By Kimberly Zayac
Wine lovers rejoice in anticipation of Heritage Vineyard’s annual fall wine festival. Set to take place September 19-20, the Mullica Hill, New Jersey winery is in full planning mode. “This year feels like a celebration because we were New Jersey Winery of the Year this year, so we’re particularly excited,” said marketing guru Rich Heritage, son of owners Bill and Penni and self-proclaimed festival “mastermind.”
The Heritage Family has a rich history in the farming industry. “We planted our first grape vine in 1998, so that was 17 years ago,” Heritage said. The Heritage family has been farming on the same acreage of land since 1853, starting with apple and peach trees.
Bill and Penni each had separate fulltime jobs in addition to tending to the family farm. Eventually, the farm faced monetary troubles. The Heritage’s began planting grapes in hopes of rejuvenating the family business and to their great happiness, the plan succeeded. The farm has now transitioned from 150 acres of apples and peaches to over half of their acreage in grapes.
According to Heritage, last season’s wine festival was their most successful. However, a festival on the property in some regard has been in production since 2011. “It’s really grown in popularity the last two years,” Heritage said. “We were going to all these festivals and we thought it was pretty important to utilize our own assets, like the amount of land we have for parking. We could do this.”
The festival began on a small scale, accommodating around 2,000 guests over the span of a weekend. Since 2011, the size and scale of the festivities has grown dramatically. “We’re extremely passionate about a quality wine movement in New Jersey,” Heritage said. “It’s important to get people to experience the wine and spread the word. It’s kind of a grassroots movement and the quality is going up.”
Planning for the annual event begins long before the current year is over. “Me being the mastermind of the festival, I’m already thinking of it for next year,” Heritage said. Formal meetings for the festival start in January, consisting of the Heritage family sitting down to suss out the details. Emails are sent out to customers early in the year so that they have the opportunity to buy discounted tickets.
The 2014 festival was a huge success, blessed with beautifully sunny weather and wine samples from two additional guest wineries. Heritage states that lines at the tents were short and feedback was overwhelmingly positive. Mullica Hill resident Tracie Lockman stated of last year’s festival, “I really enjoyed the festival because I had the chance to try different wineries from all over and the [Heritage] winery itself was so pretty and everyone was so nice!”
Even with last year’s success, Heritage promises this year’s festival to be even bigger and better.
First and foremost, this year’s wine selection will be more extensive. “One of the comments last year was that customers would like to see more wineries,” Heritage said. Last year, the vineyard invited two guest wineries to sample their products. This year they will host seven additional wineries to pour at the event.
Working Dog Winery, present at last year’s festival, will again be pouring their award-winning wines. Other wineries in attendance will be Bellview Winery, Cape May Vineyards, Auburn Road Vineyard & Winery, Unionville Vineyards, Jersey Wine and Hopewell Valley Vineyards. “We do have some really quality places present,” Heritage said.
A VIP ticket holder area will be a new feature to this year’s festival. “I’ve been wanting to do this for a long time,” Heritage said. “We carved out a part of the vines so that VIPs get to hang out in the vine area. Additional wineries will be pouring at the VIP area and we’ve pulled special wines from our cellar.” Award-winning Hawk Haven Vineyard and Winery will be one of the VIP pourers at the event. Other VIP wineries to look for are Amalthea Cellars and Unionville Vineyards Reserved Wines.
Music-wise, the event will feature three talented bands each day for festival goers to enjoy. One band to look forward to is No Good Sister, a vocal trio from Philadelphia. The female group was named Unsung Hero standout performer by World Café Live at The Queen in 2013. Their first EP is set to debut by the end of the year.
“We also have an upgraded, state of the art sound system,” Heritage said. This will also be the first year Heritage’s will utilize event production company Mole Street Events out of Philadelphia to help make sure the event goes smoothly.
Kids can look forward to their own entertainment to enjoy, like a 40-foot rock wall for climbing. A vendor village will also be present, filled with local crafters selling wine-focused products. Some of those vendors include local honey, Tastefully Simple, Wine Barrel Designs and more.
The vendor village’s updated beer garden will feature local brews the likes of Jack’s Hard Cider, Flying Fish Brewing Co., Captain Lawrence, Weyerbacher Brewing Co., Sly Fox, Neshaminy Creek, Yards Brewing Company, Dogfish Head Brewery, Tröegs and Victory brewing companies. “The beer garden is a big highlight to the vendor village,” Heritage said.
Many customers enjoyed the fact that beer was available at last year’s event. Said Logan Township resident Sebastian Carpenter, “Personally, I’m not a huge ‘Wine-O.’ But between the beer tent, food trucks and live music, there was plenty for me to enjoy besides wine. Anyone can go there and have a good time.”
Healthier food options from local businesses will be available for guests to purchase. “We’re focusing on food that is a little healthier, which I think is really cool,” Heritage said. Philadelphia’s Eat-a-Pita will offer veggie pitas, The Pizza Wagon from Pennsylvania will be cooking up brick oven pizza and Pitman’s own Carolina Blue will be offering sandwiches and wraps. Weckerly’s Ice Cream and Sorbet, Try Vegan and Ravello Waffles will also be present.
“We’ve definitely up-ed the quality,” Heritage said. “We’ve definitely up-ed the quality,” Heritage said.
What makes Heritage’s wine festival different from the countless others popping up in southern New Jersey? “The reason ours is different is that we set a sellout number,” said Heritage. Some may question how an outdoor venue can sell out of tickets. The set number is mainly for safety, but also to keep lines shorter and tents more spaced out, which Heritage says overall, customers seem to enjoy. “This makes for a very smooth and accommodating festival,” he said.
What some customers may also be interested to see is local Pennsylvania vineyard Paradocx pouring at the event. “I don’t think the local wine movement should be restricted to state boarders,” Heritage said. “Our neighbors in PA are doing some neat things and it’s cool they’re here. We’re pulling the best local wine and beer from the area, encouraging drinking quality over quantity.”
Why should locals come to the festival? According to Heritage, the answer is quite simple. “If I had to sum it up, I really do think this is one of the best wine festival experiences in South Jersey,” he said. “It’s a great crowd, but it’s not too crowed and the lines aren’t long. I think they’re going to see a quality element across every element of the festival, wine, food, music, crafters. It’s an elevated experience.”
The convenience factor is also a feature that continually draws in guests. “There’s a wine pick-up so people have an easier time and don’t have to carry crates around,” Heritage stated. “The service is exceptional. Our staff is educated. Some staff has even completed the Philadelphia Wine Program.”
There are several types of tickets up for grabs at the event. General admission to the public starts at $25 and includes a one-day pass and access to samplings from the eight guest wineries. Wine Club members can purchase tickets for $19 for a one-day pass.
VIP admission comes at a $75 price tag and will give guests assess to the fairgrounds an hour before general admission. VIPs also get exclusive tastings from select wineries and catering in the tent from John Serock Catering and Rastelli Market Fresh. They will also receive a connoisseur wineglass for sampling. Wine Club VIPs can purchase tickets for a discounted $50.
Designated drivers should not feel slighted. Tickets will be offered for $5 to designated drivers which will grant access to purchasing from the variety of food and craft vendors at the festival.
There are countless reasons for customers to come back to the vineyards once festival season is over. Heritage’s offers wine tasting every day in their tasting room and Saturday wine tours weekly, which takes customers through the wine-making process.
In October, the vineyard offers their fall winery experience where families and friends can jump on a hayride, pick apples in the orchards, hang out in the tasting room and enjoy live music. A Holiday Wine Trail weekend is offered after Thanksgiving where guests can relax and taste selections of wine and cheeses.
Year-round, Heritage Vineyards remains a beloved staple for southern New Jersey wine lovers. “Heritage Vineyards is phenomenal,” says Alyssa Baus, Swedesboro, NJ resident. “There isn’t a holiday my family celebrates without a case of their delicious wine!”
Heritage estimates that tickets will soon be sold out, so to make your attendance a done-deal, visit the vineyard’s ticket sales page at heritagewinefestival.com for ticket pricing and full event details.