulation

Even though vines were planted in New Jersey since the colonial era of the 1700s, a combination of phylloxera in the 1800s and Prohibition from 1920 to 1933 nearly decimated all winemaking. Following the repeal of Prohibition, New Jersey instated a law that allowed only one winery license for every million state residents.

To put that into perspective, in 1933, there were about four million residents in the state, which meant only four wineries could be granted a license. The restrictive law was repealed in 1981 with the Farm Winery Act, leading to a Jersey wine resurgence.

In 1999, fifth-generation farmers like Bill and Penni Heritage began swapping their 60ha of peach and apple orchards for vineyards. Today, they produce the state’s leading wines, including Bordeaux blends and traditional method blanc de blancs and blanc de noirs sparkling wines.

‘We need to establish ourselves as being present and deserving,’ says Devon Perry, executive director of the Garden State Wine Growers Association.

‘Every sip of New Jersey wine is an epiphany experience. We are shocking people that this exists. We’re growing on you.’

A tractor crosses the Beneduce Vineyards estate. Credit: Beneduce Vineyards

Topography and climate

New Jersey is in the northeastern United States, nestled right below New York. The Finger Lakes are around 500km to the north. The Delaware River to the west and the Atlantic Ocean to the east provide moderating and maritime influences.

New Jersey has four AVAs: the largest is the Outer Coastal Plain, which spans the southeastern part of the state, while Warren Hills is in the northwest. The Central Delaware Valley is shared with eastern Pennsylvania, and finally, the Cape May Peninsula in the south. Collectively, there are more than 640ha of planted vineyards.

Sandy loam soils dominate the region; there is more clay composition in the north and sand in the south. Night-time temperatures are lower up north, aiding diurnal shift and acidity retention.

Hurricane season and rainstorms are commonplace in the summer and autumn. The Delaware River and rolling hills act as barriers that tend to break up the clouds. Canopy management and spraying are used to manage disease pressure from the region’s humidity.

New Jersey gets about 100cm of rainfall a year with vast annual variation – some years are wetter than others and hard to predict. If this sounds like Bordeaux, that’s because it is very similar. The climate and topography resemble the French region’s, and Jersey wine producers have taken note by planting accordingly.

Winemaker at William Heritage, Kevin Bednar, says birds can also be a nuisance, and in the way of American innovation, he’s employing new ways to deter them.

‘You know those dancing blow-up guys from a used car lot? We put them…

Source : https://www.decanter.com/learn/new-jersey-wines-a-rising-tide-523469/