With the summer nearly behind us (we can’t believe it either), the Garden State’s grape growers have returned to the vineyards for harvest, and the early reports are in — this year is well on the way to being another winner for New Jersey’s wine industry.

“The New Jersey Wine industry continues on its path of establishing an identity as a fine wine-producing region,” said Daniel Ward, Ph.D., Associate Extension Specialist in Pomology (literally, the science of growing fruit). And this guy really knows his stuff: He’s also the Director of both the New Jersey Center for Wine Research and Education and the Rutgers Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Bridgeton.

New Jersey’s vineyards run the gamut from new growers with young vineyards producing their first vintages to a few old vineyards — to many in-between. “Our wineries demand high-quality grapes and the growers here predominantly use high-input, intensive management practices to maximize fruit quality,” Ward said. “We are in the time of the season where much of the fruit ripening occurs — and it’s going really well.”

Weather is one of the most important variables in grape growing — a harsh winter can ruin a harvest, or result in small berries with poor flavor. According to Ward, the relatively mild winter and spring created excellent growing conditions for crops in all three of the state’s American Viticultural Areas – Warren Hills, Outer Coastal Plain, and the Central Delaware Valley (shared with the state of Pennsylvania). “Moderate water stress enhances grape fruit quality. Much of the state has been experiencing moderate water stress and if it continues until harvest, fruit quality should be outstanding,” he said. What's Next for NJ Wines“High-quality fruit is the key determinant of an excellent vintage, and if this weather pattern continues we expect another excellent year.” You see, a moderate amount of rain and wind forces the vines to concentrate all of their energy and nutrients into creating rich, flavorful fruit during the growing process. By the time harvest comes around, the grapes are rich in sugar and flavor. At that point, the winemakers get to work, gently guiding the processes of fermentation and blending to make tasty delicious wines for thirsty folks from Montague to Manasquan and beyond.

“[2016] is shaping up to be a great vintage,” said Jim Quarella, owner of Bellview Winery in Landisville. “A lot of sunshine, dry weather and heat. Several storms passed through with no negative impact on grape and vine quality.”

Mike Beneduce, a third-generation grape grower and owner of Beneduce Vineyards in Pittstown, is cautiously excited for this year’s harvest: “I never like to count my chickens, but so far 2016 has been an excellent growing season,” he said. “Coming off a mild winter, we’ve had a warm, dry summer with low humidity which means less disease pressure on the vines and balanced canopies going into this final stretch of ripening. We were lucky to have been missed by most of the coastal storms that affected our colleagues to the south and east, and with the exception of last week’s heat wave [we] really couldn’t have asked for a better growing season. The fruit is looking clean and healthy, so it’s all about the weather from now until harvest.”

What's Next for NJ WineConsumers continue to crave dry wines and off-the-beaten-path varietals, according to Quarella. “There is increasing interest in consumers for dry rosés and unique varietals such as Grüner Veltliner, Traminette, Vidal Blanc, Blaufränkisch and Petit Verdot,” he said. New Jersey’s grape growers are working together to rise to the challenge, while working with state lawmakers to continue the growth of the industry.

“On a legislative front, we are looking for the legislature to continue developing bills that will help grow beverage tourism in the state,” said Tom Cosentino, Executive Director of the Garden State Wine Growers Association (GSWGA). “Our wine trails need to become destination experiences for consumers in and out of the state.”

“The winemakers are placing even more focus on producing high quality and enjoyable wines. Many winemakers collaborate and share information so that everyone’s wines will be good,” Quarella said. “People are opening up to New Jersey wines and the varieties that we grow. The best thing to watch in the tasting room is how pleasantly surprised the consumer is with the taste and quality of wines grow and produced in our area.”

And if the weather continues to cooperate, this year’s crop of New Jersey wines is sure to delight consumers. Cheers to vintage 2016!


About the author: Michele Thomas is professionally curious; she likes to learn stuff. A certified sommelier with 15 years of experience writing about food, wine, education and the arts, she chronicles her wine escapades as the Bed–Stuy Sommelier (@BedStuySomm) on Instagram and Twitter.


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