While New Jersey is know for its industrial production, favorable tax laws and Atlantic City gambling, the state's wine history is often overlooked. Wine production dates back to 1758 when Great Britain’s Royal Society offered a £200 prize to any colonist in the state who could produce wine that the society considered acceptable. Two residents, William Alexander and Edward Antill, accepted the challenge and produced wine to the likings of the British Royal Society of Arts. Both gentlemen were awarded the prize and so began New Jersey's history of wine. Most of the wine production remains within the state and is sold direcly out of the wineries, however visiting the region is sure to provide a fun day out.
As a wine consumer in the NJ area the GSWGA is an amazing resource. The group has a mobile app that maps out all the wineries in the state and provides navigation to each. The app is also the main interface used to participate in the association Passport Program that awards visitors who check into all wineries in the state the chance to win a grand trip for two! This year's trip destination is Spain (last year's was Portugal) and guests have up to May 15 to complete their visits (download it here). It's not difficult to want to visit some of these wineries since they host recurring events such as: Girls Night Out, which combines yoga, music, food, and wine hosted at Laurita Winery, or Music and Merlot, which has a jazz happy hour at Hopewell Valley Vineyards during the weekend.
Today, the Garden State Wine Growers Association, GSWGA, represents more than 45 wineries in three designated American Viticulture Areas, AVA: Warren Hills, Central Delaware Valley and the Outer Coastal Plain. The state has varied climate profiles; from sandy soils and maritime climate in the south to a humid continental climate guarded by the Appalachians in the north. There is a great variety of grapes grown in the state but the most popular dry wine grapes are Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and the less known Chambourcin for reds, and Chardonnay and Vidal Blanc for whites. Wines of these regions are commanding attention in competitions across the US such as the 2015 Finger Lakes International where the Valenzano Winery and Unionville Vineyards won Double Gold and Gold medals, respectively.
Great part of the success of the region comes from the support the GSWGA has provided to growers since its inception in 1984. The group seeks to educate and inform both the public and wine growers about the wine resources in the area. For example, the group works closely with the newly formed Rutgers Wine Grape Resource Center and Rutgers Agricultural Experimentation Station to educate the wine community on how to improve the quality and yield of grapes in the state (since 2002 the acres of wine production the state have more than doubled with more and more table grape farmers switching to wine production). In addition, the group maintains ties with local government entities and can provide support to those trying to understand government compliance issues when it relates to wine licensing and permitting processes.
New Jersey continues to mark its territory on the US wine map and meanwhile export of these wines continues to grow, locals and visitors alike can enjoy the wines on-site this summer.