The Garden State of New Jersey offers a wealth of attractions for both the tourist and the local. Beautiful beaches, pine forests and rolling green countryside create a diverse and visually attractive landscape that inspires a love of the great outdoors, and the popular coastal resort of Atlantic City and prestigious university town of Princeton add a further dimension to the state’s appeal. Agriculture has a proud history here, and viticulture itself has been practiced within state bounds since as far back as the mid 1700s. However, Prohibition and its subsequent legacy of strict alcohol production regulations meant that New Jersey’s wine industry was only really able to get going when rules were relaxed at the start of the 1980s.
Today, the state has around eight-hundred hectares under wine, four official AVAs and more than fifty wineries producing wines in a range of styles from a diverse grape pool which includes both American hybrid and Vitis Vinifera varieties. Most of the wine production in New Jersey takes place in the state’s south-eastern corner within the Outer Coastal Plain and Cape Peninsula AVAs (the latter being contained entirely within the former), but Warren Hills in the west, and the Central Delaware Valley - which covers wine growing communities in Pennsylvania as well as New Jersey - are also designated viticultural areas.
The climate here - particularly that of the Outer Coastal Plain AVA - is heavily influenced by the Atlantic Ocean, which moderates extremes in temperature during summer and winter. Various river systems inland have a similar effect on other areas, thus the state’s winemakers enjoy a long growing season enabling their grapes to achieve full ripeness by harvest time. Free draining soils of sand, slate and gravel complete a terroir in which a number of grapes have been found to thrive. Bordeaux varieties Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, along with Italian grapes, Sangiovese and Barbera, are amongst the most prevalent reds, whilst Chardonnay and the hybrid, Vidal Blanc, are the most popular whites. Some of the more northerly vineyards have had success with Pinot Noir and Riesling, whilst comparatively obscure Grüner Veltliner and Zweigelt are also fairly well represented.
The passing of the New Jersey Farm Winery Act in 1981 has undoubtedly served as a catalyst for a renaissance in the state’s wine industry. Small scale, boutique and family-run operations that were previously crippled by restriction are now producing varietals and blends of outstanding quality - many of which have received acclaim in both domestic and international competitions. And the implementation of the Quality Wine Alliance in 1999 has further improved the industry, bringing it closer to the more stringent French appellation system. What seemed unlikely thirty years ago is set to become reality in the near future: a state most famous as the birthplace of Bruce Springsteen and the television series The Sopranos, is becoming equally well known for its delectable wines which are lauded by consumers and critics alike.