Silver Decoy Explores Science of Winemaking
Part one - A glimpse into the local wine industry.
Winemaking is nothing, if not an experiment – from the first seed sewn to the final corking of a bottle.
While there’s plenty of the typical trial-and-error process happening at Silver Decoy Winery, co-owner and winemaker Mark Carduner revealed the 110 acre-vineyard is also home to a few lesser-known experiments.
Silver Decoy is the site of two collegiate-based experiments, both geared toward better profiling Central Jersey’s climate, geology and their affects, a boon to local grape growers, Carduner said.
One of those experiments involves upwards of 12 test plots that scatter the property, compliments of Rutgers University.
About 20 years ago, scientists transplanted six native varieties of grapes from Northern Italy to a lab in New Jersey. For approximately five years, researchers quarantined the grapes, studying the plant matter with DNA testing and the sort, before eventually establishing select outdoor test sites, Carduner explained.
In 2009, Silver Decoy joined this exclusive list of wineries and agricultural extensions when University representatives reached out to Carduner and his partners, asking them to be the latest site. These locations will someday demonstrate whether or not the non-native grapes varieties might survive – or even flourish – in the various areas of the Garden State.
“You look at a climactic area, and what grows in Cape May doesn’t necessarily grow here,” Carduner said. “Here, we traditionally have a sandy loam soil; much like what you might find in Bordeaux.”
Accordingly, scientists are studying how the shore’s lighter soils might effect growth versus the shale clay soils found in the western regions of the state, Carduner said.
As for the second experiment, Rutgers University, in partnership with Cornell University, once again reached out to Silver Decoy’s owners last May, this time to see if they’d be interested in hosting a weather station and participating in a gridding exercise.
Silver Decoy welcomed the station and in no time at all researchers equipped the vineyard, one of four New Jersey winery test sites, with a small piece of modern machinery that records everything from humidity, to wind speed and temperatures. Ultimately, Carduner expects that the data collected will enable winemakers to better respond to crop threats, for instance, when spraying for insects or fungus.
While he anticipates studies like these will only improve the industry, Carduner is steadfast in his belief that the foundation of any great wine hinges on attention to detail and the perfect grape.
“The number one thing any winemaker is in love with is clean fruit,” he said. “[At Silver Decoy] every plant is touched seven-to-eight times per year. They are manually cut and sprayed…and they grow very quickly.”
Looking out at a vast sequence of rolling hills on the winery’s sun-kissed vineyard, it may be hard to imagine the business venture started out as a hobby amongst five friends in 2001, much less on three acres and with only two varieties of grapes.
“It was a very conservative approach to growing,” Carduner said.
Two years later, the first harvest yielded just enough crop for half a barrel of chardonnay and full barrel of cabernet franc, the spoils of which were consumed strictly by the winemakers themselves in an effort to perfect the formula.
“I’m just not sure how it all happened,” Carduner said. “You follow your passion, you get up early and you stay up late.”
With their day jobs intact, these partners, all from very different walks of life, began to learn more and more about the process hands-on.
For Carduner, who had already been putting his retail background to work, that meant monitoring fermentation, handling the distribution and bottling, manning tasting sessions and assisting with construction expansions.
“We’re much more than we ever expected to be,” he said. “But it takes a lot of sleepless nights working in the vineyard.”
A little more than a decade later, the winery is producing 15 different types of wines and somewhere in the neighborhood of 25,000-to-30,000 bottles per year.
“We keep growing and we keep making better wine,” Carduner said.
Customers would agree, some flocking from more than 50 miles away to attend one of the wineries many events: from runs and walks to weddings and dances.
“We came out to learn more about this place…and we found a couple of wines we liked,” said weekend taster and Plainsboro resident Dale Hosfield, who left with several bottles in tow.
Silver Decoy’s success might be a fairly accurate barometer for New Jersey’s industry as a whole, Carduner said.
In 2001, 11 wineries were listed as members of the Garden State Wine Growers Association, an organization that boasts more than three times that number, and growing, in 2012, Carduner said.
“This is the best time,” he said. “The wine business has never been better.”
For more information on Silver Decoy Winery stop by its 610 Perrineville-Windsor Road location in East Windsor, call 609-371-6000 or log onto www.silverdecoywinery.com. The tasting room is open Fridays from 2 to 6 p.m.; Saturday and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.