The Garden State’s wine scene is proving exciting. It’s in close proximity to major Northeastern hubs, easy to visit, and intriguing to explore. It has a long winemaking history, but in just the last 30 years, the state has made incredible progress since the New Jersey Farm Winery Act’s passing in 1981. Vineyards span multiple regions, with an array of fertile soil types and climates, allowing for much to be explored with an enormous amount of potential. Being celebrated now, it’s an indication of an even brighter future.
The New Jersey wine scene is ready to prove its quality in the global wine market, prepared to compete with some of the best in the country and the world. The results have verified they’re correct. In June 2012, George M. Taber, with economists and wine professionals from the American Association of Wine Economists, put together the “Judgement of Princeton,” a replication of the infamous Judgment of Paris of 1979. The competition pitted New Jersey wines against high-end and renowned Bordeaux and Burgundy wines. Although met with initial skepticism and French wines taking the number one spots, New Jersey wines held their own. They took the number two, three, and four spots for Chardonnay and the number three spot for reds. The competition has been picked apart since its results, but one thing became clear—New Jersey wines are worth looking at for both quality and value, and they deserve their spot among some of the country’s top regions—if not the world’s.
Since then, New Jersey wines have performed consistently well in competitions across the country. In the state’s own New Jersey Wine Competition, everything from sparkling to fortified and in between is rated and scored by the Beverage Testing Institute out of Chicago. In 2020, the Governor’s Cup accolade was given to Sharrott Winery’s 2018 Merlot, Beneduce Vineyards’ 2019 Tuxedo, and William Heritage’s 2018 Late Harvest Semillon, with Sharrott taking Best in Show overall in the competition. Best in Class awards are given to New Jersey’s eclectic and varied wine styles, from sparkling wines to those made from hybrid grapes and from fruit to fortified wines. New Jersey wines have also performed well outside of the state.
In the San Francisco Chronicle Competition, New Jersey wineries have taken a number of Double Gold medals in recent years including Pilesgrove-based Auburn Road Vineyards 2019 White Bottle Chardonnay in 2021. Autumn Lake Winery in Williamstown took home a pair of Gold Medals as did Sky Acres Winery in Somerset and Sharrott Winery of Hammonton also took home one.
At the 2021 Finger Lakes International Wine Competition, Plagido’s Winery in Hammonton in Atlantic County won for Best Cabernet Sauvignon with its 2017 vintage and a Gold for the 2017 Cabernet Franc, while Working Dog Winery of Hightstown won Double Gold for the 2016 Retriever Cabernet Franc. Many of the wineries scoring big in these competitions have only been operating in New Jersey for less than twenty years—young in wine years.
There were only four working wineries in the state before the passing of the New Jersey Farm Winery Act. The number has grown to over 50 in 2021, with more ready to open in the next few years. A lot of winery owners and winemakers are flocking to the state with the fervor of producing top-quality wines with fun consumer experiences and are ready to put New Jersey on the map. And they’re opening throughout the state—to explore different environments and innovate in style and grape varieties. Many of these newer wineries include Federal Twist Vineyard in Stockton along the Delaware River, Fox Hollow Vineyards in Holmdel in Monmouth County, and Little Ridge Vineyards in Phillipsburg in hilly, picturesque Warren County. In addition, Hammonton, the “blueberry capital” of the world, has become somewhat of a hub for winery visits, including that of historic Tomasello and Renault Winery’s, DiMatteo Winery, Plagido’s and Sharrott Winery and White Horse Winery, all encouraging wine and beverage lovers to come and take a tour.
Popping up in New Jersey are easy trails and tours for wine and beer lovers alike, making it easy for anyone out-of-town to plan a day’s outing. The Garden State Winegrower’s Association has resources to help plan visits to wineries all over the state. There are six wine regions in the state and curated trails to explore that can have you traveling the state or anywhere from the southern tip of Cape May to the Two Bridges Trail across the Delaware River. There are also curated trails in Hunterdon County and one that crosses Monmouth and Ocean Counties. Visitors can also check out the Vintage Wine Trail visiting some of New Jersey’s oldest and long-established wineries from Beneduce in Pittstown to Unionville Vineyards in Ringoes. The state has also teamed up with the state’s breweries and distilleries. Their first—the Wine and Ale Trail of South Jersey—hits the wineries in the Hammonton region while also exploring 13th Child Brewery and Tomfoolery Brewing, among others, so you can mix up your day trip. They have also launched a Passport Program and App, so if you visit these wineries, you can share photos and videos and enter to win deals for wines, tasting trips, and a Grand Prize Wine Country Vacation.
The state is investing heartily into its wine scene, knowing that it truly has potential and a lot to offer, from different grape varieties from hybrids to Blaufränkisch and its very own San Marco. And emerging out of lockdown, the state knows it has a lot more to offer and an identity that needs proper care and growth. New Jersey wines will hopefully gain distribution to other states across the country, and the hope is that restaurants abroad and locally will start helping to build that foundation as they open back up. Wineries in New Jersey are pushing for local restaurants throughout New Jersey to showcase their wines and give them the spotlight they deserve—and that is only the beginning.