A fairly new group has formed to promote and encourage fine wine production in the Garden State. It’s called the New Jersey Winemakers Co-op. One of the co-founders is Mike Beneduce of Beneduce Vineyards. He joins NJTV News Correspondent Michael Hill.
Beneduce: Thanks for having me.
Hill: Tell me about this co-op, how does this work, what’s it about?
Beneduce: We started about two years ago. It’s four members; its Beneduce Vineyards, we are in Pittstown, New Jersey; Unionville Vineyards in Ringoes; Working Dog Winery in Robbinsville, New Jersey; and then all the way down to Heritage Vineyards in Mullica Hill, so we kind of span the state. We are really focused on promoting the fine wine industry in New Jersey. We define that as grapes being grown in New Jersey, the Garden State, I think it’s really important to support agriculture in the state, and being made from classic European varieties, so probably a lot that you’ve heard of, chardonnay, pinot noir, that kind of thing. And also dry style wines, so typically more food-friendly wines. That’s just kind of the style that we all make together so we’re getting together to promote that.
Hill: So you’re promoting dry wines?
Beneduce: Definitely dry wines, yes.
Hill: What’s the status of the industry right now in New Jersey, is it growing?
Beneduce: It’s definitely growing. We have about 60 wineries in New Jersey which a lot of people are surprised to hear.
Beneduce: Yes, exponential growth in the last decade or so.
Hill: What do you attribute that to?
Beneduce: I think it’s a couple of things. I think agriculture in itself is having a tough time in the state, and viticulture, which is grape growing, is one of a few ways that we can sustainably survive as farmers. So there’s this new generation of farmers that are coming in, inheriting land, maybe they’re not so excited about growing land and soy beans, but wine grapes are a little bit cooler, it plugs them into a different industry and so we have seen a lot of growth in that area. And, the quality of the wines are getting better, no doubt about it. Just more expertise, more investment coming in and that’s rising quality across the board.
Hill: But, is it more difficult though to be a vineyard than it is to be, as you said, growing soy beans and things like that? Isn’t it more challenging?
Beneduce: I think its more challenging to the fact that wine grapes are hypersensitive crops. So they show huge reflections in differences of soil and climate, so you’ve really got to take the time to select the right varieties for whatever piece of land you have, and that kind of stuff takes time. I always tell people, progress is measured in generations in this business. It’s not like you’re looking at third quarter profits, what’s our best year. It’s like what can we figure out in these decades or these 30 years that I have to do this and then pass it on to the next generation.
Hill: Mike, the fact that the industry is growing, what does it say about the soil here? Are we now rediscovering that the soil here is great for this industry?
Beneduce: Yes, and we have known this for a long time. I mean New Jersey is the Garden State. We are famous for our tomatoes, our corn, our blueberries. We think wine grapes are one of the crops that really fits into the diverse soils we have here in New Jersey. And again, it’s just taking time to kind of find the right match between whatever soil you have, and whatever climate you have and what varieties you want to grow.
Hill: Now, the co-op was formed to basically to promote this industry for fine wines. What have you done over the last two years?
Beneduce: We’ve had a couple events, the most recent one was yesterday, our spring portfolio testing. So that was hosted at our winery, Beneduce Vineyards. We had all four members out, beautiful day, we were sweating the weather all week. It ended up being a gorgeous sunny day, so we had a full-house, almost 400 people there. Our special guest, George Taber was there that gave a talk, he’s kind of heavyweight in the wine industry.
Hill: The name sounds familiar.
Beneduce: Yes, so he was the guy that was the journalist for the Judgement of Paris back in ’76, which is that kind of seminal moment when California wineries toppled the french counterparts and turned the wine world on its head. He saw a lot of similarities between where California was in the 70s, everybody was saying, ‘you can’t make wine here, it’s ridiculous. You’re not France, you’re not Italy.’ And us today, New Jersey, and people were telling us the same things. We are just a few years behind them, or even a few decades behind them, but we certainly have as much potential to make world-class wines as California or anywhere else.
Hill: So basically what you’re saying is you expect New Jersey at some point, and fairly soon, to rival California?
Beneduce: In terms of quality, absolutely. I don’t think in terms of area planted we can rival them because it’s a huge state, but in terms of quality, I think our best wines can go up against everybody else’s wines any day and that’s an exciting thing for us. I mean, this is new really in the last ten years that we have gotten to that level of quality and we have a ton to learn, obviously. We are really now just getting into sort of the second generation of growers that are coming and building on that foundation that the first generation laid out of us.
Hill: What was the reaction to Taber’s comments yesterday?
Beneduce: I think people were surprised that he was even there. Somebody said in the Q&A session, why are you here, how do you see yourself fitting into this? And you can see the passion in his eyes, and he was like, this is an exciting time to be part of the New Jersey wine industry. We’re on the cusp of this breakthrough here and I think he wanted to be a part of that and saw the relevance.
Hill: Alright, Mike Beneduce with the New Jersey Winemakers Co-op, Michael thank you so much for coming in.
Beneduce: Thank you so much for having us.