Week 7: They Make Some Surprisingly Good Wine in South Jersey

© Dan Dunn
By Dan Dunn Posted November 12, 2014

For those of you just tuning in, two months ago I left behind or threw away everything that wouldn’t fit in my car and embarked on a long solo road trip across the US, intent on visiting as many wineries as humanly possible.

Dan Dunn is taking an extensive road trip across America to research his forthcoming book, American Wino: A Story of Reds, Whites and One Writer’s Blues on the Winey Road to Redemption (Dey Street Books/HarperCollins). This is the seventh in a series of weekly dispatches chronicling his journey.

For those of you just tuning in, two months ago I left behind or threw away everything that wouldn’t fit in my car and embarked on a long solo road trip across the US, intent on visiting as many wineries as humanly possible. I am doing this so that I can learn Everything There Is To Know About American Wine. And to maybe claw back a little control over my life.

To simplify things, I have five rules:

1. Always talk to strangers.
2. Never refuse wine.
3. If it doesn’t fit in the car, it doesn’t belong to you.
4. Drive every day.
5. You cannot escape The Bet.

The Bet involves testing for official sommelier certification. If I pass, I’ll headline an event next April at the prestigious Pebble Beach Food & Wine Festival called “Defining American Wine: A Thought Experiment.” If I lose, I’ll teach a seminar entitled “Dan Dunn Is A Fraud Who Has Been Faking It All These Years.” Whether or not I show to teach the course, it’ll be printed in the program for the entire industry to see, effectively ending my career as a booze critic/professional bon vivant.

So there you have it. All caught up. Now on with the tour...

Day 55: Hotel Sofitel; Philadelphia

When I was eight years old I learned the value of hard work shining shoes at a barbershop in Philadelphia. I learned two other things as well: 1) No matter how much it looks like chocolate, shoe polish should not be ingested; and 2) that no matter how much money he offers you, do not go back to Norman’s apartment to “help him with his laundry.” I recalled these and other special childhood memories while visiting my former home, Pennsylvania, the eighth–largest wine producing state in the country (which is a bit like being the sixth best team in Major League Soccer).

There aren’t any Pennsylvania-made wines on the list at the fancy bar inside the well-appointed Hotel Sofitel, but they do make a hell of a gin and tonic using Uncle Val’s Botanical Gin from Sonoma.

Finding locally produced wine in downtown Philly proved to be an Augean task. I’d heard good things about the wares from Penns Woods Winery, Mazza Vineyards and Gettysburg, but there was simply none to be found inside the many bars and restaurants of Old City and Rittenhouse Square. As for retail outlets, well, with the exception of Utah, there’s no more difficult state to purchase alcohol in than Pennsylvania. Particularly on a Sunday, which is when I happened to be there. On the bright side, though, the Eagles won, so the prospects of being beaten up diminished greatly.

I did some poking around, and learned that the Lehigh Valley region has brought home the Governor’s Cup for Pennsylvania’s best wine nine out of the past 10 years, that some of the oldest and best wineries in the state are located along the shores of Lake Erie, and that the Coco Nostra Chocolate Wine made in Hershey, PA, is either to die for or may instantly kill you (my notes are a bit fuzzy...I’d had a more than a few gin and tonics).

Day 56: Medford Wine & Spirits; Medford, NJ

Like many of the places I’ve visited in the middle of the country, the wines of southern New Jersey have traditionally been syrupy, sweet and so-so. But there are also folks like Lou Caracciolo of Amalthea Cellars in Atco, who are trying to change the state’s candy-apple reputation by making dry, European-style wines in a place where people expect cheesecake not chateaubriand. Indeed, Amalthea’s wines scored nearly as well as Mouton Rothschild and Haut-Brion in a competition held back in 2012 called the Judgment of Princeton.

But the big trick to marketing South Jersey wine? Don’t say it’s from South Jersey. Call it “The Outer Coastal Plain” instead, which is precisely what Caracciolo and a coalition of nearby winemakers started doing in 2009. Apparently, it’s working. Sales are up. Wine tourism is on the rise. Makes sense. The Outer Coastal Plain sounds like a lovely place for planting vines. South Jersey, on the other hand, sounds like a place where they plant mobsters. Allegedly.

Next week: I’ll explain why I haven’t written anything about New York, which is America’s greatest city (just ask any New Yorker). Also, it’s been said that Virginia is for wine lovers and sex-crazed cougars. I’ll investigate.

For more on Dan’s journey, follow him on Twitter @TheImbiber

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