Penni Heritage of the Heritage Winery pours for attendees. She and her husband took over the family farm in 2000 and went into wine. (APRIL SAUL…)
Raising a glass to New Jersey wines
By Rita Giordano, Inquirer Staff Writer
Posted: September 10, 2013
SPRINGFIELD Under a glorious blue sky, grape lovers tipped their glasses and sampled the offerings - red, white, dry, fruity - of 18 wineries that had come to this summer field.
But the scene of this vine-inspired bliss was not France or California. Not even Upstate New York.
Try Burlington County. New Jersey's got wine, and a lot of it is very good.
That was the message behind the weekend's second annual Jersey Fresh Wine Festival, held at the Burlington County Fairgrounds in Springfield Township. It is one of seven wine festivals sponsored by the Garden State Wine Growers Association, accommodating a growing number of wineries.
"Now there are more than 40 licensed wineries, and there are more that are planning to open," said Tom Cosentino, spokesman for the growers association.
That number often surprises people, but it shouldn't, Cosentino said.
"You like Jersey tomatoes? You like Jersey corn? If we have the great soil to make other great agricultural products," he said, "why shouldn't we have great grapes?"
South Jersey's Outer Coastal Plain, one of three main wine-producing regions of the state, has soil and climate conditions comparable to the Bordeaux region of France, Cosentino said.
In addition, changes in law have made it easier for wineries to open and for vintners to send their goods elsewhere.
The Renault Winery in Egg Harbor, the oldest in the state - it turns 150 next year - exports to China.
"China loves dry red wine," said vintner David DeMarsico, who was serving his family's Renault wine to eager connoisseurs Sunday.
Closer to home, however, some New Jersey winemakers have at times been less than wowed by their products' placement in liquor stores and their lack of presence on restaurant menus.
"It is a little frustrating, but in the last five to 10 years, we've made some really nice strides," DeMarsico said. "I think it's just a matter of time."
New Jersey wines have taken honors in wine competitions.
Bob and Lise Clark of Chestnut Run Farm in Pilesgrove, both science professionals, started their gourmet produce business 29 years ago and found they could make good wine from their apples and Asian pears. Last year, they won a double medal at the Finger Lakes International Wine Competition.
"If it sounds like I'm bragging, you bet I'm bragging," Bob Clark said while his wines were flowing at the festival. "This is a two-person operation."
At 2012's Judgment of Princeton international competition, New Jersey wines did well. That included Mullica Hill's Heritage Vineyards & Winery. Co-owner Bill Heritage, a fifth-generation fruit farmer, said one of their red wines and a white each placed third.
Heritage and his wife, Penni, didn't set out to be winemakers. Penni Heritage was a mail carrier and her husband was a warehouse manager in 2000 when his father decided it was time to retire from farming. The couple, who had three young sons, decided to take over.
"We were trying to save the farm," Bill Heritage said.
Now their 100-plus acres are home to a winery, petting zoo, hay rides, a pick-your-own pumpkin patch, and farm store. Their eldest son does their marketing and their youngest, a business major in college, may lend his expertise after graduation.
"It's been a heck of a ride," Bill Heritage said.
Dan and Heather Brown's three boys like to help out at their parent's Wagonhouse Winery in South Harrison Township, but at ages 8, 6, and 5, their skills are limited. They, however, are the inspiration for their parents' Three Boys brand of sweet blends.
Dan Brown, an employee of the state Agriculture Department, said the couple planted their first vines in 2004 on farmland in his family, and bought their own farm in 2010. They hope to pass it on to their sons.
For now, Dan Brown is keeping his state job while tending the vineyard. Heather runs the tasting room and handles marketing.
"You work hard, but it's a good life," he said.
And for many of the more than 4,000 people who went to the festival, it was a tasty discovery.
Said Grant Ingalls, a mailman from Cream Ridge: "It's more than I expected. Delicious."
Contact Rita Giordano at 856-779-3893, firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow on Twitter @ritagiordano.