The Spirit of Cooperation is Alive & Well in NJ Wine

By: Paul Tonacci

There is no shortage of great things to be said about wines that come from our state. One quality I was surprised to discover recently is an enduring spirit of cooperation and stewardship for the growing local wine industry. It’d not be unreasonable to assume that each winery would be about as friendly to one another as two competing pizza places in a small town, which is to say, not very but that’s hardly the case I’ve learned in most places. I was fortunate to sit down and have a brief interview with general manager, Tim Schlitzer, and winemaker Mike Groch of Cream Ridge Winery in Cream Ridge, NJ who shared what’s special about their operation and how it’s thriving today as they celebrate 30 Years of Winemaking in New Jersey.

Started by pioneering couple Tom and Joan Amabile back when there were only a dozen or so wineries in the state, they planted their first vines and three years later opened their winery doors. “Passionate was one way to describe Tom Amabile in a word” said Tim, who now runs the operation. Although Tom passed away last year in 2014, Tim explained the founder had a reputation for friendliness and hospitableness in the area, embodying a pillar of cooperation among local peers, despite the ever-changing climate among wine drinkers and their temperamental preferences, which endures today.

Much to my surprise, the winery even refers particular customers to neighboring producers depending on the nature of their inquiry if Cream Ridge not the best fit. Tim sees each producer, specifically Working Dog Winery and Laurita Winery, not as competitors but as partners in their slice of the New Jersey winemaking pie. If you thought this was just lip service, visit www.creamridgewinery.com and read how they readily refer wedding requests to these places, a tremendous source of income for wineries all over the country.

Cream Ridge Winery, by all accounts, also must be a very welcoming place; last year alone they calculated they had ten thousand people visit their winery. It also might explain how both Tim Schlitzer and Mike Groch wound up on the same team together producing the winery’s wide range of wines made from grapes and sundry fruits. Their top-selling wine is their Almond Berry ($10.95 at their tasting room) and even the most hardened wine snob would be hard-pressed to suppress how delicious this wine is by itself.

Lest you think Cream Ridge is sweet wines only, I had tried their Reserve Chambourcin at a national conference for the American Society and it might be one of the best wines I’ve ever tried produced in New Jersey! Perhaps here we also see Tom Amabile’s spirt of cooperation is alive and well since Tim Schlitzer openly divulges that the grapes that were made into this award-winning wine actually came from neighboring winery, 4 JG’s in Colts Neck, NJ. Typically, the source(s) of a winery’s grapes is seldom shared although sourcing grapes from elsewhere helps a winery produce enough bottles for customer demand.

Without mutual respect, cooperation and stewardship for the growing local wine industry, would these wines be enjoying the success they have wrought for themselves today? Quite possibly but it’s safe to say their success came to them more easily because of people like Tim Schlitzer, Mike Groch, the late-Tom Amabile and the rest of the team at Cream Ridge Winery. And their wines are well-worth seeking out also!


About The Author

I am a certified Sommelier through the Court of Master Sommeliers, a Certified Specialist of Wine through the Society of Wine Educators and an American Wine Judge through the American Wine Society. I run a wine bar in Atlantic City, NJ called The Iron Room and also currently maintain a wine column for local newspaper, The Press of Atlantic City. Bringing to the forefront the great wines of New Jersey is passion of mine.

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