The first half of this year has been good to the New Jersey wine industry. First there was the passage of the Wine Shipping Bill allows Garden State wineries to ship Jersey-fresh wine all over the United States and then the recent outcome of the Judgement of Princeton, which showed several New Jersey wines were ranked as good, if not better, than their much more expensive French counterparts!

As Fall approaches, winery owners turn to the task of harvesting their grapes, and they wonder, "Will this be a good year?" According to Kate Quarella of Bellview Winery in Landisville, "Farming is a risky business. You throw yourself at the mercy of weather patterns, bugs and global warming."

Quarella adds, "Vintages are a direct result of the weather for the year, and it isn't just temperature or rain fall that can affect a crop. Cloud cover, foggy nights, stink bugs, things that we often don't see as problematic can be the downfall or the rise of a great or terrible vintage. When the grapes are young they are hard and green, often a lot stronger, but as with any other fruit, the more they ripen the more delicate they become. The skin gets thinner as they plump, and the sugars get higher making them a more enticing place for critters and disease to flourish." That's why harvesting at the right time is so critical.

So far, Bellview Winery, the Garden State Wine Growers Association (GSWGA) Winery of the Year, has picked 8000 pounds of Pinot Grigio, 6,000 pounds Fredonia, 32,000 pounds Cayuga, 3,000 pounds Muscat, and 3,500 pounds of Niagara. "The varietals are coming along nicely, and we expect a generous harvest with the rest of our grapes," says Quarella. A good year!

And Larry Sharrott, Jr of Sharrott Winery in Blue Anchor agrees. "The growing season started early this year, but an early frost took out most of our first growth. Right now our grapes are coming in about the same time as last year, but smaller crops equals better quality." On the day I visited, Sharrott brought in their Merlot and Syrah grapes and were pressing Vidal. "It keeps us busy," Sharrott adds.

But it's not just the harvest that has New Jersey wineries so busy this time of year. It's also festival time, with events and activities happening nearly every weekend. According to Tom Cosentino of the GSWGA, we can expect everything from grape stomping to pig roasts to harvest festivals over the next month. "Each winery develops their own brand of entertainment that marries the wonderful wine they have produced on the vine with local artisans, musicians and food vendors."

The GSWGA is sponsoring three fall festivals: the Jersey Fresh Wine Festival on Sept 29 & 30 at the Burlington County Fairgrounds; the Cape May Wine Festival at the Cape May-Lewes Ferry Terminal the weekend of Oct 6 & 7; and the Grand Harvest Wine Festival on Oct 13-14 at Fosterfield's Living Historical Farm in Morris County. At each festival, visitors will be able to sample over 250 wines from GSWGA wineries across the state, enjoy live musical performances, and shop local food vendors, crafters and artisan products. And don't forget KidZone for the kids!

"What better place to spend a weekend day than visiting a N.J. winery," says Cosentino, "sampling the award-winning product and enjoying the seasonal events that each winery schedules at their locale."

For more information about Autumn wine festivals and events across the state, visit www.newjerseywines.com.

Jersey Bites is a collaborative website of food writers in New Jersey. They write about restaurants, recipes, food news, food products, events, hunger relief programs, and everything else that tickles their taste buds.