Camden County, NJ harvests first crop of wine grapes

Chambourcin is a hybrid French-American variety similar to a Pinot noir, used for making red table wine.
BLACKWOOD, New Jersey (WPVI) -- Camden County has harvested its first grapes for wine-making in hopes of creating more educational opportunities for future wine-makers.

The crop of Chambourcin grapes was harvested Tuesday from county land in Blackwood, N.J.

Chambourcin is a hybrid French-American variety similar to a Pinot noir, used for making red table wine.

"New Jersey is known as the Garden State, so we're just bringing that farming aspect back to what we're known for in Camden County," said Camden County Commissioner Jonathan Young during a press conference Tuesday morning.

The grapes were planted three years ago and commissioners were excited to announce they were fit to sell. They were purchased by Almalthea Cellars in Atco, and going forward the county's grapes will go to the highest bidder.

This year's harvest is about 1,100 pounds, but once the vines mature it could be as high as 7,000 pounds.

Officials say any proceeds will help fund the new viticulture program at Camden County College. The hope is that the vineyard on the county's campus will be a "teaching vineyard."

"Those courses will deal with establishing and maintaining a vineyard, pest management and soil science," said Camden County College President Don Borden.

Officials say the program will start as a certificate program with the goal of offering a degree.

A nonprofit is being formed to create and support a scholarship fund for students who enroll in the viticulture program.

After the grapes were harvested, they went straight to Almalthea Cellars - about 25 minutes away - and into the machine that crushes and destems the grapes. The mushed grapes sit in a giant tub fermenting until they're ready for barrels.

"We'll ferment it in that tub that you saw, we'll yeast it tonight, and then we'll stir it once a day for 18-21 days," said winemaker Louis Caracciolo, who owns Almalthea Cellars.

He says local grapes are hard to come by, and so are young winemakers.

"The apprentice part of it, we lost that in America. Apprenticeship in Europe has always been more sacred," said Caracciolo. "It's a hands-on apprentice process that hopefully, if they get bit by the bug, they're going to do it."

So far, he's impressed with Camden County's 2021 vintage.

"This is like 23 trending up," said Caracciolo, measuring the sugar content of the freshly crushed grapes. "That's good."

As for when you can pour yourself a glass? That's probably about two years away.

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