In 1758, Great Britain’s Royal Society offered £100 to any colonist who would produce red or white wine “of acceptable quality,” meaning the wine was of the same caliber as that being purchased from France. When no candidate accepted the challenge, the prize was raised to £200, and then two New Jersey residents came forward. Yes, more than 150 years prior to the era of “Boardwalk Empire,” New Jersey wine growers were already working an angle to get an advantage! The two residents, William Alexander and Edward Antill both succeeded in their efforts, and a Royal Society committee approved that they be given the prize. The history of the NJ wine industry had begun.
Phylloxera and Prohibition took their respective tolls on winemaking across the entire United States, but by 1981, both had been remedied in the Garden State with the passage of the Farm Winery Act. As restrictions loosened and wine production was again economically viable, wineries and vineyards took root in all corners of NJ in the mid 1980’s and 1990’s.
The Hunterdon Grape Growers and South Jersey Wine Growers, both formulated in 1985, coalesced to create the New Jersey Grape Growers Association in 1987. Half of the original board are still active as members today in the newly minted Garden State Wine Growers Association.
Since 2000, the New Jersey wine industry has seen exponential growth, with new wineries and vineyards blossoming in three designated American Viticultural Areas: Warren Hills AVA, Central Delaware Valley AVA, and the Outer Coastal Plain AVA. A broad embrasure by the state government, NJ residents, restaurants and liquor stores have buoyed NJ among the ranks of the best wine growing regions in the country. NJ’s watershed moment arrived in June of 2012, when a blind taste test between 10 NJ wines and French wines-5 from Burgundy and 5 from Bordeaux resulted in essentially a tie. The takeaway was that there was no significant difference between a NJ red blend and a first growth Bordeaux; a NJ Chardonnay and a premier cru Burgundy.
As of 2016, Association membership has grown to over 50 members from wineries, grape growers, vineyard owners and selected industry-related companies located throughout the state. A number of wineries are slated to open in the coming years. Wine enthusiasts are encouraged to travel along the many wine trails that crawl through the highlands of the north, the rolling hills of central New Jersey, the sandy soils of southern NJ & the Pine Barrens, and along the Cape May shores. We hope to see you in our tasting rooms soon, to taste and toast New Jersey!