U. specialist informs of Garden State-grown grapes, wine
Wine might not come to mind as one of New Jersey’s specialties, but Dan Ward, pomology extension specialist in the University’s Department of Plant Biology and Pathology, aims to change that perception.
He discussed his work on Friday in an hourlong seminar on Cook campus.
The Garden State, which many know for its tomato and blueberry crops, has great potential for growing wine grapes of many popular varieties, which Ward said growers and vintners are beginning to realize.
“The wine industry in New Jersey ... has been growing, like much of the wine industry of the east,” he said. “It also has been attaining high qualities in the vintages of late, and we also have a good cultural environment for wineries and winemakers.”
Ward said his work, which is based out of the Rutgers Agricultural Research and Extension Center near Bridgeton, focuses on analyzing problems and developing new strategies and production methods for New Jersey’s fruit industry.
About 1,000 acres are used in New Jersey for grape growing, but after analyzing many ecological factors all over the state, Ward said there are about 1 million acres that could be used to grow fruit.
“That’s as much grapes as California,” he said.
Tom Orton, extension specialist in vegetable breeding at the Rutgers Agricultural Research and Extension Center, said while the numbers are positive, New Jersey cannot realistically expect to be on par with California instantly in terms of grape and wine production.
“It’s going to be slow and incremental ... it’s part of a long-term general trend to keep agriculture viable in the state,” he said.
One of the most important factors for good grape growing is heat accumulation, Ward said, which is a measure of how much heat is available to ripen grapes during the summer.
New Jersey is similar in climate to about three of the five regions California has apportioned for growing to reflect these heat accumulation differences, he said. The Garden State’s heat accumulation is similar to places known for great wines such as Bordeaux, Napa Valley and southern Spain.
The next step was to take a look at the actual harvests of cabernet sauvignon grapes from New Jersey to analyze what quality of fruit was being produced, he said, and to connect it with weather data obtained from an airport in Millville, N.J., over a period of 36 years.
“We pulled that in to look at the relationship between the quality of the grape and weather variables,” Ward said. “There were only two variables which made a significant difference to the harvest, those being rainfall in August and heat accumulation.”
The harvests are then separated into four categories based on quality such as: poor, adequate, premium, super premium and what they found to be outstanding, Ward said.
Robert Goodman, executive director of the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station, said his organization’s agricultural practices help the state advance in terms of jobs and development, but lasting results will require time and funding.
“Some of that kind of work can be done today to improve the situation tomorrow, but a lot of it is long-term work that takes years and needs sustained, long-term funding, and this is a great example,” said Goodman, executive dean of agriculture and Natural Resources.
Robert Pyne, a School of Environmental and Biological Sciences graduate student, said the seminar presented some surprising results.
“Most people don’t consider wine a serious industry in New Jersey, and I think Dan did a good job to show that it is possible,” he said.