Wine

There are certain obvious signs that fall is upon us. The crisp chill in the air, the leaves changing colors, pumpkin-flavored everything and, of course, lots and lots of festivals. One of the best of the fests is the South Jersey Wine & Food Festival, a two day event that runs from noon to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 23 and 24, at Lake Lenape Park in Mays Landing.

The South Jersey Wine and Food Festival is now in its seventh year with no signs of slowing down anytime soon. And why should it? After all, wine and food aren’t exactly unpopular around here. Each year, the festival attracts bigger crowds of those looking to sample wines from some of the best local wineries in South Jersey while spending the day relaxing, eating and NOT having to bake in the summer sun.

“For us it’s easier to find the time for stuff like this once September rolls around,” says Jimmy Irizary, a retired social worker from Galloway who has attended the festival for the last three years with his wife Alice. “They have a nice variety of wines and we like to try things that are produced locally. Not that we wouldn’t drink wine from far away of course, but it’s nice to support a bunch of businesses that all feel like the home team.”

The vino

“I’m looking forward to trying wines from all the other wineries. I love wine,” says John Basile, the co-owner and mastermind behind Monroeville Vinyard and Winery, one of many local wine makers that will appear at ths weekend’s festival.

Basile’s company may be new — he and his wife Debra purchased the farm in Monroeville to start their winery in 2009 — but Basile has been making wine since he was a little boy. “For me, it’s a family tradition. My father is from Italy and he’s been making wine his whole life just like the generations before him. I started making wine with him as a little boy and always really enjoyed home wine making as a hobby. But it was always a dream of my wife and I to do this for a living, so I switched careers and started a winery,” he says.

Basile will bring with him an arsenal of traditional reds and whites, but will also include several fruit varieties that stray from just the traditional grape. “We primarily bring a lot of our fruit wines — cranberry, apple, Asian pear … people don’t realize that New Jersey is known for its other fruits as well as its grapes. We make them right from the locally grown fruits.” Of course if you are more of a traditionalist Monroeville Vinyard will have something for you as well.

“We will have a little bit of everything. I like to say ‘there is a shoe for every foot’, and that’s what is great about a festival like this. There are so many varieties from so many wineries to choose from.”

Indeed Basile is correct about that. Around 20 South Jersey-based wineries will be on hand at the festival, including Wagonhouse, Plagido’s, Natali Vineyards and many more. Bottles of wine will be available for purchase should you find a variety that you just can’t leave without.

The eats

While countless efforts have been made, it has been clearly proven over time that one can not live on wine alone. Luckily for anyone attending The South Jersey Wine & Food Festival there will be plenty of items to nosh on while you are there.

Lest you assume there to be nothing but state fair style food, let us assure you that the lineup of restaurants taking part in the festival is an impressive one to say the least. Cuisines of all types will be featured, with everything from seafood to gourmet hot dogs up for grabs. There will even be a pair of celeb chef owned spots represented, as both Guy Fieri’s Chophouse and Gordon Ramsay Pub & Grill will be on hand to make sure the level of food matches that of the wine.

The odds and ends

Sampling delicious food and wine is just part of the weekend’s events though, as pop up entertainment areas with diverse musical selections are now a part of the newly re-designed layout for 2017.

In case the music was not enough , you can also expect various craft and novelty vendors, live culinary demonstrations as well as an adult game zone with a life size Jenga, lawn chess and checkers, corn hole, a giant “wine pong” game, Yardzee, Connect 4, Dominoes, foosball and ping pong all available for the playing.

And, of course, amateur wine makers will once again be able to enter their own homemade wines at the 4th Annual Amateur Wine Contest. All entries will be judged by a panel of experts. White wines will be judged at 3 p.m. Saturday and reds at the same time on Sunday. Applications are available at SJWineFestival.com

So if everybody is drinking, who is driving? Well, the good news is that tickets for designated drivers are just $10 and include four non alcoholic beverages as well as access to the designated driver tent.

As for parking, there are a limited number of spaces available on site, but shuttles will be running from the Hamilton Mall as well.

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