NEW JERSEY — Raise a glass! Thursday, Feb. 18, is National Drink Wine Day.

New Jersey oenophiles have plenty to celebrate, including more than 60 wineries right here in the Garden State.

Wine has been made in New Jersey since before the American Revolution, but thanks to changes in state laws that made winemaking more feasible as a business here, it’s during the last two decades that the industry has really taken off.

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And winemakers hit the ground running, creating wines that win national and international competitions.

“We really do produce some world class wines,” said winegrowing expert Gary Pavlis, a professor with Rutgers Cooperative Extension. “We’re winning awards all the time.”

One reason Garden State winemakers have been able to do this is New Jersey’s surprisingly grape-friendly terroir. New Jersey has a moderate climate and well-drained soils, especially in the south, Pavlis noted.

“I really think that New Jersey is one of the best things in the East for growing grapes,” Pavlis said.

Because of its cooler climate, New Jersey produces wines that are lower in alcohol and higher in acidity than California wines from grapes grown in hotter climates, resulting in wines that are more like their European counterparts and great with food.

But not all of New Jersey is the same.

“We have some really distinctly different terrains and climates,” said Audrey Cross-Gambino, who owns Villa Milagro Vineyards in Finesville with her husband, Steve Gambino.

The couple grows chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, Cynthiana, cabernet franc, zinfandel and Frontenac grapes for their wine, but they also supplement with merlot grapes from California.

Supplementing with grapes grown in other regions is necessary for New Jersey winemakers because supply is limited. Cross-Gambino hopes that more farmers, outside of the wineries themselves, will add grapes to their crops to be used in Garden State wines.

Because most of New Jersey’s winemaking is relatively new, winemakers are still experimenting with the types of grapes that work well here, noted Pavlis, and making everything from traditional European-style wines to trendier wines, like pet-nat (petillant natural) to learn what works best.

A study by Rutgers found that 87 different types of grapes were being grown in New Jersey, Pavlis said. “There’s a lot of guys still testing new varieties now.”

Winemaking is more challenging in New Jersey than in Cross-Gambino’s home state of California, and she prefers it that way.

“It’s much more exciting,” she said.

Because of their boutique nature, if you want to try New Jersey wines, chances are you won’t find them in retail stores. Instead, look for them at restaurants, order directly from the wineries or hop in the car and visit some.

Cross-Gambino noted that wineries, with their vast expanses of beautiful outdoor space, are great places to visit during the pandemic, which is what many people did this year.

“It was wonderful for us all to be able to welcome the public when we knew there wasn’t anyplace to go,” Cross-Gambino said.

Find wineries to visit at NewJerseyWines.com.

More on NJ Flavor:

Try This at Home: NJ Chefs Stream Virtual Cooking Classes to Your Kitchen

New Jersey Date Night: Bubble for Two, Please

5 Ways to Brighten Your Winter Cooking with Meyer Lemons

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