Willow Creek Winery – Cape May Review
Address: 160-168 Stevens Street West Cape May,New Jersey 08204.
Phone Number: 609-770-8782
Tasting Hours: 11:00-7:00
Region: Outer Coastal Plain AVA, New Jersey
Reviewer: Charlie Toms
Review Date: 10/5/2013
Reviewer: Charlie Toms
Willow Creek Winery is one of the newest wineries in New Jersey, having opened to the public in the fall of 2012. Barbara Bray Wilde purchased a former produce farm in 1998. Initially, Wilde used the 50-acre property to grow landscaping plants, but in 2005 she began to cultivate wine grapes. Wilde is originally from Philadelphia, and in 1996 founded The Southern Mansion, a 24-suite bed and breakfast in the neighboring town of Cape May. Wilde has stated that she became interested in wine as a student at the University of California at Berkeley and that the climate of the Cape May area is similar to the wine valleys of Northern California.
Willow Creek currently grows 40 acres of grapes, produces 6,000 cases of wine per year, and is a member of the Garden State Wine Growers Association. The vineyard is tended by viticulturalist Kevin Celli who formerly oversaw farming at Natali Vineyards in Goshen, New Jersey. The farm has long been known as Willow Creek because of a large willow tree near the owner’s residence and because of Pond Creek, a stream that borders the vineyard. Willow Creek is not connected to a similar-named winery in New York. The winery is the southernmost winery in New Jersey, and is located in the Outer Coastal Plain Viticultural Area.
The front of the vineyard is marked by a plantation-style house with a large porch, sweeping balcony, and a red villa roof that serves as the residence for Barbara Wilde and her teenage son and daughter. While the house looks like many of the nineteenth century homes in the area, it was actually built in 2005. The front portion of the property also includes an old farmhouse and an elaborate chicken coop that is adorned with curtains and a chandelier. Besides grapes, Willow Creek grows apples, artichokes, asparagus, beets, figs, mint, persimmons, porcelain berries, potatoes, spinach, tobacco, tomatoes, wild carrots, wormwood, and a long list of flowers. The Wildes also raise honey bees, chickens, and turkeys, and serve all the products of the farm at The Southern Mansion.
While riding along the unpaved driveway, the vastness of the vineyard becomes apparent. About a quarter-mile beyond the house is a uniquely-designed 12,000 square foot building that serves as the tasting facility. The enormous wood building was built last year by Amish workers from Pennsylvania and has a red roof matching Wildes residence. When I visited, an oversized golf cart that is used to give tours was parked in front of the building. The tasting room is cavernous with high wooden ceilings, chandeliers, and leather couches. Tastings are conducted in the corner of this room where there is a raised platform with a wood and marble bar. Willow Creek had planned to use this facility to host weddings, but state regulations have prohibited them from holding non-agricultural events.
Willow Creek Winery currently grows or produces wine from 15 types of grapes Albarino, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chambourcin, Corot Noir, Malbec, Malvasia Bianca, Merlot, Muscat Blanc, Pinot Noir, Riesling, Sangiovese, Sauvignon Blanc, Seyval Blanc, and Syrah. It is the only winery in New Jersey that produces wine from Malvasia Bianca, which is a white vinifera grape indigenous to the northwest coast of Italy. Willow Creek makes wine from apples, and has a separate brand for non-estate wines, named “Wilde Cock” after the owner and the roosters that live at the farm. The winery has expressed interest in using its wormwood patch to produce absinthe in the future.
During my visit I tried seven wines, including two from the Wilde Cock line. Neither Barbara nor Kevin were present when I visited, and I felt that the tasting was somewhat rushed and impersonal. I started with Malvasia Bianca, which was fruity, but I bit sharper than I prefer. Sauvignon Blanc, which is aged in oak for seven months, was just as fruity but had a much smoother finish. The Sauvignon Blanc could accompany salmon or other flavorful fish. Meditrina Rose is a blush wine made from a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Chambourcin and Merlot. It was lightly flavored and semi-sweet.
The Cabernet Sauvignon was medium-bodied and dry and could be paired with a hamburger. Bacchus Red consists of Merlot, Chambourcin and Cabernet Sauvignon, and is Bordeaux-like. I really liked Bacchus Red, and could see myself drinking it while eating a steak. Wilde Cock Red is a blend of Syrah and Merlot and was rather unremarkable. Wilde Cock White is made from Riesling and Muscat Blanc. On the day that I visited, they were only serving Wilde Cock White as part of a sangria made with pineapples and guavas.
Willow Creek Winery possesses a sense of adventure they are a new winery thats willing to experiment with less-common wines. Willow Creek is noticeably more expensive than other wineries in New Jersey, with all of their wines costing $22 and up. If you cannot make it to Willow Creek, they can ship to residents of New Jersey and 38 other states that permit wine deliveries.