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New Jersey has become one of the most interesting young regions to watch in the United States. Yes, we’re biased, but if you don’t believe us, Wine Enthusiast, the Wall Street Journal, and The New York Times agree.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Garden State has become a magnet for young winemakers who want to make their mark.

We spoke to several of New Jersey’s young vintners in Part 1, and now here’s Part 2. Read on for insight into what drew them—or kept them—here, and what visitors should expect from their wineries.

Craig Donofrio, 4JGs Winery, Colts Neck, Central Shore Region

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

There was always plenty of wine around my house growing up, but I became more curious and obsessed during college in Charleston, South Carolina. I started as a bartender and shifted into fine dining to study wine. I eventually became the head sommelier at McCrady’s,  the then number one restaurant in the city. It only took one trip to Oregon Pinot Camp and I knew eventually I would land in a vineyard. However, I never imagined that vineyard would be in Colts Neck where I grew up.

Tell us a little something about New Jersey winemaking.

One thing that is appealing about making wine in New Jersey is that although there is a lot of winemaking history, the exploration of possible grapes, clones, and wine styles is still in relative infancy. I think we’re just scratching the surface on what grapes are suitable, or perhaps, uniquely suited for New Jersey. Additionally, the diversity of soil types and microclimates is rich; the Garden State has terroir. In our case, 4JG’s is bordered by Big Brook and our vineyard soils are loaded with Cretaceous era fossils.

What would surprise visitors at your winery?

Our winery guests are constantly surprised that at one time, millions of years ago, our vineyard was actually the ocean floor. I love seeing the wide eyed stares when I break out fossils I’ve found in our vineyard. I also like to point out that Colts Neck is one of the only -towns in New Jersey with a winery, a brewery (Source Brewery), and a distillery (Colts Neck Stillhouse).

David Gardner, Bellview Winery, Landsville, Southern Region 1

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

I actually started working with wine before I had really tasted much of it. When I first worked in the vineyard in the summer of 2005, admittedly for a very short time, I was much more interested in the winemaking process than the viticulture process and I’ve been making wine at Bellview ever since.

Tell us a little something about New Jersey winemaking.

I enjoy making wine in New Jersey because the climate variability makes winemaking interesting. The Outer Coastal Plain is similar to Bordeaux, which lends some uniqueness to our wines and gives us complexity and texture. In addition, the well drained soil helps to keep our vines in balance.

What would surprise visitors at your winery?

I think visitors would be surprised to know we grow all of our own grapes and handle everything from start to finish. They might also be surprised to know that our farm has been in the family for over 100 years.

Michael Mitchell, Cape May Winery, Cape May, Southern Region 3

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

I was born and raised in Cape May County, NJ and always had a passion for the outdoors and artistic expression. After graduating from Stockton College in 2008 with a degree in Graphic Design, I decided that I did not want to sit in front of a computer screen all day every day. I became aware of the Cape May Winery as a family friend became the Vineyard Manager. I was intrigued and told him to let me know if he ever needed any help.

I started out as a laborer in the vineyard and absolutely fell in love with the work and the industry. Over the next couple of years, I took in as much as I could and quickly gained more and more responsibility. Darren Hesington, the winemaker at the time, recognized my passion and asked if I would be interested in working under him as an apprentice. When the winemaker decided to move on, I was given the opportunity to take over. My first vintage as head winemaker was in 2019. All of my knowledge and skill was acquired on the job or through self education. I obviously owe much of this to Darren.

Tell us a little something about New Jersey winemaking.

I believe that the Cape May Peninsula AVA offers an ideal setting for growing and producing premium wines. This is something that I take great pride in. I, like the vines and wines that I tend to, was nurtured and shaped by the unique setting and culture of Cape May County. Our vineyards have sandy, loam soil which drains well. Our vineyards are nestled between the Delaware Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. This creates a microclimate with moderate temperatures and an extended growing season. During the hottest days of the summer, these bodies of water provide a cool relief, and in winter, the water is warmer than the surrounding air. The Cape May Peninsula is a young AVA and we are still working to find which varietals are best suited for our particular growing conditions. We are constantly gaining recognition as a wine producing state, and I believe that the next couple of decades will cement our place as a premium growing region in the world.

What would surprise visitors at your winery?

Many visitors are surprised when they see our production facilities. We are striving to make the highest quality wines. We are always adding new equipment, technology, knowledge, and techniques so that we are steadily moving forward. We also provide a great experience and hospitality that keeps people coming back. We take pride in having beautiful, clean facilities for both customers and production. Another fact that will surprise many people is that we do about 98% retail sales. Our public spaces are filled with handcrafted items and repurposed materials that are representative of the amazing history of Cape May.

Conor Quilty, Soleiada Winery, Oldwick, Central Region

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

I grew up in a very culinary focused family. My father is a classically trained chef and my mother ran restaurants for most of her life, so wine and food were around most of my life. When I got to undergrad at Connecticut College, I knew I wanted to study Plant Biology and the personal focus in viticulture came soon after that, so I took all of my classes with wine growing in mind. I moved out to California immediately after graduation and started working for Jackson Family Wines doing vineyard and cellar work for wineries such as Stonestreet, Arrowwood, and Matanzas Creek.

At this time, I also rounded out my education with further courses and certification work through UC Davis. Following this, I did an extended season in South Australia working for Yangarra Estate Vineyards and Hickinbotham Wines before moving back to the East Coast (where I always wanted to make wine). In 2016, I filled a production gap at Unionville Vineyards and was winemaker there for five years before partnering with Soleiada Winery.

Tell us a little something about New Jersey winemaking.

The East Coast in general is having a bit of renaissance right now. Established regions such as Virginia and the Finger Lakes have garnered serious respect, and now people are venturing to their own backyards and finding premium wine all around them. Certain wineries in New Jersey have been making good wine for a long time, but the state as a whole is only just beginning to gain footing in the industry. Every new vine in the ground and every new wine produced feels like we’re staking ground on a new frontier. Northern New Jersey has perfect conditions to make elegant cool-climate wines. I think it does a disservice to the state to draw comparisons to established regions that may have similar climates or soil structures or what have you. The beauty of making wine here is that we are not established, everything we do is uniquely New Jersey.

What would surprise visitors at your winery?

I think the biggest surprise would be that we’re not open yet (shout out to the NJ ABC), but other than that, I would say the passion and precision that has gone into designing and planting our vineyards, as well as how well established we are for a winery that hasn’t released a single bottle of wine yet.

 

Dustin Tarpine, Cedar Rose, Millville, Southern Region 3

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

The thing that initially drew me to wine was the discovery of the vast differences and possibilities across the wine spectrum. It was endlessly fascinating to me how place and environment could impact each variety in such a unique and distinctive way.  I initially found my interest in wine during an internship working under Dr. Dan Ward at the Rutgers Agricultural Research & Extension Center (RAREC) in Seabrook, NJ. I worked there for two summers before graduating college. Around August of that year, I began working for Jim Quarella at Bellview Winery and remained there until 2015 when I left to pursue Cedar Rose Vineyards full time.

Tell us a little something about New Jersey winemaking.

I’m a New Jersey native, specifically Cumberland County, so originally I wanted to do my home state proud by showcasing the high quality wines that could be produced here. As I’ve gone on, the drive to further refine and find the purest form of terroir expression of the soil I’ve grown up in has become an ever-evolving pursuit. It’s really exciting that we still haven’t settled on a variety, set of varieties, or style that defines the wines of the state.We find our terroir to produce wines with a more Old World feel about them, though I feel we tend to produce denser wines than Bordeaux,  for instance, with whom the wines of our region are often compared. Rather than being strictly Old World, our extreme summer heat in hot vintages has the capacity to create a denser fruit core in our wines and more body, which leans more New World.

What would surprise visitors at your winery?

As crazy as it seems, I think visitors would be surprised to learn that we don’t import any fruit. All of our wines are made with 100% Jersey grown grapes, which either come from our property or one of the properties that we manage across the state. We feel it’s the only way to prove what’s possible with fine wine in the Garden State.

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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