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EdwardAntill WilliamAlexander

Edward Antill and William Alexander, foundation winemakers in New Jersey

Technically, New Jersey’s wine history dates back to 1758, when Great Britain’s Royal Society offered cash to anyone who could make wine that rivaled that of France. Garden State residents William Alexander and Edward Antill successfully took on the challenge, earning about £200 and Judgement of Paris-esque bragging rights.

Realistically though, New Jersey’s wine scene didn’t begin in earnest until 1981, with the passage of the Farm Winery Act. Since 2000, more and more wineries in and out of the state’s American Viticultural Areas have opened and flourished, thanks to moderate summers and temperate winters that create ideal conditions for growing grapes.

It is then, perhaps not surprising, that a relatively young region would attract so many incredibly talented young winemakers. Ambitious young winemakers who go to the most celebrated and established wine regions—Napa, Bordeaux, Hawke’s Bay, or Tuscany, for example—often have very little creative input or control on the wine-growing or making process. They can become one of many equally talented and ambitious cogs in the vast machinery of winemaking—cleaning and sanitizing, perhaps stirring lees (yeast) in a fermenting or aging wine. But actual decision making and winemaking? Not much of a chance.

Here in New Jersey, though, there is the opportunity to not just make wine, but help make a real impact on a growing region, just as it reaches the point of achieving some critical recognition.

We reached out to several of New Jersey’s young vintners to learn more about what drew them here (or in some cases, kept them here), and what visitors should expect from their wineries.

Nichole Bambacigno, Sharrott Winery, Hammonton, Southern Region 1

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How did you end up in the Garden State making wine?

I think my initial draw to wine was the excitement of seeing the culmination of the fruits of my labor in a final product that I could be proud of. We do so many different types of tasks all year and it’s so fulfilling to see it come together in the bottle.

I received a B.S. in Biochemistry from California Polytechnic University in San Luis Obispo as well as a Certificate in Winemaking from U.C. Davis. I started my career at E. & J. Gallo Winery located in Modesto, CA, where I grew up. I worked there for about 5 years. I’ve also worked at Matua in Marlborough, NZ; Martinborough Vineyards in Martinborough, NZ; and Weingut Bründlmayer in Kamptal, Austria.

Tell us a little something about New Jersey winemaking.

I think here in New Jersey, we are on the cusp of really discovering ourselves as a wine region. It’s incredibly exciting to be a part of that and to hopefully help develop the regions’ identity. We definitely share some similarities with Bordeaux, growing Merlot and Petit Verdot quite well. But what’s really interesting to me is the similarities we share with some of the more inland European growing regions such as Eastern Austria and Hungary. (Keep a lookout for our Blaufrankisch!)

What would surprise visitors at your winery?

We are focusing on planting varieties that are going to grow well in our climate. This means that they might be varieties that customers are less familiar with such as Blaufrankisch and Albariño. But I am very excited about the wines these vines are going to produce in a few years.

Kevin Bednar, William Heritage Winery, Mullica Hill, Southern Region 2

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How did you end up in the Garden State making wine?

I was initially drawn to wine for its enormous diversity, complexity, and variability, and its ability to still so concisely represent the land, climate, and culture of so many regions of the world. I studied chemical engineering at the University of Notre Dame before receiving a viticulture and enology certificate from UC Davis. I’ve worked at E. & J. Gallo Winery in California, Hardy’s Tintara in South Australia, Te Kairanga in New Zealand, and Jamek in Austria.

Tell us a little something about New Jersey winemaking.

New Jersey is a burgeoning winegrowing region with a lot of untapped potential, and I’m very excited to help raise the bar of quality and consistency and to develop a style and reputation that will help define the state’s identity in the future. The biggest challenge we’re faced with in New Jersey is the climate during the growing season, and I think there are a lot of similarities with some of the more continental growing regions in Europe, especially Hungary and Romania. For this reason, I think it’s very important that we continue to discuss, plant, and experiment with lesser-known varieties that may be the key to unlocking the state’s potential.

What would surprise visitors at your winery?

I think people would be surprised at the diversity of vineyard sites that we have here at William Heritage. We’re lucky enough to have pretty hilly terrain and diverse soils that allow us to make wines that express the individuality of each block. We also have some world class winemaking equipment, so we can treat the fruit very gently and make wines of finesse and nuance.

Mike Beneduce, Beneduce Vineyards, Pittstown, Central Region

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How did you end up in the Garden State making wine?

I grew up making homemade wine in the basement with my family and always loved it, so when the opportunity to study Viticulture & Enology at Cornell presented itself, I jumped in with both feet. I worked at one of the local vineyards in the Finger Lakes while in school, and also got a lot of hands on experience in Cornell’s own vineyard and student run winery.

Tell us a little something about New Jersey winemaking.

I was born and raised in NJ, so I guess it’s natural to want to sink my roots in here as well. Hunterdon County has deep soils, rolling hillsides, high elevation sites, and a highly educated wine consumer literally at our doorstep. Our region is most similar to Austria (specifically Burgenland) and other cool climate regions like northern Italy, so the wines share some similarities while also expressing the grapes in a unique way.

What would surprise visitors at your winery?

We shoot for a pretty elevated experience here and I think that catches a lot of people off guard since we’re still in a very young and developing wine region. We love hearing “I can’t believe this is so close to us!” from first timers visitors when they walk into the tasting room. But at the end of the day, I think that it’s the wine quality that ends up surprising people the most.

Joe Casola, Fox Hollow Vineyards, Holmdel, Central Shore Region

New Jersey Wine Growers Awards

Kim Casola and Joe Casola receive the Governor’s Cup from Governor Murphy and First Lady Tammy Murphy for their 2015 Autumn Harvest in the 2018 NJ Wine Competition

How did you end up in the Garden State making wine?

What initially drew me to wine was my family’s deep rooted history in farming along with how important time spent together as a family is. Growing up on a family farm the workdays are long so time together in the evening is really important. A big part of the time spent together was around the dinner table, and one of the best parts was the food cooked by my mom that was grown by my dad. As my siblings and I got older many nights we would start off the evening having some cheese and wine before dinner with our parents. This became a big part of our time as a family or when we had company.

When it came time to start thinking about a career, I knew that I wanted to do something in agriculture but I also loved the service, food and beverage industry. The great part of a vineyard/winery is that we can grow grapes, produce wines and provide an atmosphere for the guests while they enjoy our wines. To me, this touches on many aspects I wanted in a career.

I studied at Surry Community College in North Carolina under some really great professors and teachers. Gill, Molly & Mary taught me the hands-on knowledge I needed to start a vineyard and winery with my family on the farm where we established Fox Hollow Vineyards while I was in college. In 2010 we planted our first vines and in 2016 we opened our doors to the public.

Tell us a little something about New Jersey winemaking.

The main reason I want to make wine in NJ is because of my family’s history of farming there. Most of my family has been in the same region our vineyard and winery are located on, for centuries. When I wanted to get into grape growing and winemaking, I knew it had to be on the farm I was raised on. I think what makes the terroir of our region special is the ability to grow many different grape varieties well. We have a long growing season with wonderful soils for producing high quality fruit.

What would surprise visitors at your winery?

I think what would surprise visitors at our winery is the atmosphere, vineyard views, and how at peace one could be. Of course, producing the best quality wine we can is a goal of ours, but another goal was to have an atmosphere for our guests to really be able to relax. Everyday life can be stressful and what can be more relaxing than a glass of wine, locally produced cheeses, and vineyard views?  Our winery is situated on 100 acres surrounded by vineyards, we have patios with rose gardens, fire pits, live entertainment, and are a 21+ years of age and up-only winery. We have a light food menu with locally sourced produce, foods & cheeses. Seeing our guests happy, enjoying our wines, and relaxing is what we love most.

Keep an eye out for Part 2 in this two part series.

Follow the Garden State Wine Growers Association on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for more helpful information when visiting New Jersey’s wineries.

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© 2019 Garden State Wine Growers Association Supported in part by a grant from the NJ Department of State, Division of Travel and Tourism
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