Lots of tents, lots of vino, and lots of space in which to enjoy a beautiful day in Gloucester County; this was the setting for our excursion to Heritage Vineyard last Saturday and the Jersey Fresh Wine and Food Festival. This was no little event; 26 wineries from around the state were going to be there. All in all, over 200 wines could be sampled by you – although neither I nor your doctor would recommend doing that in one afternoon.
We arrived at the festival just in time to sat hi and bye to Robin Shreeves, Ms. SJ Locavore herself. She had already been at the festival for a couple of hours and was heading home. It was almost like we were changing shifts. When you have a chance, please read her account of her day at the festival.
Now I’m not a wine aficionado – and there are plenty of really good wine bloggers already out there – but I can offer this bit of advice regarding wine festivals based on our experiences. With big festivals such as this one, it can be intimidating. One could have looked at list of 26 wineries and over 200 different wines and said ‘Oh my, look at all these choices!’ with a feeling of excitement, followed by ‘Oh my, look at all these choices!’ with a feeling of being overwhelmed. The best thing to do: do a little a research beforehand on the wineries that will be at the festival, find out which ones intrigue you, and go try them first when you’re there. Give yourself the time to enjoy the wines that interest you the most.
Since we had sampled a good number of South Jersey wineries already, we focused our attention on three places: Amalthea Cellars in Atco, Bellview Winery in Landisville and Chestnut Run Farm in Pilesgrove.
Having read about their wines holding their own in blind taste tests with wines from California and France, we were certainly intrigued by Amalthea Cellars. We sampled a number of their dry whites and reds, and of those we sampled we very much enjoyed the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve and their 2007 Europa III blend (55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot and 5% Cabernet Franc). The Europa in particular was an intriguing and complex wine, but not so complex that it could not be easily savored.
We had heard so many nice things about Bellview, including from Don Romanini at Panther Branch (where we visited last year), that we felt compelled to taste their offerings. The one that really caught the attention of our taste buds was their 2007 Cabernet Franc: deep, rich and a little peppery, all that was missing was a juicy steak for accompaniment.
(By the way…between the rows of tents and the banners, all that was missing were a few jousters, guys with leather mugs and maybe a wench or two. Huzzah!)
Now to the third winery we had to sample, and boy were we glad we did. The highlight of our day was sampling the Asian pear and apple wines from Chestnut Run Farm. Chestnut Run does not have its own sampling room, and sells its wine in only one location, so their wines are not easy to come by. They are the only makers of these types of wines on the East Coast, so they have carved out a unique little niche. But were the wines any good? To that we say ‘Absolutely!’ The Dry Crisp Asian Pear wine was indeed dry and very crisp. The Fuji Apple wine, while a bit more sweet, was also very crisp and never became cloyingly sweet. One could easily enjoy either of these on their own on a hot summer day or with a fine assembly of Japanese cuisine. Put together a glass of pear wine and some spicy tuna rolls, and I’d be a happy guy. We ended up buying a bottle each of the pear and apple wines, along with the Cabernet Franc from Bellview.
While the afternoon at the Wine and Food Festival was very enjoyable, there are a couple of things I would do differently next year if it were left up to me. Although they advertised kids activities, there were not enough activities to keep a kid occupied for more than a few minutes. And let’s face it: kids find wine tastings boring. I would probably not have the activity area and keep it more of an adult event. I also agree with Robin’s point on her blog about the lack of Jersey food. While it was nice to see High Street Grill there cooking up yummy stuff, the amount of Jersey food was genuinely lacking. And many of the vendors there were vendors you can find at pretty much any festival (we know…we’ve checked). I would push for more local food.
All in all, we had a very enjoyable day – and after seeing some folks with a their own tents and chairs enjoying the local wines, I think Lisa and I (and probably Robin) have our gameplan for next year: leave the kiddies, sit more and savor.