I had my first glass of New Jersey wine in the summer of 2000. At the time of the turn of the millennium, there were 17 wineries in the Garden State. Many of these wineries were closed on weekdays and in the winter. After a decade and a half of explosive growth, there are now 54 active wineries in the state, and today if you want to, you can taste New Jersey wine on a random Tuesday in February.
I particularly enjoy visiting new vineyards to chat with the owners about their dreams and challenges. My experience is that winemakers come from many different backgrounds, and in their first few years they find the niche that makes their winery unique. Over the last few months, I had the opportunity to visit three new wineries: Iron Plow Vineyards in Columbus, Sky Acres Winery in Far Hills, and G & W Winery in Rio Grande.
Iron Plow Vineyards is owned by Scott and Sara Shumway and Sara’s parents, Donald and Gilda Stanlaw. This family of educators bought a 62-acre farm in Burlington County, and in 2013 planted four acres of grapes. This year they added an additional four acres. The property has been used for farming since the late 1600s, and the winery is named after the cast iron plow, which was invented in Burlington County 200 years ago. Scott and Donald described themselves as locavores, and are focused on making small quantities of good wine using their own grapes, and other fruit from local farms.
At this time, Iron Plow grows or produces wine from 13 grapes, and also makes wines from apples, blueberries, cranberries, and strawberries. Unlike any other winery that I’ve been to, they also make a wine flavored with hops. Scott told me that his signature grape is Norton (Cynthiana), a native North American grape with a European flavor. The winery features an attractive tasting room, and has local musicians performing almost every weekend.
Sky Acres Winery focuses on technology and environmental sustainability. This Somerset County vineyard is located on a wooded tract in an area known for horse farms and large country estates. The winery’s proprietor, Vijay Singh, is a retired biotech scientist who holds 20 patents, and is known for bringing efficiency to pharmaceutical manufacturing. Along with his wife Meera, he is bringing innovation to the tradition-bound field of viticulture. The name Sky Acres reflects the couple’s interest in aviation.
Because of concerns from his town about wastewater, and a desire to reduce the inordinate amount of time that wineries spend cleaning tanks, Vijay created the GOfermentor, an automated, water-less fermentation system. Air pressure crushes a collapsible bag filled with grapes, the wine flows out and is strained, the residual grape skins are used for fertilizer, and the bag is discarded. Always the scientist, Vijay was in the process of developing a robot to complete some of his farm’s field work when I visited.
G & W Winery’s street address in on Route 47 in Cape May County, a few miles outside of Wildwood. However, the vineyard is almost a half-mile from the highway, down a long dirt road on a private tract of land deep within Cape May National Wildlife Refuge. That’s how business partners Dennis Hasson, Jerry Hellman, and Travis Thomas like it, keeping their grapes away from car exhaust and roadway run-off. Furthermore, the winery is completely off-grid, using only well-water and solar power.
Besides owning a winery together, the three owners are all employees of Haddonfield schools. Named for Dennis’s twin daughters Grace and Willow, grapes were first planted at G & W Winery in 2011, and there are currently five acres under cultivation. Not surprisingly, the goal of the owners is not mass production or lot of events, but top quality wine. A small but charming barn serves as the wine production area and tasting room, and Dennis told me that they want to start selling their wine at local restaurants.
When you visit Iron Plow Vineyards, try their Hats Off wine. Blends of red and white grapes are uncommon, but Hats Off is just that, made with Fredonia and Diamond grapes. This light-bodied wine is perfect for a summer picnic. Sky Acres’ automated grape-pressing draws more color out of the grape skins than traditional methods, resulting in wines with intense hues. The best wine at Sky Acres was their Cabernet Franc, which was soft and flavorful, and would go well with a duck or lamb dinner.
I had two favorite wines at G & W. Their merlot is not bottled yet, but I did a barrel tasting. Aged in Hungarian oak, this red was strong-bodied yet smooth as silk, and should be paired with a filet mignon. Their Chardonnay is fruity, and lacking any bitter or acerbic aftertastes. Having been recently bottled, I could see myself drinking their Chardonnay while eating salmon or sea bass.
Iron Plow Vineyards
26750 Mount Pleasant Road
Tasting room hours: Friday 6 p.m. to 10 p.m., Saturday and Sunday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Sky Acres Winery
1680 Black River Road
Tasting room hours: By appointment
G & W Winery
1034 South Delsea Drive (Route 47)
Tasting room hours: By appointment