In the poetic tongue of the Robert Mondavi from his autobiography; “Harvests of Joy,” he wrote; “Wine to me is passion. It’s family and friends. It’s warmth of heart and generosity of spirit. Wine is art. It’s culture. It’s the essence of civilization and the art of living.”
As the weather warms local vineyards and tasting rooms in the region are preparing to greet wine-lovers with daily and special events. Cape May County typically known for its boardwalks, amusement piers, Victorian charm and beach chic resorts, is seeing a trend in local wineries opening for tours and tasting to the public. New Jersey has about 25 wineries in total, but this growing industry is generating not only vibrant revenues for an economically depressed region, but a wonderful scene that is bringing visitors off the islands creating a whole new tourist trade.
New Jersey wines aren’t new to wine buyers in the United States, of course. When California experienced grape supply shortages in the mid-1990s, it was the wine growers of New Jersey that managed to get their foot in the door by supplying inexpensive alternatives to California Cabernet, Merlot, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. And the popularity of the wines in this area has continued.
One of the great advantages of living and working in this region is to have the pleasure of meeting new business owners and feeling the pulse of the area and their excitement for their business. Kenna and Todd Wuerke of Lower Township are giving us a palpable sense of the areas evolution in winemaking, in a few words – they’re happening, it’s happening, they’re making it happen. How? At their winery called Hawk Haven, which opened a few years ago.
Any hopeless romantic will loved Hawk Haven Vineyard – it’s a love story in the making. From the moment you see their label, till the time you step out of the car, walked the graveled path to the entrance of their wine tasting room, and stop to listen to Todd standing behind the bar. Observing his actions and listening to his conversation, you’ll make a mental note on how eloquently he speaks; it oozes out of him in his pride of seeing this dream come true. Next to him is a pretty young woman Todd’s wife Kenna. “We’re the ying and yang of the wine world;” said Kenna. Two very special people totally in love with their life as well as their business – refreshing. Kenna is smart and quick, yet willing to listen and learn, a virtue practically gone in this day and age of entitlement and Todd is the farmer, the grower, and together they are creating a magnificent business and life.
For Todd, the idea of owning a vineyard and creating wines has been a work in progress for the last 10 years when he planted his first acre of grapes on his family’s farm. Just to give you an idea of what a tough industry this is, for the vast majority of people, vineyards are out of reach in the wine growing regions of California. For example; a modest, 5-acre vineyard in Napa or Sonoma can cost $1.25 million (that’s just the land, now factor in the wine tasting area, the equipment, bottling, overheard expenses, employees, taxes, licenses, inventory, accessories, but the view, ahh, that’s the romance. Unless one is a master winemaker (enologist), one probably won’t see any tangible return on investment before selling the property. However, with a passion for the grape and a good business plan, I know Hawk Haven is going to produce great releases.
Is owning a vineyard for everyone? The Wuerke’s both smiled at each other and said; “the knowledge required to start and then run one is more than a job—it’s a lifestyle, especially if you start from scratch rather than investing in a turnkey operation.”
Both Todd and Kenna agreed that bringing out the full potential of a vineyard is a serious undertaking but they do everything by themselves. Kenna admits that Todd has been taking classes for years at Rutgers Agricultural School to “learn as much as he possibly can, that part will never end, we just want to keep making and improving.” Together they play a huge role in being managers and making sure that all of the required paperwork is filed correctly and that rules and regulations are properly followed.
What are their plans for the winery? Located at 600 S. Railroad Avenue in Rio Grande, Hawk Haven will be opened daily from 11am to 7pm where you’ll be able to taste their wines for a nominal fee. Sunday’s will be “Sangria Sundays,” where they will feature special blend sangria and their house sangria, plus have food tasting, etc. Self guided wine tours, and tables in front of their wine tasting room where you can have a picnic, or as Kenna said; “we’re on so many acres, we’re hoping people will grab a picnic basket and head out to the fields, enjoy a beautiful lunch have a bottle of our wine and make it a special day.”
What can you expect to see or purchase at Hawk Haven Vineyard? Beautifully designed bar stools made from recycled wine barrels, tea light holders made from wine barrel slats, gourmet foods, a great selection of picnic baskets, cutting boards and cheese knives, and these wines for purchase; Riesling, Pinot Grigio, Red Table wine, American Kestrel White, Red Tailed Rose.
Writer’s note: Hawk Haven Vineyard is in a hawk migration pattern. When the Wuerke’s were working with a designer from California to create their logo, they came up with the idea of the hawk. Kenna noted that every year the same hawks return, “we based our inspiration from the hawks that come back every year, and mate for life. The design looks like ‘ying and yang’ and we really liked this idea because we are polar opposites.”
When you go make sure to try or purchase their Riesling. It has a wonderful taste and is great with fish or turkey.
Hawk Haven Vineyard – 600 South Railroad Avenue. Rio Grande NJ. (609) 846- 7347. Exit 4a on the Garden State Parkway, NJ