Think New Jersey makes good wine? Just say it, and leave Snooki out of it
James Corden wishes he were in the car a few weeks ago as my friends and I belted out Pure Prairie League’s “Amy,” "Carpool Karaoke'' style.
We were on a wine road trip, driving from one winery to the next in Hunterdon County. Along with our stellar vocal performances, we were also taking in the scenery the way you do on a road trip.
On one long stretch of road on the route between Unionville Vineyards and Mount Salem Vineyards, we couldn’t help but notice all the signs in front of small farms that invited us to stop for fresh eggs at one location or locally-raised meats at another. I commented that during growing season, you could pick up the ingredients for an entire dinner by the time you hit the end of the stretch of road.
There was no doubt that under the paved road that led us to our destinations there was fertile soil.
And yet, when it comes to wine, people are often astounded that we can grow grapes in New Jersey.
There’s something I find even more frustrating, though, than the general belief that nothing good – especially wine — can come from this state. It’s when someone understands that we can grow grapes here, but insists on joking that it must be shocking to the rest of the world that good wine can come from those grapes. Why must it be shocking? Simply because this is New Jersey and it’s obligatory to think poorly of New Jersey.
Wine journalists do this frequently. Even if they understand that New Jersey has four officially recognized American Viticultural Areas within its borders and wines that are increasingly getting respectable scores in national publications, they do it. It’s like they can’t help themselves.
When I began this column, I promised myself I would never write about this problem. I didn’t want to point out the negative. I wanted to promote the positive. I thought that if I ignored the sniggering of those behind their keyboards long enough, these insults that came before praises would go away. But it’s taking too long for them to disappear.
Earlier today, I just about lost it over two small words in a book review on the Drinks International website. The review was for “Godforsaken Grapes” by Jason Wilson, a book that’s on my to-be-read list. It focuses on seeking out lesser-known grape varieties “from the Alps to (yes, really) New Jersey.”
The “(yes, really)” comment from the book reviewer is what made my head explode. I can’t repeat what I yelled in my office when I read that. I can tell you what I wrote on my Facebook page, though, when I linked to the article.
“This journalist who ‘champions the unsung wine heroes’ has to be the same hack as every almost every other journalist who mentions NJ wine but doesn't live in the state and makes a snide remark about New Jersey in general when saying something about the fact that we have good wine. Journalists — stop being hacks and thinking you're clever by saying things like "Yes-really" New Jersey or mentioning "The Sopranos,'' Snooki, or having to denigrate the state in general before you talk about our wine. We have good wine. Just say so. It's not clever. It's pandering to the lowest denominator of wine article readers. We don't need this type of ‘championing.’ ”
New Jersey makes good wine. There’s no reason for a journalist to insult the state, or bring up pop-culture references that have absolutely nothing to do with wine, before saying so.
Wine journalists, it’s time to knock it off. Putting the negative images of New Jersey into readers’ minds before saying something positive about the state’s wines is counterproductive. Readers may be left with the impression that there’s good wine to be found, but you’ve reinforced the reasons in their heads that it’s not worth coming to New Jersey to discover them.
See how I started this column, describing one of New Jersey’s wine regions in an authentic and positive light?
Do something like that when you write about my state’s wines. Give your readers not just information about our wines, but also a reason to want to come seek out the wines and the regions in which they’re grown.
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).
First look: Neck of the Woods Brewing Co. Tammy Paolino, Cherry Hill Courier-Post