Why You Should Indulge in NJ Wine and Chocolate This Valentine’s Day

New Jersey's Wine and Chocolate Trail Weekends offer a "magical" pairing, says Devon Perry, head of the Garden State Wine Growers Association.

Devon Perry, head of the Garden State Wine Growers Association

Devon Perry, head of the Garden State Wine Growers Association, says New Jersey’s wineries offer a “welcoming spirit” to visitors. Photo: Matt Zugale

We could all use a little love this Valentine’s Day, whether in the form of romance, friendship, or some affection for the state we call home.

And what better way to celebrate that idea than with food and drink created right here in New Jersey? That’s where Devon Perry comes in. As executive director of the Garden State Wine Growers Association (GSWGA), a coalition of more than 50 wineries in New Jersey, she oversees initiatives aimed at local wine lovers, including February’s Wine and Chocolate Trail Weekends, which sandwich Valentine’s Day and feature events at wineries all over the state. “It’s such a magical pairing, wine and chocolate,” Perry says. “Both have complex and complementary flavor notes.”

Many Jersey wineries are teaming up with local chocolatiers to create special flights and tastings, alongside music, outdoor fun around the fire pit, and more activities.

[RELATEDVote in New Jersey Monthly’s Jersey Choice Restaurant Poll]

The local aspect of Perry’s job is paramount for her. “I’m a Jersey girl, through and through,” she says. A Philadelphia native, Perry grew up in Cherry Hill and is now raising her three children in her South Jersey hometown.

Her foray into hospitality started with her own family, working for the restaurant database company that her grandfather Joseph Segel, the entrepreneur who founded QVC and the Franklin Mint, started; she eventually became CEO. Helping her grandfather with wine tastings showed her that many people’s preconceived notions about what’s good—and what’s bad—in the world of wine can be dead wrong.

That sentiment rings true for the New Jersey wine industry, which is growing in terms of reach and accolades. “Those of us who live here are very familiar with the fact that we have to remind people, both near and far, that we are growers of beautiful crops,” Perry says. Though many people do associate the Garden State with produce like tomatoes, Perry wants that immediate connection for wine, too. She notes that, in one recent double-blind taste test (where tasters know nothing about the wine beforehand), “not one person in the room could tell you which wines were New Jersey and which wines were the international wines.”

New Jersey has four American Viticultural Areas, or grape-growing regions: Cape May Peninsula, Central Delaware Valley, Outer Coastal Plain and Warren Hills. More than 80 varieties come from Jersey grapes, including cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay. The earth here is a major factor in the ability to grow wine grapes. “We have 136 miles of beach, freshwater and saltwater, and it really mimics the terroir, or the soil, of Bordeaux, France,” a top wine region, Perry says. New Jersey’s wine industry generates more than $92 million in annual tourism expenditures, benefiting local economies and tax bases, according to the GSWGA.

Perry’s favorite way to enjoy wine is with other people. And, in true Jersey fashion, Perry says that the stereotypical wine-snob attitude people may associate with other wine countries doesn’t exist here. “We are not pretentious,” she says. “There’s a very welcoming spirit of curiosity.”

Wine and Chocolate Trail Weekends run February 9-11 and 16-18.

No one knows New Jersey like we do. Sign up for one of our free newsletters here. Want a print magazine mailed to you? Purchase an issue from our online store.

Read more Eat & Drink articles.