Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Wine regions of New Jersey

Now that wines from New Jersey have caused a stir by holding their own against high-quality offerings from Burgundy and Bordeaux, it is only fitting that we seek a better understanding of the state's wine production environment.  This post attempts to meet that requirement.

Vineyards and wineries are distributed all across the state but there is a heavier concentration of establishments in the south.  According to data provided by Dan Ward of Rutgers University in his AAWE presentation on viticulture in NJ, the state has experienced rapid wine-related growth as seen by the increase in wineries (from 15 in 2000 to 58 (including pending applications) in 2012) and acreage under vine (from 551 acres in 2002 to 2000 in 2012, an annual average increase of 14%).  The soil suitability index created by the Dan Ward team shows that 1.094 million acres (18% of the state's acreage) is most suitable (on a scale ranging from moderately suitable to most suitable) for wine-grape growing.  The gap between the acreage under vine today and the acreage that is most suitable for grape growing is an indication of the potential that the state possesses.

Overall, NJ is considered a warm environment with 2500 to 2600 growing degree days in the north and 3500 to 3600 growing degree days in the south, placing the state's wine-growing areas into Regions II, III, and IV of the UC Davis Heat Summation Scale (Dan Ward, Rutgers University).

In an attempt to ensure the quality and consistency of the wines being produced in the state, NJ growers  instituted a program in 1999 called the Quality Wine Alliance (QWA) wherein wines are submitted to a review panel and, if deemed to have met or exceeded the review board requirements, they are awarded the QWA designation.

There are three designated wine regions (AVAs) in NJ: Warren Hills, The Central Delaware Valley, and the Outer Coastal Plain (OCP).

Source: http://njvines.rutgers.edu/images/statewide/statewide-overview.htm

Central Delaware AVA

This region, the smallest of the three AVAs (95,162 acres), was awarded its designation in 1988 and occupies territory on both the Pennsylvania and New Jersey sides of the Delaware River.  The northern end of the AVA is Musconetcong Mountain and the southern end is at Titusville, both in NJ, but portions of PA territory is incorporated along the way.

Based on Rutgers University's NJ Climate Zone map (see below), both the NJ portion of the Central Delaware Valley AVA and the Warren Hills AVA fall into an area designated as the North Climate Zone.  According to the climate scientists at Rutgers, this zone has a continental climate with prevailing winds from the southwest during the summer months and from the northwest during winter.  This zone is the coldest of the state's five zones with annual snowfall of 40 - 50 inches as compared to 10 - 15 inches in the far south.  Air rising over the highlands and mountains that are characteristic of this area causes clouds and precipitation while the rest of the state remains clear.  The incidence of summer thunderstorms is higher in this zone than in any other.

Source: http://climate.rutgers.edu/stateclim_v1/njclimoverview.html

This region is noted for growing French-American hybrids, native varieties, and vitis vinifera.

Warren Hills AVA

Warren Hills, as was the case for the Central Delaware Valley, gained its AVA designation in 1988.  The AVA covers 182,000 acres and is framed by the Delaware, Paulinskill, and Musconetcong Rivers as well as the Sussex County line.

The Warren Hills AVA falls into the previously described North Climate Zone.

The AVA is distributed over a number of "northeast-trending" ridges which are separated by broad valleys of similar orientation.  Elevation across the AVA ranges from a high of 1500 feet on Kittatinny Mountain to a low of 160 feet along the Delaware River.  The slopes in the AVA suggest good drainage while their orientation (south- and southeast-facing) provide good sun exposure, both highly desirable characteristics in a cooler climate grape-growing environment.

The soil is a sandy loam overlaying sedimentary (sandstone, dolomite, limestone, shale) bedrock.

The growing season is approximately 180 days long with cultivars at risk for low-temperature events such as spring and fall frosts and winter cold.  The grape varieties grown are vitis labrusca and French-American hybrids (cold hardy and "less foxy") and some vinifera on south-facing slopes in the southern reaches of the AVA.

Outer Coastal Plain AVA

The largest (2.25 million acres) and youngest (AVA designation in 2006) of the NJ AVAs encompasses most of the landmass in the south and southeastern portion of the state. Twenty wineries and commercial vineyards are currently operational in the AVA.

The OCP AVA falls fully within the Rutgers University Coastal and Pine Barren Climate Zones and has a part of its southern flank in the Southwest Zone.  The Pine Barren Zone, according to Rutgers, is characterized by rapid nighttime radiation of the heat collected by the soil during the daytime, resulting in "surprisingly low" minimum temperatures when compared to adjoining climate zones.

The Coastal Zone's climate is moderated by the Atlantic Ocean benefiting from the effects of warmer ocean water during the autumn and early winter and cooling breezes from the ocean in late spring and early summer.  The region is at risk for damaging winds, precipitation, and flooding resulting from the occasional nor'easter (between October and April), hurricane, and tropical storm (summer months).

The climate in the Southern Zone is moderated by the Delaware Bay and this results in the longest growing seasons of all the NJ climate zones.

The topography of the OCP is mostly flat with some low hills.  The soil is sandy or sandy loam with excellent drainage and moderate to low fertility.

The grapes grown in the region are similar as for the other AVAs but, in addition, there are some small plantings of Italian and Spanish varieties.

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