The Trick To Selling Fancy Wine From New Jersey: Don't Say It's From New Jersey : Planet Money Instead, say it's from the "Outer Coastal Plain." (It's part of a plan to kick the state's reputation for making cheap wine.)
NPR logo

The Trick To Selling Fancy Wine From New Jersey: Don't Say It's From New Jersey

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
The Trick To Selling Fancy Wine From New Jersey: Don't Say It's From New Jersey

The Trick To Selling Fancy Wine From New Jersey: Don't Say It's From New Jersey

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


Alright, let's think of some of the great wine-making regions of the world. You have Bordeaux in France. You've got Napa Valley in California. And then there is the Outer Coastal Plain. That's where Lou Caracciolo makes his wine.

LOU CARACCIOLO: The Outercoastal Plain, when I'm at an international show now, people pick that up and say: That's in Australia, isn't it? That wine is fabulous, it's Australian? No, it's from New Jersey.

GREENE: New Jersey, wine. Like the state itself, it has long been the butt of jokes. But Robert Smith of our Planet Money Team shows us how Jersey winemakers are trying to change their reputation.

ROBERT SMITH, BYLINE: Halfway between the New Jersey Turnpike and the Atlantic City casinos is a little bit of France.

CARACCIOLO: Here if you walk here you'll see - let me show you something.

SMITH: Lou Caracciolo takes me past his 100-year-old farmhouse and into the rows of grapevines.

CARACCIOLO: And here's something that I put in the ground in 1976.

SMITH: Back when he started Almathea Cellars. He's nostalgic that way.

CARACCIOLO: You have to have a feel for it. And after 30 years, I have a pretty good feel for it.

SMITH: So these are your babies is what you are saying?

CARACCIOLO: Well, more or less, yeah. I am a hopeless romantic so don't start with me.

SMITH: You have to be a romantic to make a $33 a bottle Cabernet blend in a state better known for Snooki and "The Sopranos." Wine lives and dies on a region's reputation.


SMITH: And Caracciolo can't help but be a tad defensive about his home state when I taste it.

This is fantastic.

LOU CARACCIOLO: You like that one? Not bad for New Jersey, right?


SMITH: Caracciolo is battling not just all those New Jersey jokes, but something bigger - the reputation of the other New Jersey wines. People have been fermenting grapes here since the American Revolution. There are dozens of other winemakers. People like Charlie Tomasello, who is just down the road - a guy who is famous for a very different kind of wine.

CHARLIE TOMASELLO: Would you like a little sip?


SMITH: It has been described as tasting like grape jelly.

TOMASELLO: Yes. Well, I think that's accurate because Concord is used by Welch's probably to make grape jelly. And it's very sweet, I have to tell you that.

SMITH: The Tomasello family had been very successful making these sweet wines. You can find them all over the country. So much so that anyone who knows New Jersey wine probably thinks, hmm, Smuckers. Especially the version made with local blueberries.

I know. I can picture almost like being poured over ice cream. It has that kind of like almost syrupy taste to it.

TOMASELLO: It goes very well with cheesecake.

SMITH: There's nothing wrong with a $10 cheesecake wine. And Tomasello's is delicious. But it creates a perception challenge for winemakers who want to make the dry French-style wine. They want Jersey to be the next Napa Valley. They want big money wine collectors. Tasting tours. Destination weddings. And for that they need to change minds.

The first step has been to start with the label. Some fancy New Jersey winemakers have separated themselves from New Jersey. They petitioned the government for a special geographic designation - like Napa Valley or the Rhone River. And they got it. The Outer Coastal Plain.

Lou Caracciolo says it helps.

CARACCIOLO: Well, it does sound fancier than New Jersey. I mean it does.

SMITH: But a label only gets you so far. There's still the stuff inside the bottle. And if it doesn't have a consistent taste, that can hurt.

George Taber, a wine journalist who used to live in Jersey, says the state has to make less of the cheesecake stuff.

GEORGE TABER: Basically, the wine industry, the wine business in the state, has got to kick that reputation. And you don't kick it by continuing to having 80 percent of the wines out on the market are those sweet wines.

SMITH: The high-end winemakers in New Jersey face a classic economic challenge. It's called the collective action problem. By working together, the wineries of the state could improve the reputation of New Jersey wine. But it is so much easier for most of these wineries to make a profit by growing the easy, cheaper grapes, by putting out a sweeter wine.

So Lou Caracciolo has been tackling this. He visits the sweet winemakers and he says yes, yes, I know this is how you make your money. But make your reputation, your prestige by making a few fancy dry wines - just on the side. And some of them have.


SMITH: If this sounds expensive, it is. A $48 2010 reserve Cabernet called Palmeris.


SMITH: And surprise, it's from Charlie Tomasello, the blueberry wine king. No Smuckers here.

TOMASELLO: Well, it has nice cassis and forward fruit and a little bit of leather and chocolate in there and...

SMITH: They're still a long way from having a New Jersey section in every fancy wine store. But a reputation - like a good wine - only matures with time.

Robert Smith, NPR News.

Copyright © 2013 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.