So Madame Jennifer and I took a ride out to Waterloo Village in Stanhope, N.J. for the annual New Jersey Grand Harvest Wine Festival. It was a perfect Autumn day, mid-60s, bright sun, breezy. And for those of you who think that New Jersey is just oil refineries along the turnpike take this! And believe it or else, New Jersey is the 5th largest wine producing state in the U.S. – Yes, New Jersey. – the top 5 are California, Washington, Oregon, New York, and New Jersey. And if that isn’t enough to stun you numb, the first document we have from the New World concerning wine is about New Jersey wine (I’m sticking out my tongue).
The turnout for this number in the series of festivals that the organization holds seemed huge (I had never been before), so we tasted through as many of the wines as we could stand getting jostled for. To cut a long story short, the quality level is pretty good overall, and continues to rise slowly but steadily, with more and more vineyards planting and producing vitis vinifera wines and fewer bottlings made from hybridized varieities like Chambourcin and Cayuga, though there are still plenty of these to be had. As I always say to those that actually listen is that everything in wine is slow…Want to experiment with a new variety? You’ll need at least a few years to see if the variety really likes its new home, and a full 5 years of growth before the first wines can be made from those plantings. And that’s where the real work begins to identify the tendencies of vine X on terroir Y, and play to those strengths to produce a truly mature and complete wine – add another 5 years ay least. So while most of these NJ growers have been at vitis vinifera cultivation for less time than that, it is nonetheless a great pleasure to see growers experimenting with non-standard varieties like Riesling, Chardonnay, Lemberger, Zweigelt and even…Barbera!
And speaking of Barbera, a kindly gent named Sergio Neri runs a large winery named Hopewell Valley Vineyards in Pennington, NJ and though his lineage is from Piedmont, his family once produced wine in Montalcino and still do so today in Chianti. So in keepng with his Piedmontese roots (and not being crazy enough to plant Sangiovese – in central New Jersey!) he thought that Piedmont’s workhorse grape with an education, Barbera, would do well in the soils of Mercer County, NJ, a few clicks west of Princeton.
Having only begun the winery in 2oo2, and considering that the vintage of the Barbera we drank was 2007, it’s a safe bet that this was his first vintage. So how was it? Well, I don’t think anything going on in New Jersey (at least currently) is making Az. Ag. Trinchero or Giacomo Conterno quake in their respective calf-high rubber boots, but the wine is really quite good, showing real typicity (it tastes like “Barbera”) and a nervous leanness that I’ve noted in many New Jersey wines (what a surprise)…and if you remind yourself that this is likely the first Barbera grapes that have ever sunk their roots into Garden State soil, you’ve got to stick out your arm and shake the man’s hand. Bravo e buona fortuna!
Because we were out all day, there was no time for cooking, so it occured to us that a Jersey City Pizza would be THE PERFECT match for a Pennington Barbera, and so it was…
Hopewell Valley Vineyards New Jersey Barbera 2007
Medium dark cherry garnet color. Nose of earthy berry, dried yellow flowers, barnyard, and wood spice. The palate is medium to medium-light with tangy but smooth wild berry and dried cherry fruit, and flavors of iced black tea, and hints of dark chocolate. Moderately long and evolving finish.