Grapes grown in Arizona won’t produce the same type of wine that grapes grown in France will—but you probably already knew that. The distinctions between the character of grapes grown from one side of a state—such as New Jersey—to another will vary considerably too.
That’s one of the reasons there are four American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) in the Garden State. To earn classification as an AVA, a region must prove that it has a unique set of climatic and geographical attributes, setting it apart from just any old plot of land. The designation is based on the French AOC system, and is approved (or not) by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau.
The French coined the term terroir to summarize the complete natural environment in which a wine is produced, including factors like soil, climate and topography, and—as many French things do—it perfectly encapsulates the spirit and definition of the thing in one beautiful word. Which is all to say that a Cabernet Sauvignon grown in your back yard’s terroir is going to taste quite a bit different from a Cabernet Sauvignon grown in Napa, California’s terroir, unless your backyard happens to be in Napa.
The Outer Coastal Plain is New Jersey’s largest AVA, encompassing 2.25 million acres. We break down the Outer Coastal Plain’s terroir here. [LINK TO BLOG POST] Here we’re looking at the remaining three AVAs: Warren Hills, Cape May Peninsula and Central Delaware Valley.
The Warren Hills AVA rests on the edge of the Delaware River in western New Jersey, and was approved in 1988. The area covers about 182,000 acres, from the Delaware River across. Warren County. It encompasses most of the county.
A low ridge of hills running northeast to southwest, and a series of valleys with sandy loam soil over sedimentary bedrock, glacial and limestone soils shape the growing conditions here. Elevation varies from 160 feet above sea level along the Delaware River, to 1,560 feet above sea level on Kittatinny Mountain. The 180-day growing season is defined by sunny days and breezes blowing through the valleys and hills, extending grape hang time, while also locking in bright flavors.
The vineyards, many of which are on slopes, have excellent drainage. The shallow and rocky soils work with the sunshine and breezes to produce grapes of great concentration and power. Most of the grapes planted here are French hybrids.
Wineries like Alba Vineyard, Brook Hollow Winery, Four Sisters Winery and Villa Milagro Vineyards have helped showcase not only what New Jersey is capable of, but how refined French hybrid grapes like Vidal Blanc and Seyval Blanc can be, given the right conditions and thoughtful team of people growing them. Alba and Villa Milagro are also celebrated for their vitis vinifera bottles, such as Cabernet Franc and Bordeaux-style blends.
Just below the Warren Hills AVA is Hunterdon County. It is not part of the AVA—or any current AVA—but it, too, has the benefits of the Delaware River as its Western border. There are several wineries within Hunterdon County with similar terroir in their vineyards as those in the Warren Hills AVA.
Cape May Peninsula
Cape May Peninsula is a sub-appellation of the Outer Coastal Plain AVA, and is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean and the Pinelands National Reserve. Cape May Peninsula earned its AVA status in 2018, in part because it has the longest growing season in the state, and is therefore able to grow the widest selection of grape varieties.
Perched on the southernmost tip of New Jersey, Cape May covers 126,635 acres of sandy and sandy loam soils, with grapes that thrive under the warm sun and get buffeted by strong ocean breezes. The region is fairly flat, ranging up to 60 feet above sea level.
While Cape May has long been a destination for beach enthusiasts, it is now drawing wine lovers who want to try the Italian varietals (like Barbera and Sangiovese) that Turdo Vineyards specializes in, or Natali Vineyards’ Trebbiano wines, or Hawk Havens’ Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling.
Cape May, in other words, has a little something for everyone at its seven wineries.
Central Delaware Valley
We’re going to sail through the Central Delaware Valley very quickly. Not because it doesn’t have promise, but because there are currently just two wineries in New Jersey within the AVAs boundaries, Angelico Winery and Federal Twist Vineyard, two of the state’s newest wineries.
The AVA, which was approved in 1984, covers 96,000 acres in far eastern Pennsylvania and western New Jersey and is fairly flat. The cool, continental climate is best suited for vinifera varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon and Riesling. On the Pennsylvania side, there are just three wines.
We hope that more wineries make their home throughout the AVA, on both sides of the Delaware. We would love to continue to extend the Garden State’s grapes to the state’s Western edge, and wave across the river at our winemaking friends on the other side.
In line with our commitment to celebrating the rich viticultural heritage of New Jersey, we are thrilled to announce our beloved New Jersey Wine Week, scheduled to take place the third week of November. This week-long celebration will showcase the finest wines produced in our state, highlighting the unique flavors and craftsmanship of our local vineyards. It will be a wonderful opportunity for both wine enthusiasts and newcomers to explore the diverse offerings of our flourishing winemaking industry. As we raise our glasses to toast the collective achievements of our winemakers, let us also raise awareness about the remarkable potential of New Jersey as a premier wine-producing region. Explore New Jersey wine country this New Jersey Wine Week, and plan your visit today!