by Gary Mount, Sept. 2010
This fall, Terhune Orchards announces its latest project–growing grapes, making wine and selling it in the old barn at the home farm on Cold Soil Road. We expect to open in September–please read on.
Farm wineries in New Jersey started with the passage of the New Jersey farm winery law in the 1970’s. The law permits farmers to make wine from the fruits that they grow and sell on the farm. In addition the farm winery license can cover the selling the farm’s wine at up to three other locations (now that number is expanded to six or seven).
An early farm winery is this area was Lafollette Winery in Griggstown. It was owned and operated by John and Mimi Summerskill. Terhune’s became one of their three outlets and John and Mimi became good friends. They were an amazing couple, both gone now, with a vision far beyond the ordinary. And eating a meal at the Summerskill’s cooked by Mimi was something not forgotten.
Time has passed and events have come full circle. In April of 2006, we planted 4.5 acres of wine grapes on our new farm on Van Kirk Road. This 65 acre farm that we purchased from Dave and Libby Johnson in 2003 has greatly increased our farming potential. Not only are our wine grapes planted there, but about 40% of the farm is devoted to organic production–mostly vegetables but now also a 2010 planting of 2 acres of organic apples (more on these in a future issue of Terhune Orchards News). The farm is known in this area as “the Johnson Farm”. The Johnson’s owned it for fifty years which might give some idea of how long it might be before it’s called another name.
Planting and growing grapes has been an interesting venture. I like farming and am especially stimulated by the challenge of growing a new crop. I now grow about 36 different crops and have added them one or two at a time over the 35 years we have been here, “learning as you go” applying to each one.
First on the list of vineyard planting tasks is to test the soil. Besides nutrient content and percent organic matter (which greatly affects nutrient availability), there is the matter of nematodes. These soil insects, which look like tiny worms, can affect plants by either being so numerous that their feeding stunts the plant or by transmitting viruses that can completely ruin a planting with low production or vine death. Lucky for me there were none of the virus carrying nematodes in the area that I wanted to plant.
My next step was to find enough water to irrigate the new planting. Grapes do not normally need much irrigation, especially in New Jersey, but putting in the effort and money to establish a planting to have it followed by a dry summer could be devastating. This past summer, for example, could have caused a new planting to die completely without irrigation.
Wanting to find water and actually finding it are two very different things.I am, without question, very good at NOT finding water. My first two drilling attempts ended up with no water. Unfortunately, the cost of the well is the same whether water is found or not.Â We finally found 14 gallons per minute in our third attempt. It is not a lot, but enough to be sure that the young plants would have enough water. ( Wife, Pam says that I should stop drilling wells for a while.)
The next step in wine growing is to choose the type of grape to plant. If I was only going to grow wine grapes and was not irrevocably committed to the community where I was born and where Pam and I grew up (actually, I am the 10th generation of my family to farm in this area), then I would get out US weather and soils maps. I’d pick the best place to grow grapes and buy a farm there. But that’s not the way it is. We grow and sell many other crops, we are tied to our community and our daughter Tannwen is the 11th generation farmer. I hope our grandchildren will want to be the 12th.
What to do?–We picked the best site of the land available and planted the best varieties for our area. We planted 14 different types, whites and reds, but most of what we planted were four varieties that have been shown to make good wine and which would withstand New Jersey winters–at least the winters we had when we used to have winter. The other 10 varieties we planted, only 50 to 100 vines each, are less winter hardy and some require a long growing season. So far, they have done very well. Time will tell–despite global warming, weather is very changeable and we could still get severe winters. I am happy to have my base production in the more sure varieties and will now feel comfortable in planting the others in the future.
Planting is always a time of big excitement. The spacing and orientation of the rows is critical.I got the best advice I could find, visited other vineyards and thought about my ability to handle the planting once it was established. Winegrowers are very picky about planting. Rows must be straight, spacing must be precise both across and down the row. What–a fetish? Maybe, but I have discovered a few sound reasons to make the planting just right. For example, grapes grow differently according to their exposure to the sun and the space they have to grow.A bigger plant will mature the grapes at a different time than a smaller one. Grapes from a more vigorous vine will be different from those on a less vigorous one.
The importance of this is that it is very difficult to make good wine from bad grapes. While bad wine can always be made from any type of grape, the reverse just isn’t true.The starting point has to be good grapes and one aspect of good grapes is maturity. If you think about some other crops, such as apples or peaches, it is easy to tell mature fruit during picking. Grapes don’t seem to behave that way. Once they change color, they all look the same. Having a non-uniform planting can lead to immature grapes being harvested along with the ripe ones–and like I said, it is difficult to make good wine from bad grapes.
After a season of work growing the grape crop(this article is long enough already), making wine is the next step. It takes a combination of equipment(stainless) and knowledge. We started our equipment(stainless) purchasing by buying the tanks(stainless), press(stainless) and other equipment from the family of the Summerskills, as the Lafollette winery is no longer active.(ed note: “stainless”=$) The knowledge part is coming from our expanding library, from cooperative Extension meetings, and from hiring a consultant, someone who is very knowledgeable in the wine business.So far, with the interest of the next generation on the farm, five of us have been involved. Our wine is made, it is in the bottles and we are in the label approval process–approval being needed from the federal government.My friend, Pat Lyons, who I row with every day, has done remarkable work in designing our labels–just wait until you see. We are outfitting our tasting room in the old barn and hope to open in a few weeks.Our wines taste pretty good– a couple taste very good and we even won a medal in the New Jersey competition this year.
Hoo-ray!We are on our way.