Erik & Liz Chamberjian’s New Jersey Wine Story
We could walk into a wine store in any of the nearby towns to buy a decent bottle of wine, but that doesn’t make for an enjoyable hobby or a unique experience. It wouldn’t come with the ability to ask questions about how the wine was made, or the personal stories of the men and women behind it. It certainly wouldn’t deliver the same ambiance as visiting a New Jersey winery!
Our love for New Jersey wine probably started like that of many others, by going to local festivals and trying wines from all over the state. It is an afternoon out, usually in a beautiful park with music, snacks and good friends. At some point Erik and I actually started to realize that we knew what we were doing when tasting wine, and that New Jersey’s offerings were pretty darn good! We started to target which wineries we wanted to go to and a number of them made you forget the parts of the state that have developed its unfortunate reputation. The settings are absolutely gorgeous and if you have been dropped there by mistake yourself for being in the rolling hills of the Napa Valley. It’s not a surprise that many of the wineries are now hosting weddings because they offer a beautiful venue.
Over time we’ve certainly developed our favorites that we have repeated again and again, but we continue to incorporate new vineyards into our weekend getaways. Over and over again we look at each other incredulously and say, “wow this is really good!” We have continued to be willing to spend upwards of $30 for a bottle of New Jersey wine that we think is fantastic but have also spent $10 on equally good bottle of wine that we might have with pizza or pasta. Once upon a time, we even allowed ourselves to be convinced that we needed to buy a $75 bottle of New Jersey port wine! Needless to say that still remains corked and is being saved for a very special occasion. The bottle has a handwritten vintage date of 2002 on it.
Our journeys through the New Jersey vineyards have taken us to places and towns that we never would have expected to spend time in, and along the way, given us the experience of roadside farm stands, bed-and-breakfasts and friendly people that love the fact that you’ve decided to stop into their little community. The best advice that we can give is that if you’ve never been to a New Jersey vineyard, go to one of the many festivals that are offered throughout the year. If you can, spend more than a day at these festivals because there are literally hundreds of wines to try and as many as 20+ vineyards. You want to remember why you chose to buy the bottles that you did. Save the listing sheet, given at the gate, with all of the winery names and the things that you circled and then start mapping out your journeys throughout the state.
We recommend some of the wines that are unique to New Jersey, which you really can’t seem to find many other places like Chambourcin, one of our favorites and probably the staple wine we buy from just about every vineyard we go to. Make sure to ask the tasting room staff about the grapes and where they are grown. Some of the vineyards do all of their growing on premises while others import a number of them. We try to stay with the truly local grapes and wines as much as possible.
John Cifelli, who asked us to write this commentary, is one of the wonderful friends that we have met along this journey and we are thankful for all that we have been taught by him and his colleagues. We like to believe that we are wine snobs and we drink New Jersey wine. If you’ve never thought that you might enjoy it, get out there and start tasting. Just wait until you see all of the medals that have been won by some of your local vineyards.