Thursday, February 04, 2010

Philadelphia Inquirer Lauds NJ and PA Wineries

Wines of S. Jersey draw fans
By Craig LaBan
Thu, Jan. 28, 2010
Inquirer Restaurant Critic
Philadelphia Inquirer
South Jersey-bred Doug Cooper took a glass of ruby red cabernet franc the other night, and his eyes lit with appreciation at the first sip.
"Hey, I like that quite a bit," he said.
But would he believe that it came from the upstart Sharrott Winery in Blue Anchor, Winslow Township, about 13 miles from his Blackwood roots?

"You must be kidding me," he said. "Never in a million years would I imagine that."
Of course, Cooper's no wine expert. He can be excused both his skepticism and his lack of familiarity with this rising winery in our own backyard - Sharrott is just selling its third vintage.
But imagine the surprise when a gathering of professional wine judges in California, tasting blindly through thousands of American offerings at the recent San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, awarded gold medals to not one, but three New Jersey wines.

Sharrott's 2008 cabernet franc and a 2008 gew├╝rztraminer from Alba, near Milford, were winners. Alba also claimed the Best of Class gold for its chambourcin.

"We've seen a continued growth of entries from outside of California," said Bob Fraser, executive director of the Chronicle competition, the largest in America, whose 4,913 wines came from 23 states.
Granted, most of these, like 90 percent of the $30 billion American wine industry's product, came from California. But in a competition where wines are tasted blindly, identified just by a number on the crystal stem, preconceptions are obliterated. And there are bound to be some unexpected winners.
Aside from the well-established vineyards of Oregon and Washington state, this year saw a strong push in medals from New York's Finger Lakes area, which took top honors in five of the 26 white and sparkling categories.

There were only six wineries entered from New Jersey and Pennsylvania. But three gold winners from New Jersey (Pennsylvania's only winner, Briar Valley Vineyard in Bedford, garnered three bronzes) emphasize the possibilities for winemaking in a region that few mainstream consumers, like Cooper, have taken seriously.

"I believe there have been some biases against East Coast wines," said Larry Sharrott Jr., who started the winery eight years ago with his son, Larry III. "But when wineries like ours win medals, it confirms the fact that we can produce excellent wines that stand up to the rest of the country. Part of the challenge is just getting people to try them."

Tom Sharko agrees. He's owned Alba Vineyard, in Finesville, about 25 minutes southeast of Easton, Pa., since 1997. He and his winemaker, John Altmaier, have been getting national notice for several years, with a Best of Class dry riesling at last year's Chronicle competition to go with this year's golds (as well as three silvers). Alba for the last two years has been the Garden State Wine Growers Association's Winery of the Year.
"Between these competitions and [wine magazines], these scores give us the credibility for people to give us a try," Sharko said.

Sharrott and Sharko are part of a growing trend toward local winemaking, with 140 Pennsylvania wineries now vs. 42 a decade ago, and New Jersey's number growing from 12 to 40 over the same period. Vineyards have become profitable centers for day-tripping agritourism, a drinkable extension of the "go local" movement. And winemaking remains one of the most viable ways to preserve small farms as agricultural open space, while suburban development continues to chew up East Coast land.

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