Thursday, June 17, 2010

Only Garden State Grown Grapes Allowed in 2010 New Jersey Wine Competition

Garden State Wine Competition finally NJ-only
May 22nd, 2010
David Falchek

After eight years, the New Jersey Governor’s Cup Wine Competition is finally all about New Jersey.

Wines made with grapes purchased from out-of-state are now banned from the state’s competition. As a result, they aren’t eligible to be served at state-sanctioned events where New Jersey wine is poured.

Competition coordinator, Gary Pavlis, Ph.D., Rutgers University Professor and Agricultural Agent was pleased.

“This is a big step forward for people who grow grapes in New Jersey,” Pavlis announced to the 24 judges at the competition, held at a Rutgers facility in Cream Ridge.. “I said for years that New Jersey has some of the best sites in the East for growing grapes.”

Pavlis is talking about places such as the lima bean farm in Cape May, N.J., that switched to grapes and became Hawk Haven Vineyards – one of the bright newcomers in the Garden State. Recently, I spent a day with growers and vintners of New Jersey’s newest American Viticultural Area, the Outer Coastal Plain. Their red wines – mostly 2007 and a few 2008s — were extraordinary.

The New Jersey-only rule knocked the number of entrants into the Governor’s Cup Competition down to about 300 compared to the usual 350 or so.

As a judge, I prefer the in-state rule. In addition to rewarding the industry and providing guidance for consumer, I use wine competitions to stretch my palate and get a sense for a state’s wine style. I’ve judged this competition long enough to see the submitted wine –and the state’s industry – move from fruit and hybrid grapes to noble vinifera grapes.

In panels of four, we taste the wines blind – we don’t much more than the grape, blend, vintage and residual sugar. Some of the highlights included two chardonnay made in a lean style that reminded me of sauvignon blanc.

The merlot flight was pretty weak, almost like a faults session. But the east has had two challenging years. The cabernet francs were good, but tasted more like non-distinct reds. I found one I really liked and rallied my panel behind it for a gold. I tend to be more generous in regional competitions because the wines are not up against wines from California or Europe. It’s all about New Jersey.

Toward the end of the day, we switched to sweet wines and fruit wines. Another panel had a banana wine which elicited a crack about global warming. (Non-grape fruit wines can still be made with fruit from anywhere. So no, the bannanas did not come from Bayonne.)

The sweepstakes included a petit verdot, a riesling/vidal ice wine, chambourcin Port-style wine, a traminette-chardonnay, and a Niagara. They were the cream of the crop and all were above par. Even the Niagara was about as balanced and well made as I can imagine a Niagara being.

A pediatrician who was a judge on my panel remarked the he didn’t smoke cigars, but would consider lighting one up just to enjoy with the Port. I resist the allure of ice wines at the end of a long day of tasting, but this one was very, very good and I think I scored it appropriately.

The New Jersey wine industry has been around for a long time. But even for the six or seven year I’ve been paying attention, it has evolved fast and I look forward to its future.

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