Two-and-one-quarter million acres in Southeastern New Jersey.
That’s how big the Outer Coastal Plain AVA is. It’s one of the largest American Viticultural Areas in the United States, and the conditions within those 2.25 million acres are excellent for growing wine grapes.
Within the OCP’s borders, which was established in 2007, are about 35 wineries with vineyards and stand-alone vineyards that sell grapes to the region’s wineries, with additional wineries and vineyards gearing up to launch. It’s the only AVA in New Jersey that contains a sub-AVA, the Cape May Peninsula AVA which wholly lies within the borders of the OCP. According to the New York Times Magazine, (as cited in Bottle Bing, March 2013), “The Outer Coastal Plain might be the perfect place to make fine wine in America.”
What makes this acreage—which runs from the tip of Cape May up to Monmouth County, covering some or all of Cape May, Cumberland, Salem, Atlantic, Gloucester, Camden, Burlington, Ocean and Monmouth counties—so suitable for making much of the wine that is increasingly positioning New Jersey as a premier winemaking state? It’s the terroir, the complete natural environment in which a wine is produced, including factors like soil, climate and topography.
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.
The maritime climate of the OCP AVA is influenced by the Atlantic Ocean and the Delaware Bay, which create a temperate climate, also helped along by the Atlantic Gulf Stream. The growing season—comprised of the days between the first and last frost—can last 190 to 217 days a year. The Cape May Peninsula AVA within the OCP AVA usually has the most extended growing season of the region because of the Peninsula’s cross breezes that help to keep frost at bay. This long growing season throughout the AVA is advantageous for growing vinifera.
As its name suggests, the Outer Coastal Plain AVA is a plain, so the region is relatively flat with some rolling, sandy hills. The highest elevation in the region is about 300 feet above sea level, with much of the AVA being lower.
Many of the wineries in the Outer Coastal Plain create a wine called Couer d’Est (Heart of the East), a red blend made up of two to six grape varieties that grow exceptionally well because of the soil, climate, and topography (plus the skill of the wine growers and winemaker) of the region: Chambourcin, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon.