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The Bordeaux of America: Exploring the Wines of South Jersey's Outer Coastal Plain

by Robin Shreeves on Aug 24, 2015 in Wine

When you think of visiting an American wine region, you probably think of visiting Napa Valley in California or maybe the Finger Lakes in New York. Both are American Viticultural Areas (AVA), official grape growing regions defined by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. To be designated an AVA, a region has to have distinctive climate, soil, elevation, and physical features. There are currently 230 designated AVA’s in the United States.
 
Chances are, if you’ve driven down the shore this summer, you’ve driven through an AVA without even realizing it. The Outer Coastal Plain covers over 2.25 million acres in Southeastern New Jersey. Established in 2006, it’s one of the larger AVA’s in the U.S. and currently boasts 24 wineries and several vineyards.
 
You may not consider South Jersey wine country, but it won’t be long before it’s widely recognized as a wine region worth visiting. The wineries are only getting bigger and better. The growth has established wineries like Tomasello expanding the size of their tasting room and new wineries continually opening their doors.

How good is the climate and soil for growing wines in the Outer Coastal Plain? So good, that the New York Times said it “might be the perfect place to make fine wine in America.” It compares the climate and the soil in the South Jersey region to that of Bordeaux in France. How’s that for an impressive comparison? 

The sandy soil in the Outer Coastal Plain is similar to that of Bordeaux. The number of weeks of warm weather is similar, too. And like Bordeaux, the Outer Coastal Plain experiences warm breezes that come in from the Atlantic Ocean.

There are several ways to explore the Outer Coastal Plain and its wines.

Hit the wine trail.
The Outer Coastal Plain Vineyard Association has an interactive map that will plan a wine trail for you. Put in your starting address, click on the wineries you want to visit, and it will map a route out for you. Or, visit the Garden State Wine Growers Association Wine Trail page and follow one of the pre-mapped trails of wineries that are within close proximity. 

Make a stop at one of the wineries on your way down the shore.
You’ll see tourism signs for wineries as you travel throughout the region. If you see the sign for Sharrott Winery in Hammonton as you’re on the way to Cape May, pop in and grab a couple bottles of the Pinot Grigio to sip as the sunsets. Or wait until you get to Cape May and hit up Cape May Winery & Vineyard for your weekend wine.
 
Spend the day at a wine festival.
Sample dozens of wines from the wineries in the Outer Coastal Plain for the price of admission. Upcoming festivals include the Jazz it Up Wine Festival at Allaire State Park on September 5 and 6 and the Jersey Fresh Wine Festival at Burlington County Fairgrounds on September 26 and 27.
When you’re at the wineries or the festivals, ask for wines that are labeled Outer Coastal Plain. In order for a wine to include the AVA on its label, 85% of the grapes in the wine must be grown in the Outer Coastal Plain.
 
You don’t have to drive as far as New York or fly all the way to California to visit wine country. All you need to do is head to Southeastern New Jersey to the Outer Coastal Plain. Years from now, when the region has truly established itself as the Bordeaux of the United States, you’ll be able to say, “I was drinking wine from there before everyone knew about it.”
 
Grape vine photo via Cape May Winery; Map via wineandvinesearch.com, Bottle photo by Robin Shreeves 

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