Commerce_23_09 | Page 14



The Buzz About New J

By Larry Feld Contributing Editor

When Dr . Audrey Cross-Gambino and her husband , Steve , purchased 104 acres of farmland on the outskirts of Phillipsburg in 2001 with intentions of creating a vineyard , it marked the beginning of her fourth career move . The daughter of a California farmer , Audrey spent years trying not to become a farmer . Acquiring multiple advanced degrees , she became a prominent nutritionist and lawyer and even served in the administration of former President Jimmy Carter . After Washington , Dr . Cross moved east to spend the next two decades at Columbia University as an educator . Until that is , the farm girl from within re-emerged .

“ It ’ s one of those crazy stories ,” Audrey explains . “ I was traveling back and forth from California for about six months , taking care of my father before he passed . Being back in farming country I realized how much I loved it .” As a result , the couple began searching for farm property in New Jersey , and in 2001 , Villa Milagro Vineyards was born .
Establishing the soil and vineyard took a few years of work . A modest grape harvest began in 2005 , with commercial wine sales launching in 2007 . Today , the operation includes 10 acres of organic grains , 65 acres of rotation crops , and 11 acres of grape vines used to produce Villa Milago ’ s signature wines . The vineyard produces about 1,800 cases a year , which are sold at the farm , online , and at about a half dozen restaurants .
“ We are very much a boutique producer ,” Dr . Cross notes . Even so , the winery relies on tastings , weekend tours , and live entertainment to bring in the public .
As a board member of the New Jersey Growers Association , Dr . Cross is also an advocate for the industry . “ Tourism dollars are needed , but it doesn ’ t have to all originate from Wine Growers Association ,” she notes . “ We would be happy if the state also spent dollars promoting the wine tourism industry . We want consumers to drink New Jersey wines , not California or other regions .”
“ New Jersey ’ s wine industry is the fastest-growing division of agriculture in the state ,” notes Devon Perry , executive director of the Garden State Wine Growers Association . Perry describes the industry as a sort of three-legged stool of related businesses . “ We have one foot in agriculture , one in tourism , and a third in manufacturing ,” she explains .
New Jersey ’ s 60 wineries and vineyards generate about $ 323 million in economic impact . An important part of the state ’ s growing eco-tourism industry , wine tourism is a $ 20 million industry ,
Valenzano Family Winery in Shamong , New Jersey is a vineyard , a winery , and a restaurant as well as a dis
accounting for 109,000 visitors each year – a number that has grown by 40 % since 2011 .
The growth of the industry was facilitated by the New Jersey Farm Winery Act of 1981 . Back then , there were only seven wineries , as prohibition-era restrictions only allowed one winery for every million residents . However , expansion has been a slow process . Winery business is a complex and expensive business to establish , and those who have succeeded hail from surprisingly diverse backgrounds . Some owners , such as Dr . Cross , have transitioned from other successful careers to follow their passion .
From Italy to NJ
Angelico Winery , located on 10 acres of farmland in Lambertville , Angelico Winery celebrated its first year open to the public this
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