Sunday, November 01, 2009

Star Ledger on the 2009 Harvest in New Jersey

This is an excellent article you must read to the end. reat job by Leslie Kwoh. And a very important analysis of the harvest and the industry in New Jersey. Excellent reading.

N.J. vineyards expect poor crop after summer's torrential rains
By Leslie Kwoh/The Star-Ledger
October 18, 2009, 8:43PM

HAMMONTON -- Jack Tomasello has not slept well in months, not since the summer’s torrential rains swept through his sprawling Hammonton vineyard. In its wake, the rains left behind acres of grapes now cloaked in deadly fungus.

Desperate to salvage the crops, Tomasello, who runs the state’s largest winery with his brother, has risen at daybreak each morning to inspect and spray fungicide on the 70 acres of Cabernet, Riesling and Chardonnay grapes.Jerry McCrea/The Star-LedgerJoe Atkinson of Deptford loads harvested grapes into the hopper of a grape crushing machine at the Amalthea Cellars Winery in Atco.Even so, with just a few weeks left in the harvest, the winery will most likely reap less than half of last year’s 215 tons, when weather conditions were more ideal. In years like this, he said, "we’re a little nuts to do what we’re doing."

"We’re exhausted, we’re not happy," he said, adding that because the rain also destroyed neighboring vegetable crops, he had to shoot and kill three foraging deer. "Mother Nature was not kind this year."

After an unusually wet summer, wineries in New Jersey and throughout the Northeast are facing a challenging harvest as they race to reap fungus-riddled, not-quite-ripe crops ahead of the first frost.

Though this vintage won’t hit the shelves for another year or two, it is an unwelcome setback for an industry that was just starting to gain recognition following a string of top-notch harvests, experts say. For years, the state’s $30 million wine industry, which agriculture officials say is the nation’s fifth-largest by production, was better known for its other fruit wines: blueberry, raspberry, peach.

"We were on a roll. We really had been waking people up to what we can do," said Gary Pavlis, a Rutgers University small-fruit expert who has studied grape and wine quality for more than two decades. "2009 may be a nice, drinkable wine, but probably not the kind you’ll put down for 10 years."

The bad harvest is a blow because New Jersey has struggled for years to gain momentum. After Prohibition wiped out most of the state’s wineries, efforts to re-establish the industry were scattered, and only really took off in recent years.

About 40 wineries dot the state -- nearly double the number of five years ago -- clustered in pockets of rural northern counties like Sussex and Warren, and in the warmer southern counties of Cape May, Camden and Atlantic. Grapes have become the fastest-growing agricultural sector in the state, Pavlis said, with many farmers switching from less lucrative apples and peaches.
It's bottling season at New Jersey’s Alba Vineyard

Unlike California’s hot and dry climate, which tends to produce wine with fruitier aromas, New Jersey’s wetter climate resembles Europe’s, agricultural experts say, lending to similarly complex flavors as growers here learn how to master recently introduced European varieties.

"It’s not that we had a bad reputation. We had no reputation," said Louis Caracciolo, president of the Garden State Wine Growers Association and a vintner himself who sells about 30,000 bottles a year to a loyal following. "People now say, ‘I can’t believe this is New Jersey wine.’…"

But ask those outside local wine circles whether the Garden State is known for its wine, and the response is less than flattering.

"No. It’s just going to be the plain answer," said Anna Katharine Mansfield, an assistant professor of oenology at Cornell University. "They aren’t going to be the next Napa."
New Jersey also is one of only two dozen states that forbids wineries from shipping directly to consumers -- a law smaller vintners say restricts their growth.

Still, the Garden State has a large appetite for wine, ranking fifth in consumption behind Texas, at 31 million gallons a year, according to trade research organization Beverage Information Group.

But only a small fraction of what residents imbibe is locally produced (282,421 gallons last year). That leaves a big opening for niche local winemakers.

"It’s never going to be mass-produced, overly commercialized, exported wine," Mansfield said. "It’s going to be local wine."

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