Sweet Success: South Jersey's growing wine industry has become a boom for the state's agribusiness.
Red or white. Sweet or dry. Chardonnay or merlot. An excellent climate and fertile soil for grape growing have put South Jersey on the winery map. More and more visitors are coming to sip and taste the difference that the region’s climate and soil make on the grapes—and it wouldn’t be surprising if the region gives Napa Valley a run for its grapes in the near future.
Home to the Two Bridges, Pinelands Reserve, and Cape May Wine Trails, South Jersey is the site of 17 wineries. Aside from a climate conducive to winemaking, South Jersey’s location also makes it a perfect tourist destination. Nearby historic sites, award-winning restaurants, museums and famous gardens all beckon to tourists.
“Marketing our wine trails is a terrific way for the region to grow economically. Visitors can enjoy vineyards and also take in local sights, restaurants, and events,” says Scott Donnini of Auburn Road Vineyards.
One thing the experts agree upon is that the ’Buy Local’ movement has helped inspire the local wine movement. “More people are buying organic and local produce because they want to know where their food is coming from. It’s the same with a winery. Visit a local winery and you’ll see exactly where your wine is produced,” says Richard Heritage, director of sales and marketing for Heritage Valley Vineyards.
Donnini agrees the ‘Buy Local’ mentality adds to the South Jersey tourism component. “People can visit a local winery, walk through the vineyard, and reach up and taste the grapes right on the vine,” he notes. “They see how the grapes are fermented and can spend an entire day at a vineyard, watching how wine is made. Then they can sample some. This is a wonderful aspect of tourism. Wine is agribusiness for South Jersey.”
Regionally, South Jersey is part of the Vintage Atlantic Wine Region, which consists of vineyards from Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland, in addition to New Jersey.
Home to about 60 wineries within a 90-mile radius, the area has been producing grapes and wines for centuries. However, just recently the region’s wineries began to realize that their commonalities could be best utilized together to draw in tourism and promote business. “Every destination has a well-developed niche to bring in visitors. Here in South Jersey, our opportunity right now is to cultivate the winery niche,” says Jake Buganski, executive director of South Jersey Tourism Corporation.
The Vintage Atlantic Wine Region is also working to blur state lines. Wine lovers may only be familiar with a type of wine from a particular state, like a merlot from Pennsylvania, but if they are exposed to wineries throughout the region, they too can expand their tastes. “The Vintage Atlantic Wine Region completely ignores state boundaries to collectively use resources and promote the wineries together as a whole. This is a great vehicle to pull in tourism, and what’s good for tourism is good for the local wineries. Boosting tourism benefits the region as a whole,” Donnini says.
Heritage agrees. “It’s not about tasting a Pennsylvania wine or a wine from New Jersey. The Vintage Atlantic Region takes the state component out of the equation,” he says. “It connects us to big city tourist areas. Visitors can come to Heritage Valley for a wine tasting and then spend the evening in Atlantic City or stop at a vineyard in Pennsylvania after a day touring Philadelphia.”
Instead of competing against each other for business, the wineries have embraced working together. “What’s good for one is good for all,” Donnini says. “Auburn Road Vineyard by itself isn’t necessarily a destination, but having multiple wineries on a wine trail allows visitors to experience different things and taste different wines.
The wine trail brings in visitors and enables them to take us seriously as a collective, rather than individually as one vineyard. Wine is tourism and agriculture.”
Wines may prove to be the economic boost the region needs. “It’s very important to offer a diversity of tourism options throughout New Jersey. When one aspect of tourism falters, like casinos closing in Atlantic City, another offering should be there to pick up the pieces, giving visitors a reason to come to the state,” Buganski says.
“The wine region helps to erase the county borders and boosts a spirit of participation, giving tourists a reason to visit South Jersey.”
Published (and copyrighted) in South Jersey Biz, Volume 4, Issue 11 (November, 2014).
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