Amphora Wines: A Conversation with Cape May Winery’s Mike Mitchell

Cape May Winery and Vineyard, amphora, Jersey Bites, Marissa Muoio

In the heart of New Jersey’s wine country, where the bay and ocean create a unique microclimate, Cape May Winery & Vineyard stands out. Both its picturesque location and its innovative approach to winemaking help with this achievement. In a recent interview with Mike Mitchell, the talented winemaker at Cape May Winery, we delved into the fascinating story behind their venture into producing amphora wines.

Cape May Winery and Vineyard, amphora, Jersey Bites, Marissa Muoio

The Method

The conversation began with Mitchell sharing the origin of this unique winemaking method. In 2019, owners Toby Craig and his daughter, Betsy Sole, acquired the winery’s first amphora (shown at right in the photo above). They were driven by a desire to experiment with a distinctive winemaking vessel. The initial amphora proved to be a success, prompting the acquisition of two more, and then two more the following year.

Mitchell emphasized that the decision was not only based on functionality but also on the visual appeal of these vessels, envisioning them as standout centerpieces for their winery. While amphora wines are more common in regions like Tuscany, he emphasized the uniqueness of having them in Cape May.

A Different Approach

What sets Cape May Winery apart is that they are currently the only winery in New Jersey utilizing amphorae. Mitchell mentioned that Alba, another New Jersey winery, recently acquired one as well, with their first vintage being a Chardonnay. He highlighted the scarcity of this winemaking approach in the region. He also noted that a couple of wineries in Long Island and Virginia have adopted it.

Cape May Winery and Vineyard, Mike Mitchell, amphora, Jersey Bites, Marissa Muoio

As we explored the tasting notes of their amphora-aged wines, Mitchell explained the distinctive qualities imparted by the concrete vessels. The porous nature of the concrete allows for a controlled introduction of oxygen during the winemaking process. This, in turn, softens the wine and contributes to a more rounded and homogenized flavor profile.

Mitchell drew comparisons between concrete and stainless steel fermentation, emphasizing the unique benefits of the former. “The concrete being fit and just the properties of concrete act as an insulator,” he said. “You don’t end up with temperature spikes during fermentation,” he said. “You have a very consistent temperature, easy to control.”

We continued discussing the advantages of the amphora during fermentation. Mitchell pointed to its insulating properties that maintain consistent temperatures and the shape that creates a natural vortex, ensuring even mixing throughout the process. Unlike traditional cylindrical tanks, the amphora’s design facilitates the suspension of sediment. This results in a more homogenous product without the need for manual stirring. 

Cape May Winery and Vineyard, amphora, Jersey Bites, Marissa Muoio

The interview moved on to the varietals that Cape May Winery has chosen to age in these amphorae. Mitchell expressed his commitment to making these wines the upper echelon of their estate series. Notably, their white field blend, sourced from a nearly 30-year-old vineyard, has been a consistent success across multiple vintages. He touched upon their use of amphorae for Sauvignon Blanc, Vidal Blanc, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Franc, each revealing the distinctive characteristics of this winemaking method.

Looking Ahead

In discussing future plans, Mitchell shared the winery’s focus on growing their estate series, honing in on varietals that thrive in their microclimate. “The estate series is our main area of for continued growth,” he emphasized.

He proudly mentioned their recent accolade for the 2020 estate Cabernet Sauvignon, which won the Governor’s Cup for the best in the category. Additionally, Mitchell hinted at the possibility of venturing into sparkling wines, with new vineyard plantings geared toward producing high-quality sparkling varietals in the future.

As we wrapped up the interview, Mitchell reflected on the challenges of the recent vintage, characterized by unexpected rainfall. Despite the weather’s impact, Cape May Winery continues to thrive, offering a diverse portfolio of wines that showcase the unique terroir of the region.

The conversation provided a captivating glimpse into the world of amphora wines at Cape May Winery, showcasing a true commitment to innovation and quality winemaking in the heart of New Jersey. Cape May Winery’s dedication to innovation, combined with its unique microclimate, makes the winery a standout in the New Jersey wine scene. The amphora wines push the boundaries and showcase the potential of winemaking in this region.

Mike Mitchell of Cape May Winery and Vineyard, amphora, Jersey Bites, Marissa Muoio
Mitchell, winemaker

The Food Program

In addition to groundbreaking amphora-aged wines, Cape May Winery offers a culinary tapas experience that perfectly complements the exceptional vintages. The culinary program is lead by Mike Siegel, head chef. The renowned food program elevates the overall tasting experience for visitors.

Chef Mike curates unique food and wine pairings, creating a symphony of flavors that accentuate the nuances of each varietal. Guests can indulge in carefully crafted tapas dishes that harmonize with the amphora-aged wines, enhancing the sensory journey and providing a holistic exploration of Cape May’s terroir.

For those seeking a more immersive and intimate experience, Cape May Winery also organizes exclusive win pop-up dinners. These events allow guests to savor the winery’s premium selections alongside expertly paired gourmet dishes in a sophisticated setting.

The wine dinners offer a rare opportunity to engage directly with the winemaking team and chefs, gaining insights into the artistry behind both the wines and the culinary creations. With an ambiance set against the backdrop of the picturesque vineyard, these wine dinners at Cape May Winery provide a memorable and educational epicurean experience that reflects the winery’s commitment to excellence across all aspects of its offerings.

The next two wine pop-up dinners will be held on January 12 and February 9. As the sun set over Cape May, I left the winery with a newfound appreciation for the artistry and passion that goes into each bottle crafted at Cape May Winery.

Cape May Winery & Vineyard
711 Townbank Road
Cape May, NJ