The year 2020 was surely a tumultuous one due to COVID-19. It impacted every individual’s life and changed how we go to school, conduct business, travel and even celebrate holidays. Here in New Jersey we mourn the loss of over 16,000 souls that have perished from the pandemic. As we look ahead to 2021 there is the promise of the virus sometime in the coming months being brought under control as vaccines begin saturate the populace. As we pray for the success of the vaccination program we can also look back at our own industry in 2020 and note how New Jersey’s wine industry was able to survive.
Following is a brief overview of the highlights of the 2020 year for New Jersey’s wine industry.
March Closures Usher in Curbside Sales
In mid-March when Governor Murphy issued executive orders that basically shut down the state, New Jersey’s wine industry was deemed an essential business. While tasting rooms were closed, our wineries quickly morphed into becoming an outlet for curbside sales, takeout orders and direct shipping. Thanks to the loyal patronage of the NJ wine consumer, wineries were able to stay afloat during this period with many continuing to provide curbside sales to this day.
Late Frost & Polar Vortex Threaten NJ Grapes
Not only did winery owners have to deal with closing tasting rooms, laying off staff and setting up a process for takeout and curbside sales, they also had to deal with weather events that negatively impacted their grape crops. There were several frost events long into May that caused negative effects for New Jersey’s grape crop. A polar vortex May 8th killed many primary buds in regions throughout the state. Our vineyard managers persevered and were able to get the grapes eventually to harvest in the fall, but with lower yields caused by the late frost conditions.
GSWGA Creates Reopening Plan for the State
The Garden State Wine Growers Association Board began developing a reopening plan for the state in April designed to have our wineries safely operate during the pandemic by providing outdoor service to patrons. Once Governor Murphy opened up outdoor dining on June 15, NJ wineries began operating under the GSWGA plan and following Health Department requirements to give visitors the chance to venture out to enjoy an entertaining experience at our member wineries.
NJ Wine Competition Held
While other states were forced to cancel their annual wine competitions because of
the pandemic, the GSWGA was able to hold theirs thanks to its partnership with Beverage Testing Institute (BTI) of Chicago. New Jersey wines were submitted from March through the end of August to BTI where judges there scored the wines. The results were announced on Sept. 30 by Governor Murphy in a video call with media.
Sharrott Winery in Hammonton won the Governor’s Cup for Best Red Wine for the 95 score it received for its 2018 Merlot. The 95 score was the highest in the competition and earned Sharrott Winery the Best in Show honors.
The Governor’s Cup for Best White Vinifera wine was won for the second year in a row by Beneduce Vineyards of Pittstown in Hunterdon County. Their 2019 Tuxedo scored a 93. Last year they won the Governor’s Cup with their 2017 Tuxedo. William Heritage Winery in Mullica Hill won the Governor’s Cup for Best Dessert wine with their 2017 Late Harvest Semillon with a 92 score. They also won Best Sparking wine.
Bellview Winery in Landisville was the other multiple category winner taking home Best Red Hybrid with their 2018 Estate Bottled Chambourcin and the Best White Hybrid for the 2019 Traminette. They took the same honor last year with their 2018 Traminette.
Over the past two years the awards were announced at a special ceremony held at the Governor’s Mansion Drumthwacket in Princeton. Due to the pandemic that could not be scheduled this year but Governor Murphy made the announcements via a prerecorded message on the Zoom call.
Comments from Governor Murphy:
While the pandemic is preventing us from being together at Drumthwacket, as we have been for each of the past two years, today should be no less celebratory. We should celebrate that the Governor’s Cup is one of the only statewide wine competitions to move forward this year, with a process that is now a national model.
So, in another sense, New Jersey wines continue to make their name and leave their mark.
To each and every one of you, I raise my glass. Even as much of our economy closed to slow the spread of the coronavirus, and even as you endured the double-whammy of a damaging late-spring frost, you stayed at work – tending to your vineyards and bottling wine, and handling curbside deliveries and direct shipping orders.
And, since our wineries reopened to visitors on June 15th, you’ve provided safe environments for wine-lovers to visit.
As we continue our long-term economic recovery, I know our ever-growing wine industry will keep us moving forward. And, when First Lady Tammy Murphy and I are able to once again open the doors of Drumthwacket, our commitment to serving only New Jersey wines to our guests remains intact.
NJ Wine Competition Winners
Governor’s Cup Winners
Governor’s Cup for Best Red Vinifera: 95 • Sharrott Winery (NJ) 2018 Merlot, Hammonton, Outer Coastal Plain
Governor’s Cup for Best White Vinifera: 93 • Beneduce Vineyards (NJ) 2019 Tuxedo, Pittstown, Hunterdon County
Governor’s Cup for Best Dessert Wine: 92 • William Heritage (NJ) 2017 Late Harvest, Semillon, Mullica Hill, Outer Coastal Plain 17% reserved sugar
Best in Class Winners
Fortified Wine: 93 • Auburn Road Vineyard Vintage Ruby Fortified Wine, Chambourcin, Pilesgrove, Outer Coastal Plain 8% reserved sugar
Fruit Wine: 88 • Isaac Smith 2019 Apple Wine, Cape May Winery, Cape May Peninsula
Red Wine: 95 • Sharrott Winery (NJ) 2018 Merlot, Hammonton, Outer Coastal Plain
Best Hybrid Red: 90 • Bellview Winery 2018 Estate Bottled Chambourcin, Landisville, Outer Coastal Plain
Best Rosé Wine: 90 • Working Dog Winery 2019 Equinox Estate Bottled Rosé, East Windsor, Mercer County
Best Sparkling Wine: 93 • William Heritage (NJ) 2017 Blanc De Blancs, Mullica Hill, Outer Coastal Plain
Best Dessert Wine: 92 • William Heritage (NJ) 2017 Late Harvest, Semillon, Mullica Hill, Outer Coastal Plain 17% reserved sugar
Best Vinifera White Wine: 93 • Beneduce Vineyards (NJ) 2019 Tuxedo, Pittstown, Hunterdon County
Best Hybrid White Wine: 89 • Bellview Winery (NJ) 2019 Estate Bottled, Traminette, Landisville, Outer Coastal Plain
New Jersey wines also took home top honors in other competitions including Plagido’s Winery’s 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon winning Best Cabernet Sauvignon in the Finger Lakes International Wine Competition and a Gold medal for their 2017 Cabernet Franc while Working Dog Winery took Double Gold at Finger Lakes for the 2016 Retriever Cabernet Franc and Gold for its 2016 Cabernet Franc.
Tomasello Winery’s Palmaris Cabernet Franc 2016 won Best Cabernet Franc in the American Wine Society Commercial Wine Competition. Old York Cellars Winery Rose Reserve 2019 won Gold in that competition as well.
Festivals Go On
Similar to the work it did in crafting a reopening plan for wineries, the GSWGA worked with festival promoter Kathy Bullock of GPS Inc., to create a plan to allow for fall wine festivals to be held in New Jersey based on the Governor’s Executive order limiting outdoor gatherings to 500 people. Four events were held with no problems and participating wineries were able to sell product at theses socially-distanced events, which were believed to be the only wine festivals held in the country in 2020.
Vineyard managers had to be extra diligent this year to provide a safe environment for harvest season which began in late August and extended through October. While yields were down in many regions due to the late spring frost, growers overwhelmingly reported a healthy crop of grapes picked in this year’s harvest.
In late October, the GSWGA successfully executed the world’s first and only group media tour since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Nine journalists from the US east coast traveled October 25-29 within different New Jersey wine regions. A total of 14 wineries were visited with many others providing their wines in the tour that included several tourist destinations, themed meals, and cultural viewings. International wine communications expert David Furer was retained by the GSWGA to help organize the trip, working directly with GSWGA Executive Director Tom Cosentino.
With the health and welfare of journalists, wineries’ representatives, and those in food service paramount all aspects of the well-planned trip were designed with proper pandemic safety protocols and sanitary measures factored in. Writers were given the option getting tested for COVID-19 before joining the tour, and rather than transportation occurring as normal with all attendees on a van or bus, each media drove their own automobile to all stops. All participating New Jersey wineries followed protocols established by the GSWGA and New Jersey’s Department of Health.
The media attending were:
David Furer, Kathleen Willcox, Jacy Topps, Debbie Gioquindo, Carlo Devito, Robin Shreeves, Reggie Solomon, Hank Zona, Shelby Vittek and Shea Swenson. Some journalists attended all of the tour while others joined at varying points in the tour.
NJ Wines in the News
New Jersey wines continued to receive tremendous media exposure in 2020 in such publications and media outlets as Wine Enthusiast, Wine Business, Wall Street Journal, Wine Casual.com, Jersey Best Magazine, NJ Monthly and many more.
Looking Ahead in 2021
As we all hope for a sense of normalcy to return in the coming months, our member wineries will continue to work to provide our consumers with a great wine experience.
We thank you all for your patronage and commitment to New Jersey’s wine industry and wish you and your family a happy and healthy 2021! We look forward to seeing you at our wineries.