Winter is a good time to visit a New Jersey winery
It may be winter, but New Jersey's wineries are booming with things to do.
Tom Cosentino, executive director of The Garden State Wine Growers Association, said there are 50 wineries in the state and another half dozen will open their doors in the next couple of years.
He said right after Prohibition, there were only a half dozen wineries in New Jersey. Up until the 1980s, the only time someone could open a new winery in the state was when the state population grew by a million.
Then in the early '80s, The Farm Winery Act was passed, allowing for the growth of the wine industry. Farms were able to devote three acres of land to promoting and cultivating grapes and producing products that they could sell on premises.
Nowadays, starting up northwest in Warren Hills, there are at least four wineries. In Hunterdon County, there at least four wineries with another opening soon. More wineries are in Monmouth and Ocean counties and in South Jersey, where soil conditions are favorable to grape growing.
Cosentino said chardonnay has been one of the biggest grape varietal in the state. Cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir, French hybrids like chambourcin are also popular in the state. He said Cape May is known for Spanish varietals such as albarino and tempranillo.
He added that New Jersey wines are a great choice for consumers because there really is a wine that satisfies everyone's palates.
New Jersey wines are also being exported. In 2012, the Direct Shipping Law allowed New Jersey wineries to be able to ship to a New Jersey home. The law also allowed out-of-state wineries to ship wine into New Jersey provided that they made more than 250,000 gallons of wine per year.
Cosentino said many New Jersey wineries are shipping out of state but mostly to consumers. One Jersey winery, Tomasello Winery in Hammonton, has been shipping wines to Asia for about a dozen years, he said.
He said winter is an exciting time for wineries. Many people think nothing is happening but vineyard workers are busy pruning the vines and getting them ready for spring planting and August harvesting.
February is Wine and Chocolate Month at New Jersey wineries. So many are participating in the Wine and Chocolate Trail, happening Saturday, Feb. 15 and Sunday, Feb. 16.
"We love doing the Wine and Chocolate Trail because of the fact that the pairing goes so well. Wine and chocolate are the perfect pairing. The cocoa beans and the grapes are both fermented and there's a natural dynamic between pairing wine and chocolate that we know consumers love each year," said Cosentino.
Wineries are encouraged to do something unique for their own vineyard. A lot of them team up with local chocolatiers. So wine and chocolate lovers will go into a tasting room and chocolates will be paired with the wines being served. Many wineries are doing wine dinners for Valentine's Day as well, complete with live entertainment.
Like BYOB restaurants? Each winery in New Jersey can open up to 15 retail outlets, meaning restaurants will partner with a winery and they will sell their wine by the bottle. He said it's an amenity that the restaurant can offer its patrons. While customers can bring any bottle of wine of their choosing into a BYOB, they sometimes may forget. These restaurants have the luxury to then sell a bottle of New Jersey wine to them.
He said he's hoping more and more New Jersey restaurants will start putting New Jersey wines on the menu and spotlighting the wines that are winning awards and being recognized by national publications all over the country.