Think outside the glass this Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day doesn’t just get a bad rap from singles — many couples dread the holiday, too.

Too much pressure to have the perfect date.

Not enough time to plan it all.

However, what if you could celebrate Valentine’s Day with a classic glass of wine — and a local twist?

The Garden State Wine Growers Association, which is a collection of 44 New Jersey wineries who have met certain standards organized into wine trails throughout eight state counties, will be hosting Wine and Chocolate Wine Trail Weekend on Feb. 13 and Feb. 14 at wineries throughout the state. The complete schedule of events can be seen by visitingnewjerseywines.com/events/category/winery-events/.

Wine and Chocolate Wine Trail Weekend at Old York Cellars last year. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Old York Cellars)

Wine and Chocolate Wine Trail Weekend at Old York Cellars last year.
(Photo: ~Courtesy of Old York Cellars)

“Each winery creates their own event which is unique to them,” said Tom Cosentino, executive director of Garden State Wine Growers. “We don’t force them to cookie-cutter it, or else it would make everything the same and they would lose their identity.”

Old York Cellars at 80 Old York Road in Ringoes, which is a member of the Vintage North Jersey trail, a group of 10 wineries in Hunterdon, Warren, Sussex and Mercer counties, will be hosting a six-wine and chocolate tasting with chocolate from Laurie’s Chocolates of Doylestown, Pennsylvania, alongside live music from JT Rooney and Robert Viola in their Vista Room in the center of the vineyard, for $10 a person, which includes a souvenir glass.

The winery, which produces 16 wines throughout the year, will also be hosting an exclusive guided wine tasting for $50 per couple that includes eight pre-selected wines, chocolates made by Laurie’s Chocolates, a souvenir glass, plus a toast with Old York Cellars’ Blanc de Blanc sparkling wine.

Wine and Chocolate Wine Trail Weekend at Old York Cellars last year. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Old York Cellars)

Wine and Chocolate Wine Trail Weekend at Old York Cellars last year.
(Photo: ~Courtesy of Old York Cellars)

“Wine and Chocolate Wine Trail Weekend is one of the biggest events that we do,” said Laurin Dorman, chair of Garden State Wine Growers and director of Old York Cellars. “Even though it’s wintertime, the winery is beautiful in all seasons and people are getting out of the house and doing something local.”

However, by no means is Wine and Chocolate Wine Trail Weekend the only statewide event that Garden State Wine Growers hosts.

They hold four wine trail weekends throughout the year, encouraging visitors to visit multiple wineries within a region and check out their food pairings, tastings, tours, live entertainment and other special events. All of the wine trail weekend events can be seen by visiting newjerseywines.com/events/category/trail-weekends/.

Wine and Chocolate Wine Trail Weekend at Old York Cellars last year. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Old York Cellars)

Wine and Chocolate Wine Trail Weekend at Old York Cellars last year.
(Photo: ~Courtesy of Old York Cellars)

Dorman said that about 40 percent of Old York Cellars’ visitors are coming from or going to another regional winery and creating a wine trail experience, which is not surprising considering that Cosentino said Hunterdon is emerging as a major wine territory.

“Wine trail weekends get people to sample new wines and visit wineries throughout the state,” said Cosentino. “When people do tastings, they’re then asking, ‘Where can I purchase this?’ and then asking their local restaurants, ‘Can you start carrying this?’ The trail allows all of our wineries to showcase their products.”

Plus, due to the differing soil throughout New Jersey regions, local wineries can offer anything from dry reds to dessert wines to visitors, so no one has to go without an empty glass.

Wine and Chocolate Wine Trail Weekend at Old York Cellars last year. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Old York Cellars)

Wine and Chocolate Wine Trail Weekend at Old York Cellars last year.
(Photo: ~Courtesy of Old York Cellars)

Garden State Wine Growers also offers a passport program in which visitors can receive a ‘wine passport’ at any of its 44 member wineries and then get stamped at each winery they visit. If they visit all 44 wineries within three years and submit it by May 15, they are entered to win a trip to a wine region.

In order to become a member winery, wineries must be a working, licensed vineyard, make wine on at least three acres of their land and pay dues and meet the other regulations of the association to receive representation and promotion.

Cosentino said, “The long-term goal is to create agritourism. The way the wineries feel is the more, the merrier. They don’t want you to just come to their winery, they encourage you to visit the other ones, too, because it’s good for the entire business and region.”

Wineries normally offer a tour and tasting of several wines for $5 to $10, making for a cheap yet outside-the-glass day out. Old York Cellars holds tastings from noon to 5 p.m. seven days a week to taste six wines for $7, no appointment necessary.

Wine and Chocolate Wine Trail Weekend at Old York Cellars last year. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Old York Cellars)

Wine and Chocolate Wine Trail Weekend at Old York Cellars last year.
(Photo: ~Courtesy of Old York Cellars)

About 43 wineries have opened in the state since 1980, and existing wineries have become more established, including Old York Cellars, which has seen exponential growth since it opened six years ago and received almost 22,000 visitors last year, compared to 13,000 visitors in 2013. In 2011, a study conducted by Frank, Rimerman and Co. determined that 100,000 people visited New Jersey wineries within the year.

New Jersey winemaking has changed a lot over the years, for reasons such as partnerships with Garden State Wine Growers, local promotion and wineries’ abilities to offer a local hangout with food, live entertainment and events.

In-state wines have been receiving more publicity from winning blind taste tests and receiving other awards.

“New Jersey makes great corn, tomatoes and crops, so why shouldn’t we have great grapes?” said Cosentino. “It all comes down to exposure.”

Plus, the setting of wineries in the state, particularly in Central Jersey, makes for a great backdrop.

“People are sort of transported when they come off Route 202 to Old York Cellars and see mountains and rolling hills down the driveway,” said Dorman. “People constantly say, ‘It doesn’t even feel like I’m in New Jersey.’”

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