Uncorked: Discover the Cape May Wine Region

Travel & Leisure

  • Author Kathleen Fitzpatrick
  • Published March 11, 2024
  • Word count 1,032

You know Cape May as America's Original Seashore Resort. You know Congress Hall, the Promenade and those arches, and Sunset Beach, too.

You probably also know Cape May as a National Historic Landmark, thanks to its Victorian architecture and heritage.

But did you know that the area is a federally recognized wine appellation region, known as an American Viticultural Area (AVA)?

What's that you ask? AVAs are officially recognized United States wine-grape growing regions. The designation is similar to European ones that regulate wines and other artisan agricultural products.

But this isn't just a vanity designation meant to increase the cost. This is a federally controlled designation. It truly is a symbol of quality and uniqueness. Recognized regions must possess characteristics and climates known to create great wine. These regions are thoroughly vetted for years by experts before being awarded an AVA classification.

Originally, Cape May was part of the much larger Outer Coastal Plain AVA. This wine appellation region encompasses most areas of South Jersey and the Jersey Shore.

The Outer Coastal Plain area has a long history of cultivation. The land has sandy, well-drained moderately fertile, sometimes loamy soil. This soil is ideal for farming, and so agriculture flourishes in New Jersey. After all, we are the Garden State, regardless of any 'what exit' jokes you may hear.

But Cape May weather isn't like the rest of the Outer Coastal Plain AVA. The area enjoys a unique microclimate due to its location between the Atlantic Ocean and Delaware Bay. Some know this climate for the infamous 'Cape May Bubble'. For grape growing, the milder springs and cooler summers allow for the longest grape-growing season in the state.

Truth is, most know that Cape May isn't like the rest of New Jersey as it is. And when it came to wine-making, the feds figured that out, too. In 2018, the government awarded our region with its own AVA designation.

85% of an AVA vintage must come from grapes grown within the AVA boundary. So if you are tasting a Cape May Peninsula AVA wine, you are tasting a truly unique vintage.

So, on your next summer vacation to Exit 0, when you don't feel like the Washington Street Mall. Or you are too sunburned from the Cape May Beaches. Or you want a pet-friendly place to hang out. Or you are just looking for some new things to do at the southern Jersey Shore.

You can discover what Cape May truly tastes like, by visiting one or more of our local wineries. Many locations are dog-friendly and open year-round, but be sure to check their hours of operation which change by season.

We love our wineries and encourage all to visit and partake of their many offerings and events. But please, drink responsibly.

Willow Creek Winery

168 Stevens Street, West Cape May

Willow Creek Winery is the only winery located on Cape Island. It's an easy bike ride, drive, or Uber over to their gorgeous grounds. As you travel up the long, winding road to the winery, keep an eye out for their Alice in Wonderland-themed grounds decorations as well as for wandering geese.

Willow Creek offers both red and white varietals for sale, as well as tastings and tours. There is also a restaurant onsite. For the budding photographers out there, Willow Creek offers some of the area's most vibrant botanical backdrops.

Cape May Winery

711 Town Bank Road, Cape May

Cape May Winery is the oldest Winery in the county, tracing its roots back to 1989. It is currently the 5th largest wine producer in the state. They grow 11 different varietals across 4 vineyards totaling 26 acres.

Discover their wines through tastings or tours, wander through the winery's many rooms as well as their beautiful grounds. The winery offers a tapas-style restaurant as well as special events and pop-up dinner nights. Don't miss their Sunday Summer Brunch events, complete with live music and wine specials.

Hawk Haven Winery

600 South Railroad Avenue, Rio Grande

Hawk Haven Vineyard & Winery enjoys acres of sandy soil which creates the perfect conditions for grape cultivation. This winery has a long agricultural history dating back to the 1940s and has produced cattle, then vegetables, and now vines.

Guests enjoy unique wine offerings through wine tastings and flights offered daily year-round. The winery sometimes offers special events and food truck evenings. Don't miss their Friday night Rootstock Vineyard Concert Series.

Jessie Creek Winery

1 Route 47 North, Cape May Court House

Just a little up the Parkway, you will discover Jessie Creek Winery. Jessie Creek is the home of 5 acres of vines, a renovated historic inn, and a locally supported art gallery.

This boutique winery displays a more boutique and intimate experience. Jessie Creek is known for its small-batch wines and offers guests tastings and flights to try them. Also, be sure to check out their gourmet market and live music events.

Natali Vineyard

221 North Delsea Drive, Cape May Court House

Natali is one of the older wineries in the area. The original owner planted many diverse wine-making grape varieties, which produced some world-class vintages. The winery offers tours and tastings as well as small plates and tapas to accompany your selections.

Now under new ownership, which includes a local sports radio celebrity, the winery is looking to expand its offerings. Expect to see improvements to the grounds to allow for more live music, special events, and private rentals.

Cape May, a national landmark, has a long and rich history in farming and agriculture. It only makes sense that the same soil that produced such bountiful harvests now produces some of the best vintages in the state.

Many of the area's restaurants are BYOB. The next time you are in town, consider one of our local wines to go with your meal. You can find these wines for sale at the wineries and at many retail locations around the county.

If you have never visited our wineries before, you should. They are preserving a way of life while offering guests a unique experience at the Shore. Explore their beautiful grounds, visit some of their unique and fun events, listen to some live music, and of course, imbibe in some of the finest wines you can try.

Kathleen Fitzpatrick is a Vacation Rental Expert, a fully licensed New Jersey Real Estate Agent, and the hostess of CapeMayStays.com. She is ready to help you with all your Cape May vacation and real estate needs. Whether you want to buy or sell a home, list your Cape May home as a vacation rental, or just find the perfect home for your next Cape May getaway, contact Kathleen at Vacation@LNF.com

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