There’s an old saying that you shouldn’t watch laws or sausage being made. But seeing the process of how grapes turn into wine shouldn’t scare anyone.
In fact, a trip to an area winery — many of which offer tours as well as tastings — can be as educational as it is delicious.
Take Renault Winery in Egg Harbor City, for instance, where the tour begins with an explanation of how grapes are harvested by hand in September and October.
Then the machines take over. The first is the destemmer, which spins the grapes quickly to remove the stems, of course, but also to give the grapes an initial crushing, breaking the skins open and getting the juices flowing, said Jack Marshall, the Renault tour guide.
Then comes the wine press, which crushes the grapes to extract their juice. The press is designed not to smash the seeds, which would make the wine too bitter. Renault’s industral-size press can crush 4.5 to 5 tons of grapes at a time.
For white wine, the presser contains a large, rubber bladder that inflates, pushing the grapes inside a cylindrical tank. The tank spins, and centrifugal force sucks the juice right out of the grapes. The juice is collected in a trough and pumped to the aging warehouse, where fermentation and aging occur.
For red wine, there is an extra step. The fermentation tank for red wine contains the juice, skins, seeds and a little bit of stem matter of the grapes.
The wine maker adds yeast and sugar to start the fermentation process. The red-wine mixture is allowed to steep, which leeches the color of the grape skin into the grape juice. Steeping time varies depending on the color of the wine desired.
Grape juice has to be fermented twice to create sparkling wine or champagne. The first fermentation adds yeast to the juice, which produces the alcohol. The second fermentation adds yeast to the wine, which produces bubbles.
Once fermentation is finished, the wine is moved into aging barrels where it sits for a year or two.
Different barrels are used for different wines. French oak barrels are used for premium wines, which remove more sugar, making for a drier wine.
After the aging, the last step of the process is the bottling line. Oxygen is removed from the bottles before they are filled with wine and corked.
The best time to see the bottling process at Renault is after a major holiday, such as Fourth of July weekend, when so many bottles of wine are sold that more have to be bottled. The best time to see the actual crushing of the grapes is the first couple of weeks of September.
Before Prohibition, New Jersey was full of wineries. But Renault is the only one to have stayed open during that time, said Tom Consentino, executive director of the Garden State Growers Association.
As recently as 1981, there were only seven wineries in the state. But that was the year the New Jersey Farm Winery Act was passed, which provided new opportunities for winery licenses. There are currently more than 40 operating wineries in the state.
In 2013, New Jersey ranked fifth in the amount of wine consumed per person, according to the Business Insider and the Beverage Information Group.
“The quality has gone way up. We have competed in multiple competitions against French and California wines,” said Gary Pavlis, agricultural agent with the Rutgers Cooperative Extension. “You have to be living under a rock not to know there are New Jersey wines.”
An example of an award-winning state wine is Hammonton’s Tomasello Winery’s 2014 Vidal Blanc Ice Wine, which was awarded the double gold designation at the American Wine Society Competition last year.
Pavlis said the state is also becoming home to many wine events, such as the Welcome Summer Wine Event from 2 to 7 p.m. at June 25 at the Natali Vineyards in Cape May Court House and the Cape May Wine Experience weekend from Oct. 8 to 10 at the Naval Air Station Wildwood Aviation Museum at the Cape May Airport in Rio Grande.
Many things are driving the popularity of local wines, including the farm-to-fork movement and the availability of small-production wine through direct shipping, said Larry Sharrott III, the owner of Sharrott Winery in Hammonton.
“Not too many people realize that New Jersey has a very similar growing season to Bordeaux (France). All we needed was passionate winemakers. Great wines are made right here on the East Coast from Virginia to N.Y., and like most great wines, they are sold only from the cellar door,” Sharrott said.
6623 Route 40, Mays Landing. 609-625-2166. balicwinery.com
Wine tours and tastings from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday to Saturday and 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sundays.
150 Atlantic St., Landisville, Buena Borough, Atlantic County. 856-697-7172. bellwinery.com
Wine tastings and tours 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Please schedule wine tours in advance.
951 8th St., Hammonton. 609-704-1414. dimatteowinery.com
Wine tour is on digital video that can only be seen at the winery. Wine tastings during noon to 5 p.m. Fridays, Mondays and Tuesdays and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.
570 North 1st Road, Hammonton. 609-567-4633. plagidoswinery.com
Wine tastings from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.
72 N. Bremen Ave., Egg Harbor City. 609-965-2111. renaultwinery.com
Wine tours are held noon, 2 and 4 p.m. Mondays to Thursdays; noon, 2, 4 and 5 p.m. Fridays; and every hour on the hour from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturdays and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sundays. Wine tastings are held on the last part of the tour. Wine tastings are only available during business hours.
370 S. Egg Harbor Road, Winslow Township, Camden County. 609-567-WINE. sharrottwinery.com
Wine tours and tastings are available noon to 5 p.m. daily.
Sylvin Farms Winery
24 North Vienna Ave., Germania, Galloway Township. 609-965-1548. sylvinfarmswinery.com
225 N. White Horse Pike, Hammonton. 800-MMM-WINE. tomasellowinery.com
Wine tastings held 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays to Thursdays, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays.
CAPE MAY COUNTY
Cape May Winery & Vineyard
711 Town Bank Road, Cape May. 609-884-1169. capemaywinery.com
Wine tours are held at 2 p.m. Saturdays, except for July and August when they are held 2 p.m. daily. Wine tastings from noon to 5 p.m. Sunday to Thursday and noon to 6 p.m. Friday and Saturday. The winery is open from noon to 6 p.m. daily in July and August.
Hawk Haven Vineyard & Winery
600 South Railroad Ave., Rio Grande. 609-846-7347. hawkhavenvineyard.com
Wine tours at 1 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Wine tastings from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily until June 20 when hours switch to 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. for the summer.
Jessie Creek Winery
1 North Delsea Drive, Cape May Court House. 609-536-2023. jessiecreekwinery.com
Wine tastings from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays until June 26, when summer hours extend to 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays and 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Fridays to Sundays.
221 N. Delsea Dr., Cape May Court House. 609-465-0075. natalivineyards.com
Wine tours Fridays through Sundays. Wine tastings from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily currently. The extended summer hours will be 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily.
Willow Creek Winery
160-168 Stevens St., West Cape May. 609-770-8782. willowcreekwinerycapemay.com
Vineyard tours at 11 a.m., 1 and 3 p.m. In the summer, a sunset tour is offered. Wine tastings are available all day every day year round.
Southwind Vineyard & Winery
385 Lebanon Road, Millville. 856-364-9690. southwindvineyardllc.com
Wine tastings during business hours from noon to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays and Sundays and noon to 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.