I recently attended Bellview Winery’s Spring Wine Release, specifically to taste their Dandelion Wine. This obsession with dandelions here in South Jersey is new to me. I grew up in Pennsylvania, where the only dandelions I worried about were the ones messing up my father’s pristine yard!
But here, especially in Cumberland County, dandelions are a delicacy and a source of pride. There’s Dandelion salad, Dandelion beer, Dandelion wine, and even an entire Dandelion dinner to tickle the locals’ taste buds. I wondered why?
So I headed over to Bellview Winery to do a little tasting. In the process, I got a great overview of Bellview’s history from owner Jim Quarella.
How did Bellview Winery get started?
I started making wine with friends when I was about 16. People really liked our wine, and I really enjoyed making it. I planted about 2 acres of grapes on the farm. That’s when I first started thinking about a winery. Then there was college, and when I finished in 1980, I came home to take over the family farming business. Met and married my wife, Nancy, started a family, had no money to invest in a new enterprise. I focused on making our living growing vegetables for almost 20 years, even pulled out the grapes I had planted to use the land for other crops. For some reason, in 1999 the wine making bug bit again, and I decided to plant some grapes just to make wine for the family. That rekindled the whole winery idea, only this time I was in a position to do something about it. It seemed to be a good next move for the farm as well, given the situation in agriculture at the time. So I asked my wife, Nancy if she could get behind me in the venture, and we haven’t looked back since. For the first few years, I had to keep the farm going while we also started up the winery, but I was glad to be able to quit that in 2003. Since then it’s been a full time winery all the way.
What has changed about wine making in New Jersey since then?
Wine making in New Jersey has changed with the emphasis switching from native grapes to viniferas, the European grapes, and also the shift from sweet wines to drier ones. As the industry grows, there are more knowledgeable wine makers here, and increased competition pushes everyone to make better wines. The quality of New Jersey wines has increased by leaps and bounds, and continues to improve as we get a better idea of the grape varieties that are best for our soil and climate. The Outer Coastal Plain of southern New Jersey has huge potential to become known as one of the great wine producing areas of the country, because conditions here are so very favorable for producing the highest quality wine grapes.
Dandelion Wine is unusual. When did you first make it? How does it differ from making a wine with grapes?
Dandelion wine is something my great-aunts made every spring my whole life. My oldest son, Lee, suggested we make it to sell at the winery. It was a good idea! Our first vintage was 2004, with Aunt Ada (in her nineties) overseeing the process. Every time I wanted to change something to make it more efficient to produce a much larger batch, she would shake her finger at me and say, “You’re going to ruin it!”. So I make it exactly the same way she did, using the old family recipe, my secret. Aunt Ada is gone now, but I think of her every time we make the wine.
What is your favorite – white or red?
My favorite wines used to be reds, but now I’ve grown to appreciate all of them. It really depends on the situation, what I’m eating, what mood I’m in. I can’t say I have a favorite.
What does the future hold for Bellview Winery?
The future looks bright for the winery. As the industry grows in the state, we can look forward to more people interested in New Jersey wines, more tourism, and a greater demand for our product. Our youngest son, Scott, has one more year at Rutgers, and the plan right now is that he’ll return and join us in the business. We continue to plant new grape varieties, so there will be interesting new wines coming along. I’ll keep refining my wine making techniques. I’m always trying to improve the wines – don’t want to rest on my laurels!
And how does Dandelion wine taste?
This year’s vintage was made of dandelions picked last spring, so it is one year old already. Quite sweet, this dessert wine has a unique flavor. We taste lemon and a pleasant, faintly herbal note, something like eucalyptus.
Our 2007 Dandelion wine begins to give an idea of how the wine will change and improve over time. The color is darker and will continue to deepen to a golden amber. The flavors of the wine are melding into the silky nectar it will become. We taste honey, tangerine, lemon, black tea and an almost minty flavor.
Visit Bellview Winery’s Tasting Room 7 days a week from 10 am to 5 pm. More than 30 wines. Tours on Saturdays at 2 pm. 150 Atlantic Street, Landisville.
Jennifer Malme is a full-time mother, sometime substitute teacher, avid locavore, and enthusiastic supporter of New Jersey wines. Her lifestyle blog, Down-Home South Jersey, explores ways to live simply and eat well in and around Cumberland County. When she is not blogging, she enjoys cooking, touring local wineries, and reading. She has never met a cheese that she doesn’t like, and she especially enjoys finding new, authentic ethnic restaurants in her area. Jennifer lives in Vineland with her husband, teenage son, and very smart Siamese cat.