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Two years ago this month, I sent my inaugural On the Wine Trail column to my editor. I already had a handle on New Jersey wine at the time, but I’ve learned so much about our state’s wine industry as a whole because of the research I put into this column, and what delicious research it is. 

Here are some of insights I’ve gained about the New Jersey wine industry, an industry that’s so important to our state.

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Our wine industry history is both old and young

Before Prohibition, the wine industry in New Jersey thrived. We even had our own Champagne house started by Master Vintner Louis Nicholas Renault who came from France. In those days, Champagne was not a protected name and so any sparkling wine could be called Champagne. The sparkling wine produced at Renault Winery was made using the same method as authentic French Champagne. There was also a lot of still wine being produced in the state, too.

Then came Prohibition. Most of our vineyards were turned into farmland for other crops or sold off. For decades after Prohibition was repealed, New Jersey had a very small wine industry because of a restrictive state law that allowed only one winery license for every 1 million New Jersey residents. When that law was repealed in 1981, New Jersey’s wine industry began to grow, but in essence, it was in its infancy. In the less than 40 years since then, the industry has grown steadily, and the past decade has seen tremendous growth in both numbers of wineries and quality of wine. Right now, is a very exciting time to be involved with New Jersey wine.

 

Our wineries create a positive economic ripple effect

Before writing this column, I knew that our wineries were good for the state because they create jobs (a 2016 economic impact survey of our wine industry found that our wine industry had created just under 2,000 jobs in the state) and bring in tourists (the same impact survey found that about 108,813 tourists visited our wineries in 2016).

What I didn’t realize is how much our wine industry is good for other industries in our state. It creates jobs that I hadn’t even thought of. For example, not all of our wineries have their own bottling facilities onsite. Some of them use a mobile bottling truck that I got to see in action when visiting Auburn Road Vineyards last year. This truck has a complete bottling operation on it, and it travels to various vineyards to help them bottle their wine. That mobile bottling company and the jobs associated with exist because of our wineries (and perhaps some other states’ small wineries, too). 

We also have a few farms that are growing grapes for the wineries, helping to keep open space in our state and create jobs related to the wine industry. As our wine industry grows, the need for grape farms will grow, too. And, think of all the wineries that have expanded their tasting rooms recently. Those architect and construction jobs were created because of the wine industry’s ripple effect.

It’s challenging to make wine in New Jersey

You know that whole humidity thing that we all gripe about in the summer? We’re not the only ones that don’t like it. Grapes are not partial to it either. Humidity, along with frequent rains, can cause fungus on the vines that is not easy to get rid of. It’s not strictly New Jersey problem. It’s one that other East Coast states face, too.

That’s just one of the challenges East Coast weather poses to grape growing. Short growing seasons (the time in between the last frost of winter and the first frost in fall) also affect the types of grapes that we grow.

Yet, our winemakers rise to these challenges and make quality wines. I have grown to have immense respect for New Jersey winemakers, vineyard managers, and winery owners.

They do not do this because New Jersey wine is making everyone involved wealthy. In fact, more than one owner has told me this joke that makes the rounds in wine circles: How do you make a small fortune in the wine industry? Start with a large fortune.

Next time you’re at a winery or a wine festival, take a look around and think about how far our wine industry has come in the last 40 years. I feel so fortunate that I’ve been around for much of it, and that I’ll get to see – and taste – it as it continues to flourish.

Robin Shreeves is a Level 3 Certified Sommelier and the founder of wineandwonder.com. She's the food and drinks writer for the environmental news site Mother Nature Network and a frequent contributor to Edible Jersey Magazine. She's also the co-author of “The One Year Women in Christian History’’ (Tyndale, 2014).

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