Interview with John Basile, owner of Monroeville Winery

At 11:00 AM on a Saturday morning I was excited to meet with the owner of Monroeville Winery. This was the first winery I visited when I  began researching wineries in South Jersey. Looking back, the only thing I knew about wine was one was red and one was white and I wasn’t even sure what made them different. John Basile, one of the owners of Monroeville Winery along with his wife Debra, was so completely patient with me as I hurled question after question.

John invited me into the back of the winery and offered to answer my onslaught of questions as he worked. “What is he doing?” I asked myself as I watched John with a graduated cylinder, a dropper, and a beaker full of cloudy crushed grape juice- materials that reminded me more of my time as a biology major in college than time spent making wine. I later asked John what it was all about. “We determine the natural acid in wine. If pH is high we can adjust it with tartaric acid. We want to determine the mouthfeel of the wine, or how it tastes on tongue. We usually  want pH below 4.”  John equally impressed me with scientific knowledge when I asked about a friend’s homemade wine that was going bad. He explained it may be malolactic fermentation which is a second fermentation that happens through bacteria. With words like tartaric acid and malolactic fermentation, this isn’t just your Grandpa making wine.

In 2009 John Basile and his wife Debra purchased the winery and planted in 2010. In March 2012 the winery had a license to sell off the property. New Jersey may have a similar climate to Bordeaux, but it can sometimes still be a challenge to grow grapes for wine in this region. For example, as John explained, “last March was mild and the grapes grew about 1 inch. Then we had a frost in late April which hurt the plant.” There are other climate considerations when managing a vineyard. I asked what do farmers do to prevent wind damage. “Put screens or stagger pines to create a wind barrier. NRCS provides grants to help farmers plant those barriers.” Next I ask what is the remedy for too much rain? John explains it is important to know the soil and geography of your vineyard before you purchase it. Prevention, or making sure the rain drains properly is the best defense against precipitation.” It’s not good when the rain pools, but if you have a problem with water building up you can put in a tile system at the low spot that leads water away.” All of John’s information furthers my opinion that wine in New Jersey is a very real business with real techniques and a high degree of sophistication.

As a relatively new winery I asked John some questions about the marketing of his wine. He explained that he is in about eight stores in the state and chooses them based on if they have a prominent wine section. Hops and Grapes right here in Glassboro carriers Monroeville wine. I recently picked up a bottle of Monroeville Red. It is a semi-sweet made from native New Jersey grapes, the Concord. I am not a wine critic by any stretch of the imagination, but if you like a light, fruity red wine this one is really good. I can see why it is one of his best sellers. “What is the most effective way you sell your wine?” I asked. John explained that he markets through the Garden State Wine Growers Association with all the events and festivals. This is similar to what Bellview Winery said. Plus, John added, there was a law that was passed that would allow for signs on major roads.

In addition to the events, competitions are important. “I’m looking forward to the Governor’s Cup that is coming up,” he said. At most of the wineries I visited, wines were prominently displayed with gold medals. It is a way for wineries to distinguish themselves from each other. After talking with John, I hope his wines do well in this year’s competitions! I’m sure they will.

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