Watch CBS News

New Jersey winemakers say climate change is forcing them to "get more creative"

NJ winemakers say climate change is forcing them to "get more creative"
NJ winemakers say climate change is forcing them to "get more creative" 02:58

PITTSTOWN, N.J. -- The Garden State grows plenty of produce to be proud of – tomatoes, corn, blueberries and grapes.

Viticulture is the fastest growing sector of agriculture in the New Jersey. CBS New York's Vanessa Murdock visited two vineyards to learn about the impacts of climate change on grapes and how growers protect their crop.  

Plump bunches of chardonnay grapes get plucked from the vines at Beneduce Vineyards in Pittstown. Owner and winemaker Mike Beneduce started planting the 25-acre slice of carbon-negative heaven in 2009 and started pouring for the public in 2012.

Beneduce and Murdock strolled the rows while they discussed the impacts of climate change on Garden State viticulture.

"One of my favorite quotes is from Peter Liam, who's a world-renowned champagne expert. He said, 'If you don't believe in climate change, you're not a farmer,'" Beneduce said. "Warming is actually not a horrible thing for us. What we don't want is this sort of climate chaos that sort of comes with it."

That includes hail storms, flooding and spring frost.

"The frost-free date ... used to be May 15th in this area. In the last decade, we've had two or three frost events that were up until May 20th," Beneduce said.

Beneduce says the change may seem slight, but budding vines are highly sensitive to temperature.

"Spring this year, we had a way early bud break," said Janet Giunco, owner and managing partner at 4JG's Orchards and Vineyards.

The vines at 4JG's in Colts Neck fell victim to a late frost, Giunco said.

"A lot of the flowers were burned," she said.

Giunco planted her first vine on the nearly 300-year-old farm in 1999. Her biggest challenge brought on by our changing climate?

"What we have a problem with, we get 90-degree days and lots of humidity," she said.

Water gets trapped in the tightly packed bunches.

"We start growing molds and mildews," Giunco said.

To combat it, she cuts the leaves way back to let air in.

"When you first started back in '99, was this cutting back of the leaves something you needed to do?" Murdock asked.

"No, we never did leaf-pulling. In fact, we only bought a leaf puller two years ago," Giunco said.

"There are stories of resilience being displayed by some of the winemakers globally," said Himanshu Gupta, co-founder and CEO of ClimateAi.

Gupta and ClimateAi events and marking manager Jasmine Spiess hosted a tasting in the city Tuesday to bring the impacts of climate change to the table. They discussed hybrid grapes.

"Grapes that can be more climate resilient," Gupta said.

They're a cross between wine-quality European grapes and more hardy varieties.

"In 2021, France introduced six new wine grapes that could be used up to 10 percent to make up their Bordeaux blends," Spiess said.

Unheard of in recent years.

Giunco says she's experimenting with hybrids, including "chardonelle ... a hybrid of a chardonnay, a little thicker skin, little easier to grow here in this climate."

Beneduce says about 10% of his crop is hybrid.

"Wine production, is it in jeopardy because of climate change?" Murdock asked.

"I think it's less that it's in jeopardy and more that it's changing," Beneduce said.

"We'll just have to get more creative ... People have to have an open mind," Giunco said.

An open mind to try wine made from grapes that thrive in a changing climate.

Beneduce says as the Earth warms, growing regions will shift. Maine might become wine country. At the same time, existing growing regions in parts of California might become too hot for vines to thrive.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.