Visitors to Cape May might be surprised tolearn that they can experience and savor some fine,locally produced and award-winning wines.
The Cape May Winery and Vineyard, owned by Bill and Joan Hayes located less than a mile north of the Cape May Canal, has been producing three reds and two whites for some time now.
The reds include cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and Merlot; the whites, Chardonnay and Riesling. New this year will be a traminette, which is a variation of a German white wine.
At present, there are only three sources for these wines. All are restaurants located in Cape May: Oyster Bay Steak and Seafood Restaurant, the Peter Shields Inn and Godmother’s Italian Restaurant.
The winery’s 1998 cabernet franc won a gold medal as the best vinifera in the state during this year’s Commercial Wine Competition. In all, the winery has earned 21 medals since it opened in 1995.
The winery and its first 5-acre vineyard sit on a 7.5-acre plot of land on the north side of Townbank Road just east of Seashore Road. Bill Hayes is preparing and cultivating a second 6.5-acre plot on Shunpike.
During its opening year with a little over two acres producing grapes, the winery’s production was only 225 gallons; 75 gallons of red and 150 gallons of white. The two wines sold that year were a Vintage 1994 Premiere Red and a Vintage 1994 Chardonnay.
Today, five acres are producing grapes. With four acres at least three years old, wine production is expected to reach more than 3,000 gallons this fall.
Barring natural disaster, Hayes expects about 1,000 gallons of cabernet sauvignon, 400 gallons each of cabernet franc and Merlot, 1,000 gallons of Chardonnay, 200 of Riesling and perhaps 50 gallons of traminette.
Production last year came to about 2,300 gallons and the three restaurant outlets handled 90 percent of the wine. The remaining 10 percent was sold at the winery.
Under the rather complicated state laws governing farm vineyards, the winery is allowed to establish five outlets for its wines. But Hayes cannot expand until his production gets higher.
“I have just enough to supply the three restaurants,” he said.
The Shunpike land will be ready for two acres of grapes next spring but those vines won’t produce wine for a couple of years. Hayes expects to have 10 acres of productive vines by 2004-2005.
Bill and Joan recently expanded their home and its basement winery. They’ve added a wine tasting room, which they plan to open to the public by Memorial Day, 2001.
Proper soil, appropriate weather conditions, and a lot of work and knowledge are required to produce fine wines.
With water on three sides, the Cape May peninsula has an ideal microclimate for the vines. It rarely gets super cold and there are established breezes. When planted, the vines are aligned so as to take full advantage of the prevailing winds.
There are about 800 plants to the acre. Row spacing is nine feet and vines are planted six feet apart within the rows. This works out to 54 square feet of land per vine.A drip irrigation system provides water to each vine. This provides both quality grapes and a better yield.
Vineyards have several enemies including mildew and birds. An entire crop can be wiped out within a matter of hours should large flocks of birds be allowed to get at the grapes.
Proper canopy management and vine alignment to assure adequate aeration helps prevent mildew, and netting is placed over the vines before the grapes reach maturity as a defense against birds.The wine making process starts as soon as the grapes are harvested.
First, the grapes are moved through a crusher which also removes the stems and then the primary fermentation process is started.
For white wines, the skins are removed immediately and the juice placed into stainless steel tanks for two days allowing the sediment to settle. For Chablis-type wines, the juice is transferred into a stainless steel tank for a couple of months. For Chardonnay-style wines, the juice is places in wooden barrels.
With red wine, however, the juice and skins are placed in a vat and inoculated with yeast. The skins add color to the wine, and the tannin and flavor are imparted into the juice.
Twice daily during this phase, a ‘punch down’ takes place. This is a traditional European process where the skins are pushed into the liquid so they maintain contact with the juice and not dry out.
During this two-week period, plus or minus a few days depending on the wine, the sugars are reduced to alcohol and the juice becomes wine.
When this phase ends, the skins and seeds are removed for the reds and the wine is placed into steel storage vats for two months to settle out the sediment. The wine is then transferred into oak barrels for whatever aging period is decided upon. Blending, if desired, can also take place at this time.