Sunday, May 11, 2008

Courier Post (NJ) Features Sharott Winery

Winslow welcomes winery
By BILL DUHART • Courier-Post Staff • April 29, 2008

Larry Sharrott III, left, and Larry Sharrott Jr. pose for a portrait in the tasting room of Sharrott Winery, Tuesday, April 15, 2008 in Winslow. (Douglas M. Bovitt/Courier-Post)

WINSLOW — For Pam Merkey, another wine-maker in the neighborhood was nothing to raise an eyebrow about.

"We all make wine around here," said Merkey, who lives on South Egg Harbor Road here in the Blue Anchor section of the township. "This is a very strong Italian community. We all visit each other's houses on Sundays to taste each other's wine."

But when the chance came for a relative to sell 34 acres of land that had been in her husband's family for generations to an upstart commercial wine operation, the family jumped at it.

"They could have sold that . . . and split it up but they didn't," said Merkey, 47, a residential development banker. "It got to stay what it is and that's a lot better than five houses out there."

That's the way Larry Sharrott III and his father Larry Sharrott Jr. feel about it. The Sharrott farm bucks a recent trend in a township shedding its farming identity for rapid residential growth. Residential land makes up 76 percent of the taxable property here, compared to only 5 percent for farms.

The Sharrotts, computer technicians by trade who have an affinity for distilling spirits, bought the land in 2003 for $175,000.

The winery offers 10 varieties of wine showcased in a 450-square-foot tasting bar atop a plateau with a patio overlooking the vineyard. The tasting bar is part of a 2,500-square-foot building that also houses the winemaking operation with grapes grown in the vineyard.

"We see ourselves as a bulkhead against development," said Sharrott Jr., 60, a retired computer executive. "They call this the Garden State but most of the gardens are turning into somebody's backyard."

"We're preserving open space and our farm is a new business for the township," added Sharrott III, 33, whose day job is at defense contractor Lockheed Martin.

The property, once an apple orchard, is zoned rural and restricted to one house per 10 acres of land, which officials said is not likely to change. But it had been vacant for several years.

"No question, it's something everyone welcomes," said Ed McGlinchey, township zoning officer and director of public works. "It's pretty obvious we had a big influx of single-family homes stretching back to the 1960s. Times were great for the residential building community."

But a sewer connection ban in the rapidly growing township has put a cap on new growth. Eighty-one percent of Winslow is in the environmentally protected Pinelands preserve. The Sharrott farm is in the Pinelands but farms are exempt from many of the restrictions.

"It takes a lot longer to get other types of businesses approved and its a lot more expensive," McGlinchey said. "We're not going to get a huge amount of taxes from the winery, but it keeps with the traditional character of the township."

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Reach Bill Duhart at (856) 486-2576 or