For NJ Vineyards, summer drought meant better wines

NEW JERSEY – The harvest season after a summer when drought conditions set in may have been difficult for some farmers, but for New Jersey grape growers, it has been a boon.

Winemakers aren’t anticipating a harvest that will produce some of the best wines New Jersey has bottled in over 10 years.

“This year in New Jersey was more like where I’m sitting right now,” Gary Pavlis, a Rutgers University professor and expert in New Jersey’s grape and blueberry industries, said by phone from the Italian region of Tuscany, where he leads a wine tour.

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“Once these wines are in the bottle, it’s time to refuel,” Pavlis said, adding that this year’s vintage is expected to be the best since 2010, when the state experienced an equally dry and hot summer. . “If you haven’t started this winery, 2022 might be the time.”

Bruce Morrison, owner of Jessie Creek Winery in Cape May Courthouse, said it was the best season he had had since venturing into winemaking in the mid-2000s. Morrison was drawn to the winemaking after a trip to Napa Valley in California and grows five varieties of grapes, including pinot grigio, chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, merlot and chambourcin.

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Pavlis said drought conditions don’t negatively affect grapes the way they harm other crops, such as corn or lettuce, due to a difference in the root structure of the crops.

“With most crops, like corn, lettuce, strawberries, the roots are in the top 12 inches of soil,” Pavlis said.

The vines have roots known to go up to 30 feet deep. “They are looking for water,” he said. Most vineyards are not irrigated for this reason, he said.

“Grapes love wrestling,” Morrison said. “They like the challenge.”

Dry weather also reduces the incidence of diseases, Pavlis said, which can spread more easily when vineyards remain wet for long periods.

Although the spotted lanternfly has been a statewide concern, Pavlis said the pesky insect hasn’t caused significant damage so far.

“It’s a problem but we don’t see it as a catastrophic thing,” he said. “You have to be above control.”

Morrison said he has yet to see any of the destructive mottled lanterns in his vineyard, but has had to deal with beetles and the grapevine moth, which specifically targets grapes. It’s a bigger problem, he said.

Billy Postma of Little Ridge Vineyards in Phillipsburg said dappled lanterns have been a bigger problem in the northwest part of the state.

“This year is worse than last year,” Postma said, although this year he was better equipped to deal with it than last year, when “we actually lost plants to them.”

“We didn’t know what to spray, how much to spray, and they kept coming,” he said. This year, lanterns are primary on the plants closest to the woods. “They go up the plants and come down. I think we’ve got them under control pretty well.”

Dry weather that reduces disease also produces better grapes because less water means flavor is more concentrated, Pavlis said. The yield is lower because the grapes are smaller, but the grapes themselves are better.

“Grapes have a higher brix,” Morrison said, which is the sugar content of grapes.

However, the process of getting it from the vine to your glass takes time, patience, and hard work.

For white wines, Morrison said the grapes harvested right now will be bottled and ready in about four to six months, as these wines don’t undergo an aging process.

Red wines take at least 18 months, and often up to two years, before they are fully aged for bottling, he said, and the process includes changing barrels, removing sediment and sulphite monitoring to ensure the wine does not oxidize.

Morrison said one acre of grapes will produce about 160 gallons of wine, with each gallon producing five bottles.

In New Jersey, there are more than 50 wineries, with locations across the state and a range of sizes, from what Morrison described as wineries like his, which has 5 acres of vineyards, to much larger wineries such as Tomasello Winery, with its 70 acres of vineyards and several wine tasting locations.

The Garden State Wine Growers Association said New Jersey had wine growers dating back to the late 1750s, when two New Jersey men, William Alexander and Edward Antill, took up the challenge of settlers from Britain’s Royal Society to produce a wine that was of the quality that the British were buying from France.

The oldest winery is the Renault Winery in Egg Harbor Township, which has been in operation since 1864 and has become the largest champagne distributor in the United States.

The wine industry has grown significantly in New Jersey since 2000, and the state now has four U.S. Designated Wine Areas: Cape May Peninsula, Warren Hills AVA, Central Delaware Valley AVA, and Outer Coastal Plain AVA.

The taste of wines from each region is influenced by the environment in which the grapes grow.

The 2010 vintage wines led to what the winemakers association calls the state’s “industry watershed moment…when a blind taste test between 10 NJ wines and French wines – 5 from Burgundy and 5 from Bordeaux – resulted in a tie”. The June 2012 taste test showed no significant taste difference “between the New Jersey red blend and a Premier Cru Bordeaux, or between a New Jersey Chardonnay and a Premier Cru Burgundy”.

Pavlis said the 2022 season promises the same.

“We are looking for fabulous wines from north to south,” he said.

Faced with the growing popularity of tastings and guided tours, the association of winegrowers has created “wine routes” to help promote the different wine estates and highlight their offer. For some, it’s concerts and special events that draw people in for an evening of wine, food and fun. For others, the draw is a place to sit with friends, relax, and enjoy a day or evening sipping wine around a fire pit.

Morrison said the growth of the industry has put an emphasis on looking beyond the glass in front of you.

“It’s like going to a baseball or football game with friends,” Morrison said. “You go tailgate, hang out, have fun. That’s the whole experience.”

The Wine Trails, which in some cases include local breweries and distilleries, and the Winemaker Passport Program are intended to draw attention to lesser-known wineries and promote the depth of the industry in the state for those who love tasting offers.

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