My Toast to New Jersey’s Wine Country

This past Sunday, I went to the Blues & Wine Festival in Natirar Park, New Jersey. Oh yes, good ol’ New Jersey. (Please don’t stop reading.)

Since I arrived long before my friends, as I drove separately, I was forced to find ways to occupy my time. I digested my surroundings, welcoming the roll

ing hills and bubbling brooks over the concrete slabs of my usual NYC habitat. The grills were just firing up, and the smell of brick-oven pizza mixed with oily fries permeated the vast meadow. Perfect drunk munchies. The jazz band, comprised of men wearing vintage vests and shiny brooch pins, were setting up on the stage.

Seeing as my friends were dutifully late, I decided to lap around the field and check out the various tents hailing from different wineries in New Jersey. Y

ou’d be surprised how many wineries reside in the backyard of the Sopranos, and even more surprised by the affection with which vintners ferment their wine. One eccentric, beaming lady attempted to explain the ritual of producing it to me. She spoke with such impassioned vigor, sweeping her arm in grandiose waves towards the bottles lining the table. I tried to listen obediently, but then lost her when she brought chemistry into the mix (something about sulfur dioxide). It occurred to me that wine was her being. How did she lead a sober life, having so much wine at her disposal? I’d probably find ways to dispos

e of it in an evening. As I continued to circle the field, each tent seemed to bear more varieties of wine than the next. There were chocolate blueberry, spiced apple, roasted almond, blackberry, raspberry, and an assortment of other wines. The amount of bottles at each tent astounded me – they swung from the canvas ceiling, peppered the white tablecloths, bathed in metal buckets of ice. I asked one man how many bottles they drained in a typical day; he said forty, and this was just for the tasting, not even the purchases (which probably increased exponentially by evening).

At 12pm sharp, the tasting began. I was at first a little disappointed by the

driblets they deemed worthy of a “taste” but then realized I had another 12 wineries to tackle. I started at a tent, still solo, that boasted medals for a few of their wines. Their sangria was the best I’ve ever had, even better than that in Spain. It tasted like a citrus tree soaked in sweet pomegranate, and I immediately asked for a second taste. I could sustain off this the whole day – forget the other wineries.

An elderly couple joined me; since they seemed to be wine connoisseurs, I requested a taste of everything they tried. “I prefer a dry, crisp white,” the woman told the winemaker.

“Oh, me too,” I exclaimed with conviction when the winemaker looked at me – she already had the bottle out so it was convenient enough.The couple began to engage me in pleasant, light conversation. Apparently, they frequent wine festivals and come to this one every year. The woman serving behind the table began pouring various wines into our wine glasses, picking from a circle of bottles in a bucket. These were not fancy-flavored ones like some I’d seen on the menu, but they were especially refreshing, cooling my parchedtongue. The server did not seem to discriminate between red wines and white wines so I assumed it would be okay to mix.I watched the couple and mimicked their sipping pace – they seemed well versed on drinking etiquette. “We have a looong day ahead of us,” the woman said mischievously, with a twisted grin.She winked at me and elicited a laugh out of her husband. I hoped I’d still manage to make my husband laugh forty years down the road.

The meadow began to bustle with families, elderly couples, and teenagers, and my friends had STILL not arrived. People were casting curious glances my way more and more. Did my fellow wine-eers think I was drinking alone? Poor thing, they’d reflect wistfully. I visited a few more tables in the meantime, my head buzzing in the scorching sun. I shoved crackers, placed next to the wine bottles, down my hot throat. The crackers were meant to be eaten between tasting wines to clear the palate. People probably used them more to try to sober up. I would definitely be implementing this method.Finally, Hallelujah, my friends arrived. Watching them approach, I had to la
ugh to myself. We were quite the eclectic group: a blonde, an ethnic-looking brunette, a dark, brooding man-boy from Portugal, and an innocent-looking guy who could pass off as twelve. We hit the tables immediately. The Pinot Grigios, Cabernet Sauvignons, Chardonnays, sangrias, mimosas, Raspberries, Blackberries, and Honey Wines began to swim in my head, quite swimmingly actually.As we trekked along, we determined our favorite wineries. Our favorite name was the “Ugly Duckling Winery”; we girls insisted on
having the boys take a picture of the three of us under the Ugly Duckling sign. We tried to arrange in a duck family fashion, though “mama” was overtaken by her “daughter”, my other friend in the middle, who towered over her. We later designated one winery as the overall favorite, based on the treatment we received, as well as the specialty, Fuji Spiced Apple (though the name of the winery unfortunately eludes me). The server, with a jovial bow, announced that we were in for a treat, for he had a special line-up for us today. We bounced giddily in excitement, immediately sold. He talked us through each wine on the list as he generously filled our wine glasses, describing its scent, its distinct taste, and how it was made differently (again, these details unfortunately elude me).My friend noticed “Fuji Spiced Apple” at the end of the list and demanded, “I want that now!”“That’s the sweetest, so it’s saved for last,” the server calmly replied with a smile.Three more wines to get through, I thought.Noticing our bodies subtly swaying and seeing the potential in us, he continued, “It gets crazy here later. People always start dancing and falling over.”“Oh, we’ll dance for you! We’ll come back and put on a show!” my other friend reassured him, clearly buzzed even before the grand finale.And grand it was. As expected from the name, the Fuji Spiced Apple tasted like the fresh cider you’d get from an apple orchard. He gave us a few helpings of this one.We eventually staggered over to the stage to watch the band play. The lead vocalist nodded and smiled at us, shaking his hips and twirling his microphone to engage the only sets of eyes on him – everyone else apparently had better things to do. We reacted by twisting our hips and throwing up our arms in the semblance of a dance. He beamed and amplified his dance moves. The decibel levels grew as strangers began to engage in boisterous conversations. One little girl plodded along next to us for a while after we’d twirled her (I guess people WERE listening to the music?) in the grass. What were her parents thinking bringing her here?! As the sun descended, Honey Wines more and more tasted like Blackberry Wines, and even the reds and whites weren’t so so different after all.
It was 6pm. Already? Hordes of people shuffled away from the tents towards the vast parking lot. I expected to see many cars, never having been moved, the next morning, when I planned to pick mine up. With the remaining stragglers, my friends and I ambled out of the field, saturated in wine and happiness.

Like I said, good ol’ New Jersey.