The Outer Coastal Plain American Viticultural Area (AVA) covers over 2.25 million acres in Southeastern New Jersey. It was established by the federal government in 2006. The Federal Registry describes the area's boundaries and the factors used in granting AVA status to the area. ( See Federal Registry July 3, 2006 vol 7 #127, pp 37870-37874) . There are nearly 200 AVA's currently in the US and the Outer Coastal Plain AVA is among the top 10% in size. The wine industry in this AVA currently comprises over 20 wineries and commercial vineyards.
Climates here are influenced by the maritime effects of the Atlantic Ocean and Delaware Bay. This contributes to the long growing season which spans 190 to 217 freeze free days per year. Spring frosts that could damage buds or flowering are rare. Many of the vinifera varieties which are too cold sensitive to be grown in much of the mid-Atlantic region can be grown here since the USDA hardiness zones encompassed by the AVA range from zone 6B, 7A through 7B. Southeastern New Jersey vineyards are characterized by relatively flat or low hills and sandy or sandy loam soils. The well-drained soils with low to moderate fertility are quite favorable to grape growing.
New Jersey’s nickname, the Garden State, derives largely from the more than one hundred year history of growing fruits and vegetables in this area which supplies such produce to the mid-Atlantic region and as far north as Montreal. Within the AVA is 1.1 million acre Pinelands National Reserve, created in 1978 by Congress as the nation’s first National Reserve and is comprised of forest, wetlands, and farms. The Pinelands are the largest body of open space between Boston and Richmond. Although much of the sandy soil within the National Reserve is of low pH and is well known for its cranberry and blueberry production, viticulture is well supported by soil and climate in the Pinelands periphery and in the remaining million plus acres of the Outer Coastal Plain AVA which are located outside the Pinelands.
Viticulture was established in New Jersey in colonial times. In 1767, London’s Royal Society of the Arts recognized two New Jersey vintners for their success in producing the first bottles of quality wine derived from the colonial agriculture. Viticulture flourished in Southeastern New Jersey in the mid-19th century. Renault Winery, established in Egg Harbor City in 1864, is the oldest continuously operating winery in the United States. Around the same time, Dr. Thomas Welch founded the U.S. grape juice industry in Vineland, New Jersey. Prohibition devastated the area’s wineries, but immigrants and their descendants, largely Italian, continued to promote viticulture and winemaking. Improvements in grape growing and winemaking techniques and the relatively high per capita wine consumption of New Jersey residents have sparked further interest in establishing commercial vineyards and wineries in this AVA.
Award-winning wines are being produced with vinifera, French-American hybrids, and native-American grapes. Much of the AVA is particularly well suited for vinifera such as Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Lemberger, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Viognier; French American hybrids such a Vidal, Chamboucin, Traminette and Villard Noir, and native American varieties such as Ives and Cynthiana. However, many other grape varieties are grown and there are excellent wines being made from Italian varieties such as Sangiovese, Dolcetto, Nero D'Avola, Barbera and Nebbiolo as well as Spanish varieties such as Albarino, Touriga Nacional and Tempranillo. Unusual varieties and clones from the Northern Italian region of Trentino-Alto Adige are currently being planted as well.
The Outer Coastal Plain AVA of New Jersey has climatic and soil conditions which are amongst the best in the East Coast for producing high quality wine. For more information about the area and the great wine produced in the Outer Coastal Plain AVA as well as other viticultural areas check out the Appellation America website www.AppellationAmerica.com.
The Garden State Wine Growers Association is an organization of grape growers and wineries representing the Outer Coastal Plain AVA, as well as two other AVA’s in the state. It sponsors wine related festivals and events and the Quality Wine Alliance Program, which was established in 1999 to ensure that all wine sold to consumer’s meet set quality standards. These wines must pass a rigorous review process before they can earn the coveted QWA designation. (see www.newjerseywines.com).