SHOULD NAPA BE WORRIED ABOUT NEW JERSEY WINES?? I DON’T THINK SO

This past Sunday, the Philadelphia Inquirer ran a story in their South Jersey section titled “New Jersey’s Wine Market is Aging Well”. The piece was written by staff writer, Chelsea Conaboy and featured the Sharrott Winery in Atco, NJ. I wrote about this winery earlier this year and even went over to Hops n Grapes and purchased a bottle of their award-winning Cabernet Franc. I had it at Siri’s in Cherry Hill and even gave it a slightly favorable review. It was hardly a wine that would have me choosing Garden State wines over those of Napa, Sonoma, or just about any AVA in California. Therefore, when I read Sharrott winemaker Tom Sharrott declaring this years vintage in the NJ Outer Coastal Plain, “Napalike”, and fellow vintner, Louis Caracciola of nearby Amalthea Cellars stating “New Jersey wines will eventually emerge as a competitor to California in quality, if not in quantity”, I have to add my two cents to the equation.

Let’s begin with the “Gold” medal that the Sharrott Cabernet Franc won at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. The statement on its own makes it seem like the Sharrott wine was the best, or at least, the best of the Cabernet Francs in the competition. That would be news to the Cabernet Francs produced by Big Dog Vineyards, Dusted Valley Vintners, Imagery Estate Winery, or any of TWELVE other Cab Franc producers who ALL won a “GOLD MEDAL” at the same competition. It would REALLY be news to Cosentino Winery and Zerba Cellars who both won “DOUBLE GOLD MEDALS” for their entry, and absolutely shocking news to DH Lescombes Winery of New Mexico which took the top “BEST OF CLASS” prize at that competition. So, as you see, there is just a little less luster to the Sharrott “Gold Medal”. Is it meaningless, certainly not, it’s better than the Silver and Bronze medals won by the 47 other Cabernet Francs in that same voting. Let’s just say that many Wine Competitions are generous in their distribution of medals.

In her article, Ms. Conaboy interviewed Vladi Nickolich, the Wine Manager at Wine Works in Marlton, NJ. He stated that many wine buyers who sought out local wines were looking for the familiar blackberry, cranberry, “name your assorted fruit” sweet wines. Some of the other wines which are seeking credibility are at price points that simply make choosing wines from California, Oregon, France, Argentina or any one of the other wine growing regions who are producing better wines for less money, a better choice.

Certainly, there is a place for local wines, and for some of the better ones, I understand why they have to charge what they do to make a profit. I’m simply saying that the use of terms such as “Napalike” is a bit premature. For casual wine drinkers, a day spent visiting the local New Jersey wineries can be fun and informative. They might even consider capping off the day with a nice Napa Cab at a local BYOB.

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4 Responses to “SHOULD NAPA BE WORRIED ABOUT NEW JERSEY WINES?? I DON’T THINK SO”

  1. I too read this article, and I have to say that I do love the enthusiasm of these winemakers, but come on, really?  Like Zelda and I have talked about often, I do believe that good grapes can be grown in NJ, and that those grapes, in the hands of a good winemaker, might actually make some decent wines.
     
    Saturday, we attended the annual Valenzano Wine Fest in Shamong.  We didn’t go for the wines obviously, but we went for the companionship of our friends, as they get a tent down there every year.  The event is always a good time, and you are able to bring in your own food and snacks, and enjoy a nice afternoon outside listening to decent live music.  They give you 3 bottles of wine with your tent, and you can sit there and buy the rest of their wines all day long.
     
    These NJ wines definitely have a niche market.  Either you love ‘em, or you hate them.  The fruit wines are very sweet, and definitely not for us.  Thankfully, God created cargo shorts and empty water bottles so we could smuggle some “real” California juice in to make it a great event!  I know, I condone this as well, but I really couldn’t imagine sitting there sipping cranberry, blueberry, or their famous “Shamong Red” all day long!
     
    But the true question here is, why can’t these winemakers make wines that could compete with California, or even the Willamette Valley in Oregon?  The climates aren’t all that different.  NJ is the “Garden State” and has great, rich soil.  If only we could get Paul Romero from Stefania Wines to spend a summer out here tending to the vines and crafting something from grapes that thrive in this region!  I’d be curious to see what he could do with something from this region, and I think that would answer the question as to whether or not good wines could be made here.  Cheers!  -F. Scott

    • Mark

      I can’t believe you gave your guests at your Stefania Party, Sea Smoke, Lillian and Sine Qua Non when we were all hoping for some Thomasello Cranberry Wine.

      Shame on you. :)

      Frank

  2. Before they start talking Napa, first they have to catch up to Long Island, NY.

    http://www.lenndevours.com/2010/09/harvest-east-end-is-this-weekend.html

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