William Heritage Winery is a family-owned and family-operated estate vineyard and winery located in Mullica Hill, New Jersey.
So where is Mullica Hill? From a vineyard perspective, it’s in the heart of the Outer Coastal Plain American Viticultural Area (AVA), which covers more than 2.25 million acres in southeastern New Jersey. In terms of how you get there, it’s around a half-hour drive from Philadelphia, crossing the bridge and heading south. Figure around 70 minutes in the car if you are in Ocean City, New Jersey.
This is another of the New Jersey wineries where the wine is the headliner, with excellent dry varietals and blends and several sparklings, including pét-nats. The quality has translated into a long list of solid scores from critics such as James Suckling and publications such as Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate and Wine Enthusiast magazine.
In the case of William Heritage winery, there is far more than the wines, with a spacious tasting room indoor seating areas along with plenty of room outdoors.
Willliam Heritage was named New Jersey’s “Winery of the Year” in 2011 and 2014 by the Garden State Wine Growers Association, and it’s one of the founding members of the Winemakers Co-Op. That group banded together six years ago to work toward improving the quality of their wines and raising the perception of the quality of wines produced in the state.
Penni and Bill Heritage in 1998 began converting their 150-acre estate of peach and apple orchards into vineyards. They are the fifth generation to farm this property.
For years known as Heritage Vineyards, the family in 2017 unveiled its current name and a new label design that, according to the website, honors the family legacy and recognizes its commitment to premium, estate-grown wines. It also ushered in a new chapter for the family-owned company.
The winery, at 480 Mullica Hill Road, is open daily 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Below is the latest in the “6 Questions” series of interviews with winemakers and owners of East Coast wineries, which looks behind at what has been a turbulent year and, with optimism, looks ahead. Thanks to Rich Heritage for taking these on.
1, For those not familiar with the winery, how would you describe the experience there and what you want it to be for those who visit? What year did you open?
The William Heritage wine tasting room originally opened in 2002. The experience at William Heritage winery is meant to be casual yet classy as we strive to highlight our estate-grown wines. Over the past three years, we have renovated our estate tasting room, added a second wine tasting room location in Haddonfield, New Jersey (a high-end walking town) and added a new fully enclosed seating area at our estate tasting room. All of these projects and renovations have aimed to elevate our “class factor” as our wines have recently received 90 points from such publications as the Wine Advocate, Wine Enthusiast Magazine, James Suckling and Wine & Spirits Magazine. As we have raised the bar in wine quality over the years, we felt it was time to do the same with the tasting room experience.
We have placed a tremendous amount of effort on interior design, aesthetics and quality lighting. The interior design is also meant to tell the story of our family farm. The farm was once an apple and peach orchard that was transitioned to vineyards and winemaking in 1998 by Bill & Penni Heritage. As a couple of examples, our checkout counter was constructed with old wooden apple boxes from the farm and an old ladder hangs above the entrance that was once used to climb to the tops of apple trees. The overall design is very elegant but is also focused on organic wood and stone finishes that pay tribute to the importance of Mother Nature in the farming business. As guests enter our tasting rooms, they immediately feel as though they have walked into one of the great tasting rooms of Napa or Willamette Valley.
Q, One on the vineyard how many acres are you farming? Is everything you make from your grapes? I’m asking everyone if they are planting or replanting anything this year or next? Curious what’s doing well and what isn’t, or whether trends have you looking at planning vines of grapes you haven’t considered before.
A, We farm 65 acres of estate vineyards. My father Bill Heritage is planting a couple more acres of Chardonnay this year. Currently, all of our dry wines under our primary William Heritage wine label are estate grown. We purchase some fruit for a sweet wine brand that goes out to our liquor stores. We have had good success with Pinot Noir grown exclusively for Champagne production. Pinot Noir was an ambitious planting as this grape tends to struggle in humid climates, but we quickly realized that it ripens perfectly for Champagne-style wines.
Our William Heritage Vintage Brut has been awarded 90 points from Wine Enthusiast Magazine and 91 Points from James Suckling. We have also been awarded the Governor’s Cup for best sparkling wine in New Jersey for the past three years in a row. Bordeaux varieties such as Merlot and Cabernet Franc have done well for us as varietals and blends. We are also quite happy with Chardonnay, Semillon & Sauvignon Blanc. We have been less happy with our experimental planting of Grenache and some Syrah clones, which are now going to rosé. A new variety for us is Pinot Meunier, which is intended to further enhance our sparkling wines program.
Q, You were one of the first in the region to go with cans. How is that going and what will you be putting in a can this summer? Any other new products you want to mention?
A, Yes, we had a couple of back-to-back bumper crops and had some excess rosé so we wanted to see how we liked wine in a can format. Cans also have a lot of environmental benefits, which aligns with some of the sustainable farming techniques we have been implementing. The downside has been that customers struggle to pay $9 for a can of wine. Unfortunately, yields were very low last year so we do not have any wines available to can. Hopefully next year! And hopefully, by that time there will be more customer acceptance of wines in cans priced in the $9 to $12 range. If you want high-quality wine that is also convenient and portable, $9 to $12 for a 12-ounce can need to be a viable price point.
Q, What has the last year been like there trying to run a business during a pandemic? Are there any changes you have made that you plan to keep?
A, One word for trying to run a business during a pandemic – STRESSFUL. Tons of changes trying to adapt to CDC protocols. Lots of creative marketing to try and make up for any gaps in lost business – virtual tastings, curbside pick up, delivery, outdoor table side wine tasting experiences, etc. Luckily we had a ton of local support and plenty of room for a socially distanced outdoor seating area so we were able to stay very busy during the pandemic.
The biggest change has been the implementation of reservations. Those have definitely been a silver lining for us. The pandemic pushed us to do reservations so that we didn’t max out our seating area. We have found this helps us tremendously in terms of managing crowds and planning for busy weekends.
Q, In terms of entertainment and food there what can visitors expect? Are you on a schedule that will be more similar to 2019 this summer in terms of events?
A, In terms of events with live music and food I would say that we are turning up the volume a bit, but still maintaining social distancing measures. We will have a lobster truck and Chardonnay event on Memorial Day and a Thursday night live music and food trucks event that we call Vino & Vibes. Vino & Vibes will run June – August. Overall, we will be positioned to handle larger crowds while still keep distancing measures in place.
6, We’ve written a lot about places around here having trouble finding help. Looks like you didn’t have that problem in terms of interest in tasting room jobs?
A, Yes, I have heard some businesses have struggled to find new employees. I personally have heard this mostly from friends who work at large retail chains and from friends who work in the insurance industry. My assumption is that people don’t want to go back to work at a place that is “not fun” or considered a “soul sucking” type of job.
When we posted the job to work at our winery we were overwhelmed by applicants. I have also heard a few teachers that are grabbing jobs at local breweries. So in my social sphere, it seems like wineries and breweries are having less trouble finding help relative to larger companies.
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