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Wine & Art: The Future Of The Grape In The Garden State

Art is all about context. The art that we admire is only as good as the money that we’re willing to part with. Would you regard the original Mona Lisa with the same amount of reverence if you had first seen it on the table of an art vendor in the street? Take Joshua Bell for instance. He’s a world-class violinist. Three days after playing a sold-out show where seats went for upwards of $100, he made a special incognito appearance in the Washington D.C. Metro during morning rush hour posing as a lowly street musician. Of the thousands who walked by during his forty three minute performance only seven people stopped to listen. Ironically, he made a grand total of $32 in pocket change. What does this say about the so called value of art.

Illustration by Jasper Rietman

Illustration by Jasper Rietman

In the same context, we have the Outer Coastal Plain. It’s supposed to be one of the premier regions in the States for growing fine wine producing grapes. Its sandy soil, warm growing season, and breezes from the nearby bay make it ideal for winemaking. No, I’m not talking about some tucked away locale on the West Coast, the Outer Coastal Plain is located in the Southern end of our nation’s most mercilessly slandered state, New Jersey. In a state that’s better known for the Sopranos and the Jersey Shore, the OCP’s biggest challenge is reshaping its image as a future wine giant.

What comes to mind when you think of fine American wine? California. We already knew that. But it wasn’t always that way. California wasn’t recognized as a legitimate source of fine wine until the late twentieth century, scant decades ago. Not until the early 1970s at a blind tasting called the Judgment of Paris solely consisting of French wine experts was California’s potential acknowledged. In a stunning (at the time) turn of events, several of the Californian growers were ranked superior over their French counterparts.  The outcome loosened Europe’s vise grip on the top tier market and disabused the wine world from the notion that Coastal-Western Europe was the only region in the world where grapes would yield fine wine.

Renault Winery, Egg Harbor, New Jersey

Renault Winery, Egg Harbor, New Jersey

In addition to marketing the Garden State as a legitimate wine producing region, vintners must also contend with their less serious colleagues who exploit their efforts. It takes many seasons to find the right grape for a particular soil and climate and every instance of actual improvement to the state’s winemaking reputation provides an opportunity for less serious winemakers to grow inferior harvests and peddle them under the umbrella of New Jersey’s burgeoning winemaking reputation. These practices make it difficult to take the high road and invest in the long term when a majority of the competition is investing in the now and making everyone look the worse for it. It’s mutually destructive and favors short term revenue over long term reputation which perpetuates a cycle of economic stagnation in the wake of opportunistic, subpar products.

Expensive wine, like art, is nothing without the grandiose circumstance and prestige that accompanies the purchase of a bottle. Two years ago, an independent panel of distinguished wine critics formed in Princeton, New Jersey, playfully dubbed the Judgment of Princeton. They held a blind tasting which among its samples contained the best wine that New Jersey had to offer versus some of the best French wine. Better yet, some of the wines produced in New Jersey’s own Outer Coastal Plain scored comparably to the French Mouton-Rothschild and Haut-Brion. That was two years ago. Given two years of modest, relatively-unhindered growth, what do you think the prime shore-front real estate is producing now? Not to mention, at hundreds of dollars cheaper per bottle than your average Californian or European vintner.

Map of New Jersey by Region

Price discrepancies in mind, what exactly are you paying for when you buy a bottle of fine wine?  As a result of streamlined wine production laws and attractive land prices compared to those in California, New Jersey can not only charge less per comparable in quality bottle of wine, but can also allocate more of the profits towards producing the actual wine itself. So the next time you’re looking into purchasing an American-made wine, give New Jersey a shot and see which varietals are worth drinking for yourself.

If I haven’t already bored you enough you could have a look at your state’s wine shipping laws and find out if you can legally order straight from the Garden State. To get yourself started we recommend Auburn Road Vineyard, Bellview Winery, and Laurita Winery. Cabernet franc does well in New Jersey across the board but we particularly like Laurita’s 2005 Chardonnay, Bellview’s 2012 Pinot Grigio, and Auburn Road’s 2012 Good Karma. Many of the wineries in the Outer Coastal Plain will ship internationally as well, so if you’re stranded abroad, you aren’t entirely out of luck.

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