In Princeton, It’s Judgment Day For NJ Wine Industry

In 1976, a blind taste test in Paris shocked the wine world when a California wine beat out the French competition in every category. It was a defining moment for the California wine industry. Modeled after 1976’s “Judgment of Paris,” the American Association of Wine Economists (AAWE) is holding its sixth annual conference at Princeton University today through Sunday.

Friday’s event is being called the “Judgment of Princeton,” and New Jersey vintners are hoping for their moment in the sun.

Former journalist George Taber was the only reporter on the scene at the 1976 Paris blind tasting comparison… between French and California wines, an event he said “changed the world of wine.” And he’s been impressed with New Jersey’s wine development.

“I’ve been drinking a lot of New Jersey wine for the last three or four years and I’ve become increasingly impressed with the quality,” said Taber.

Taber decided that since the American Association of Wine Economists was holding its annual conference at Princeton University…, why not mimic the 1976 blind tasting…, but with New Jersey wines…. The Garden State is ranked ninth nationwide in wine production…, with more than 40 vineyards throughout the state, and fifth in wine consumption.

Jack Rabin, Rutgers Associate Director for Farms Programs, said, “We have about 1,100 acres of wine grapes growing in New Jersey right now and the wine quality has been coming up and that acreage has been doubling every five years.”

Ten wines were selected for each category — …Chardonnays and Bordeaux blends…. New Jersey’s Wine Growers Association and other industry leaders selected the wines in today’s competition after a series of their own tastings. ……Eleven French wines retailed at $2,500 combined…. The most expensive New Jersey wine… is priced at $50 dollars.

The judges from today’s competition, which include two from France, are are made up of vineyard owners, wine critics and journalists…. The nine judges will first test the whites for about 30 minutes, followed by the reds. …The wines are rated on a 20-point scale…….

New Jersey grape grower Larry Coia was confident that the Garden State’s wines would rank in the top four…. He says the industry is at a tipping point….

“We have identified a number of variety of grapes that grow extremely well,” said Coia. “I think if we can get the farmers of New Jersey interested, I think we have a tremendous future.”

And Garden State wine industry leaders say they are toasting today’s results. New Jersey’s wine took three out of the top four spots in the white wine category and ranked third highest in the reds.

Lauren Wanko files this report from Princeton.