New wine ideas bubble up on NJ farmland

New wine ideas bubble up on NJ farmland

On a pretty New Jersey farm where hawks once gathered to hunt the freshly tilled soil, blossoms a family vineyard, which bubbles with fresh ideas in sparkling wine and small-production varietals.

Todd and Kenna
Todd and Kenna, pictured with two of their daughters, have been innovating the wine offerings at Hawk Haven Vineyard & Winery.

The Hawk Haven Vineyard & Winery, was launched in 1997 by husband and wife Todd and Kenna Wuerker. Together they grow grapes on the farmland that has been in Todd’s family since it was purchased in 1940 by German immigrant Johan Felix Wuerker.

Today, the farm is a popular destination experience for tourists and year-round Cape May residents and wine lovers. They come to relax, sip wine, listen to live music and soak up the ambience of the 20-acre property now run by the husband and wife team.

“We’re considered a smaller winery. We produce between 5,000 to 6,000 cases a year, depending on the harvest., and we consider ourselves to be one of the better winemakers in a state which is known for sweeter fruit wines. We’re producing drier, European varietals like Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay and Viognier,”  says vineyard co-owner Kenna Wuerker. “We’re creating up to 18 varietals on our 20-acre farm and doing a lot of experimenting from the vineyard to the winemaking.”

In this week’s Q&A with Boxerbrand blog Recipe for Success, Kenna Wuerker discusses the popular destination vineyard and winery and the newest thing in sparkling wines, the “Pet Nat.”

Boxerbrand: What is Pet Nat and how does it fit into Hawk Haven’s portfolio?

Kenna: Pet Nat is a sparkling rosé that’s fermented in the bottles so that the bubbles are also created in the bottles, and not added later. Pet Nat, which is very popular in France, has a shorter production run than other sparkling wines. The bubbles, which are created by adding yeast to the bottle, are very different than, for example, a Brut champagne. If you think of the bubbles of Brut, they sometimes go up your nose and tickle. The bubbles of Pet Nat are lighter and fizzier, and right now there’s a tremendous buzz about it in popular culture.

Boxerbrand: What else is Hawk Haven doing to appeal to the up-and-coming wine connoisseur?

Kenna: Last year we started canning wine. This is something that’s been done on the west coast for a couple years now, but we’re only the 2nd winery in our area to do it. Canning wine is a way to enter the craft-beverage industry. We saw it as a chance to be fun and creative with the labeling and make wine itself more fun and casual.

Our area is a big draw for recreational hikers, beach-goers, and campers. These people think nothing of throwing a can of beer in a cooler, but a bottle of wine just doesn’t translate. People don’t bring bottles of wine to the beach.

So, we canned our first wine last year and it sold out immediately. It was so popular we’re going to do it again this year.

Boxerbrand: How do you bring in customers?

Kenna: We’re on a peninsula on the south coast of New Jersey. We have great beaches, and we’re situated about six miles from Cape May. So, we’re a nice, year-round resort town. People come to the region in winter for our B&Bs and restaurants, and we’re also fortunate to be only five miles from Wildwood, a popular amusement park. This positions us nicely to attract a broad mix of customers.

Our customer base is also made up of people coming to rent a vacation home for a week, or people who own second homes in the area.

Our business model is different than what’s done in California. Vineyards on the west coast are supported by local restaurants and bars, who serve their product. And they tend to build their business around wine tastings and wine clubs.

Our model is different. What we offer is a casual, all-day experience. People come to our farm to sit at picnic benches, hear live music. Because we have more one-on-one time with our customers, we see it as an opportunity to introduce them to varietals they might never have tried. Someone who sits down to order a familiar glass of sweeter wine is often easily converted to a single varietal drier wine. So, we’re able to do business in a different way, and it works!

Boxerbrand: How does food factor in?

Kenna: We have a restaurant we run all spring, summer and fall. We don’t take reservations because we can’t. People will arrive at 11:30 a.m. and stay all day. We refer to our restaurant as the Barrel Room Kitchen, though it doesn’t have a formal name. We offer finger food and cheese plates so our guests can snack while enjoying wine and listening to live acts we bring in.

Boxerbrand: How did Hawk Haven get its name?

Kenna: My husband grew up on this land, which was once a 500-acre tract. The land has been in his family since 1940, and before it became a vineyard, it was farmed. When we went to name our business, he remembered that as a boy, the hawks would fly in to hunt the worms brought up in the freshly tilled soil. The memory stuck with him.

Boxerbrand: Thank you Kenna for sharing your story.

— Hawk Haven Vineyard and Winery uses Boxerbrand Corks menu covers in its presentation. Thank you!

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