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Cape May Winery & Vineyard  

History of the Cape May Winery & Vineyard

visit poster's websitHome to the oldest roots in the county, Cape May Winery is a staple of Exit 0. The winery was started by the Hayes family in conjunction with Rutger's Agricultural Co-op in 1989. The first test plot of Cabernet Sauvignon was planted that year at the Townbank Vineyard. After a few years of pruning, maturing, and patiently waiting- the first bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon was released in 1996. Today, the winery continues to grow and produce some of South Jersey’s finest wines!

In 2003, Bill Hayes sold the winery to our current owners- the Craig Family. Toby Craig and his daughter Betsy Sole have worked over the years to create a special vibe and atmosphere at the winery. When the Craigs took over, they hired winemaker Darren Hesington who worked as head winemaker for 16 years. While Darren has moved on from Cape May Winery, he will remain a pillar of our winemaking process. The current winemaker, Mike Mitchell, worked closely with Darren as his assistant winemaker for 11 years. The 2019 harvest was Mike’s first as head winemaker. Mike and assistant winemaker Jackson Sole lead our production team, while tasting room manager Shelley Rhoads oversees the front of the house. The attention to detail and love of wine starts with Toby and Betsy and works its way through our production team, to the tasting room, and into every bottle. We hope you stop by to taste our wines and stroll through the vineyard, because life’s too short to drink bad wine! 

The year Toby purchased the winery, production was just over 1,000 gallons of wine. In 2014, the winery produced 40,000 gallons- which equates to ~16,445 cases or ~197, 333 bottles of wine! Today, we are the 5th largest producing winery in New Jersey. The Cape May Winery is unique in that we are 100% retail- our wines truly call Exit 0 home! Cape May Winery's farmland encompasses over 150 acres around Cape May. Currently, we harvest 26 of these acres across 4 vineyards home to 11 grape varietals.  

Townbank Vineyard: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Riesling & Chardonnay. 

Shunpike Vineyard: Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc & Chambourcin.

Sandman Vineyard
North Block: Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, Vidal Blanc & Cayuga
South Block: Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon & Riesling. 

Isaac Smith Vineyard: Merlot, Chardonnay & Vidal Blanc

Along with the grapes- tomato plants, beach plums, squash, and kale also call our farmlands home. Our tapas kitchen, which opened in 2018, features these seasonal ingredients on the menu, which has been artfully crafted by Chef Mike Siegel to pair with each of our wines. Chef Mike is looking forward to more special menu items and events like our pop-up dinner series to add to the winery atmosphere. While we do not host weddings, we are a great venue for more intimate private events such as a rehearsal dinner. The kitchen adds another layer to the winery and it will evolve organically, hand in hand with the guest experience as is the Craig’s vision for the winery.

Once the Craig’s acquired the winery in 2003, its transformation began. In 2005, the main winery building was constructed. This building housed the tasting room, sales floor, production, barrels, tanks and crush pad. Prior to construction of the main building, everything occured in the 3 car garage of the brown house next door. As you can imagine, a lot has happened over the years. In 2007, the main tasting room was added onto the main building, and shortly after that Toby completed construction of the deck. 

As the winery continued to grow, our production team needed more space to produce the wine and so the first production barn was built in 2013. This was the first step in creating a separate space for the winemaking process. After that, the back patio was finished. This addition helped to turn the winery into a spot for locals and visitors alike to come and enjoy great wines. Then came the second production barn in 2015, allowing for all of production to be moved ‘up the hill’ and into the barns. The old tank room and crush pad transformed, becoming the solarium, tap room and now the kitchen. Although rooms change and the winery is continuously evolving, there are pieces of our history all around. The green metal walls of the old tank room remain, giving the tap room its industrial feel. Cape May Winery is always expanding in order to create the best environment possible for our guests. Our most recent project is the bottling line barn, finished in November of 2019. There are more additions on the horizon- just one of the many reasons to keep coming back. 

Within the many rooms of the winery are some very special items both gathered from around Cape May and handmade by our owner Toby. One of the best activities to do at the winery is go for a self-guided tour while enjoying a glass of your favorite wine. Keep an eye out for the Copper Beech chandelier, vine chandelier, stave wall, aerial map of South Jersey, custom made tabletops, and much more! Here are some of our favorite stories behind a few of the items found in the winery.

*The Copper Beech chandelier is much more than just the focal point of the Port Wine Cellar. For over 100 years, this tree was a prominent feature of Washington Street in downtown Cape May. As time passed, the trunk became weakened due to disease and the tough decision to take the tree down was made. Fortunately, Toby Craig happened to be driving down Washington Street just after the tree was cut. He noticed a beautiful piece of the trunk lying in the yard, ready to be discarded. He asked the owner if they would mind if he took that piece to put on display in the winery. 

After completing the chandelier, the granddaughter of the owner of the house where the tree was planted, came to the winery to see the old tree. When she entered the Port Wine Cellar and saw what Toby had done with the trunk, she cried. Seeing the tree brought back memories of her childhood- spending her summers down the shore at her Grandparent’s house and climbing the tree. These small stories immortalized in the various pieces of art and woodwork can be found all around the winery. 

*The vine chandelier hanging in our Tap Room provides a unique perspective of the anatomy of a vine. This chandelier is 3 Cabernet Sauvignon vines from the vineyard behind the winery. During the construction of the second production barn, the pathway leading from the patio to the barns was laid. If you look down the path you might notice that it is perfectly spaced for a row of vines to be planted there. Toby Craig saved 3 of these torn out vines to be repurposed to create the chandelier. The vines are twisted together and hung upside down and are lit from hand strung LED lights. 

*In our main tasting room, hanging proudly above the stone fireplace, is the oldest vine in Cape May County.   

*A magical backdrop to many photographs taken at the winery are the green doors leading to the Port Wine Cellar. These doors were once the entryway to a church in Scranton, Pennsylvania. 

*In 2018, the retired MV Twin-Capes Ferry that transported tourists from Cape May, NJ to Lewes, DE was sunk to become a part of the Del-Jersey-Land Inshore Reef! Before the ferry became a part of the reef, Toby Craig went to the Cape May Ferry Terminal to purchase some of the unique artwork onboard the Twin Capes. One of the art installations onboard, handmade ceramic pieces created by a Dutch artist, lined the halls of the boat to mimic port holes. Toby loved the textures and designs of the art and decided to repurpose them for use in the winery. Now these act as table tops in the solarium, tap room and main tasting room. Another artifact on display are two bronze sailboats, artist unknown. Probably the most popular and eye catching of the ferry acquisitions is the satellite imaging aerial map of South Jersey. Look closely and see if you can find the little red push pin- that’s the winery! 

*A popular winery aesthetic is oak barrels, and our owner Toby Craig thought of a very unique way to utilize our worn out barrels. As you walk through the Tap Room and Solarium or place your order at the Tapas Kitchen Window, you might notice the barrel stave walls. Toby took apart 30 retired French Oak barrels that had served their purpose in the production barns. He custom cut and nailed each stave board into the wall to create the coolest wallpaper ever. The design of the wall allows you to look closely at our old barrels and notice the wine stains and grain textures of our old barrels. It’s possible that one of them was used to age the wine in your glass! 

https://phenterminestores.com/

Isaac Smith Label & Estate 
The private Isaac Smith Estate is located at the base of the West Cape May bridge and is home to one of our smaller vineyards and lots of tomato plants! The property features a beautiful duck pond, charming white barn, rows and rows of vines and of course the Isaac Smith Estate. Originally owned by Mr. Issac Smith in 1820, this home has been apart of Cape May for the past 200 years. He was a coffin and cabinet maker and a prominent member of the Cape May community. One of our wine labels pays homage to Isaac Smith, keeping the history alive. Our dessert port wines still feature this label as does our Apple wine. Keep and eye out for throwback releases featuring the Isaac Smith coffin label.

Seashell Logo
The scallop shell represents much more than just the Cape May Winery logo, it is a symbol of commerce and history for this area. Cape May is one of the highest yielding scallop fisheries on the East Coast, drawing many seafood lovers to its wonderful restaurants each year. And what pairs better with fresh locally caught scallops than Cape May Winery wine!?

Cape May Wine

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