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Why New Jersey Wines Are Challenging Napa Valley

Look out Napa Valley. The wine being produced in New Jersey is drawing well-deserved accolades. People have been recently discovering who NJ grape growers have known for decades; that the Garden State has ideal environmental and soil conditions for growing several wine grape varieties.

It’s roughly a 43-hour drive to New Jersey from Napa Valley. Even so, the two areas have a lot in common when it comes to producing great tasting wine. Whether you prefer a Sauvignon Blanc or a Cabernet, New Jersey offers several high quality varieties that are home-grown.

Let’s take a quick look at exactly why the state better known for the Sopranos and Bruce Springsteen is turning out wines drawing rave reviews from sommeliers around the world.

Great Wine Comes East to the Garden State

Mention Napa Valley and any wine connoisseur will be all ears. That’s because Napa Valley is famous for a wide variety of excellent wines. It has been since Charles Krug built the first commercial winery there in 1861. That California region produces world-class Chardonnays and Merlots, and great Pinot Noirs. If Napa Valley had to claim a “signature wine”, it would be the Cabernet Sauvignons that come out of the area.

People from around the world travel to California just to sample its Cabernets and other great wines. Up until recently, wine lovers on the East Coast of the United States had to take a long trip to Napa Valley as well, if they wanted to say they were drinking some of the best wine in the world right where it was grown and produced.

That isn’t necessary anymore.

East Coasters can enjoy world-class Rieslings, Gewürztraminers and Zweigelts by taking a trip to New Jersey. Because of agricultural and corporate law changes in the early 21st century, New Jersey has quickly burst upon the wine-making scene in a big way. It also doesn’t hurt that the soil profile, environment and natural seasonal changes are perfect for quality wine production.

New Jersey Soil Mirrors Bordeaux, France’s Grape Growing Excellence

New Jersey and the city of Bordeaux, France share nearly the same latitude. There is only a difference of 4 degrees latitude between these two cities ideally suited for growing grapes. Sharing the same latitude means that mother nature’s seasonal changes are virtually identical in both of those cities.

That’s good for the New Jersey wine industry, since Bordeaux is famous for some of the best wines in the world.

As you probably know, Bordeaux wines are named after the city in France. The soil and other traits of mother nature in Bordeaux turn grapes into some of the most popular Merlots and Cabernet Sauvignons. More than 90% of Bordeaux wines are red wines, and Bordeaux vintages are well-known for their age-ability.

A good wine from a quality Bordeaux château can age slowly, for many decades. This is because the tannins in the grapes act as a natural preservative. That ability is largely because of the soil structure in Bordeaux.

As it turns out, some parts of New Jersey have a soil composition that is similar if not identical to the areas of Bordeaux, France that have been producing great wines for centuries. Though the two cities are more than 3,640 miles apart, they are both naturally predisposed for growing great grapes.

New Jersey Vintners Are Making Wines That Challenge Napa Valley’s Best

Like Bordeaux, France, the Napa Valley in California is famous for producing great wine. Although it doesn’t share a latitude approximate to that of Bordeaux and New Jersey, mother nature has given Napa Valley everything it needs to grow grapes perfect for making a variety of wines.

Wine producers in New Jersey have been saying for a long time that there wines are superior to Napa Valley products. While a lot of that boasting can come down to local pride, people have been discovering they don’t have to travel to the West Coast for some of the best wine in America.

That’s really something, because New Jersey is only 1/7th the size of the state of California. Even so, the Garden State has quietly become the 7th largest wine producing state in the US.

That’s because the region is so ideal for turning grapes into different types of quality wines. According to John Cifelli, general manager at Unionville Vineyards in New Jersey, “You have basically the ability to grow 90 percent of the world’s great wine varieties and wine grape varieties in New Jersey.”

What New Jersey Regions Are Best for Your Favorite Wine?

New Jersey is not very large when compared to other US states. However, separate regions of the Garden State are better for producing one wine variety as opposed to another.

Mountainous regions of northern New Jersey mimic the environment of the Rona Valley in France. That area has been famous for producing dryer wines like Chardonnay that are regarded as possibly the best in the world. So you don’t have to take a trip to France, Germany or the Napa Valley to enjoy an amazing Chardonnay in its home environment. They are grown in the cooler climates of the New Jersey mountains in the north.

This area is home to an extremely specific combination of limestone and granite deposits that makes it perfect for producing Chardonnays. If you like Cabernet Francs, they are produced statewide.

Merlots and Cabernets that challenge similar varieties from Bordeaux, France are produced in the coastal plains of southern New Jersey. This is a warmer and more humid climate than in the north. It’s flatter than other areas of the state, with sandy soil and lots of gravel. This is perfect for producing many excellent red wines, as well as both white and red Bordeaux varieties.

World-Class New Jersey Wines – the Proof Is in the Tasting

Ask a master sommelier that has tasted a quality New Jersey wine and you’ll hear words like viscosity and opacity. You’ll be told about quality of aroma and richness of color. If you are new to wine tasting you can get confused by a lot of the industry verbiage.

Ask respected sommelier Susanne Wagner what she thinks about New Jersey wines and she’ll say simply, “Taste it.” She works at the award-winning 4-star Restaurant Latour in Hardyston, New Jersey. When asked by her guests to recommend a great wine, she does exactly that.

What she doesn’t do is tell her guests the wine was grown locally in New Jersey. After they rave about the quality of the wine she recommends, she then tells them it’s locally grown.

She says many of her guests are surprised to find world-class wines are being produced in New Jersey. In blind taste tests, those same guests often pick a New Jersey wine over one from France or California. That experience has become more commonplace as New Jersey finally receives its well-earned praise as a producer of world-class wines.

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