Vine Times: A Report From The Garden State’s Winemaking Industry

The forecast is sunny for NJ's wine "crop."

Sunny, warm and rain-free weather during peak harvest in New Jersey has made for a “satisfying conclusion” to the 2017 wine-grape-growing season, says John Cifelli, executive director of the state’s Winemakers’ Co-op.

That’s a report wine-grape growers in other parts of the country would be mighty pleased to be offering to the public.

While the wildfires that raged early this month in Sonoma and Napa in California largely spared the state’s vineyards and wineries, the damage that did occur won’t be clearly assessed until spring when singed vines either will – or won’t – bud properly. Of a more immediate, critical concern is the housing situation: A sizable number of vineyard workers were displaced when the blazes destroyed or damaged homes and remain in need of permanent housing in the region to stay close to their jobs.

So New Jersey’s vineyards and wineries are double-lucky this year.

Something to look for when tasting the 2017 Garden State wine vintage is a desirably high level of natural acidity. Why? According to Cifelli, New Jersey’s wine grapes this year “benefited from below-average nighttime low temperatures (from) late July through early September.”

Cool summer evenings result in those high levels of natural acidity and make for “exceptional” wines, he adds.

Meanwhile, summer’s end saw consistent high pressure, keeping vineyards warm and dry. New Jersey dodged the worst of hurricane season’s named storms as well as the tropical storms.

To get specific, at Working Dog Winery in Robbinsville, owner Mark Carduner reported the driest September since the vineyard was planted in 2001. The most exciting part of the 2017 harvest, he added, is the “terrific color concentration and sugar accumulation in red-grape varieties, such as syrah and cabernet franc.

Farther south, at Heritage Vineyards in Richwood, winemaker Sean Comninos says his 2017 reds are “exceptional, perhaps our finest vintage.” Aggressive pruning in the spring resulted in a smaller crop at Heritage, but greater concentrations.

Michael Beneduce, of Beneduce Vineyards in Pittstown, says that “fruit is coming in concentrated” across the grape spectrum. “Gewurztraminer and pinot noir (are) the best quality I’ve seen to date,” he adds. There will be “elegant, balanced, aromatic wines from all varieties.”

Conor Quilty, at Unionville Vineyards in Ringoes, says that the most aromatic varietals shined in the 2017 harvest. “Whites such as viognier and chardonnay saw a graceful ripening with a solid backbone of acidity,” the winemaker notes, while both the structure and flavor of red wines such as syrah and cabernet franc “benefited from over two weeks of warm weather with no recorded precipitation before the pick.”

To keep current with the co-op and New Jersey’s wine industry news, visit

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