State looks for ways to boost burgeoning agritourism industry

Louis Caracciolo, the president of Amalthea Cellars, says he started making wine with his grandfather when he was 9 years old. He’s seen the industry grow in New Jersey and attributes that to the quality of the wine.

The wine industry had a $323 million impact on the state’s economy in 2016. That’s a 39.9 percent increase from 2011.

“When you come into the area, you can stay at a hotel partner, you can visit a few wineries along a wine trail, a few breweries along the brew trail, maybe pick your own at a local farm, go to a restaurant and have a farm to fork experience,” said Visit South Jersey director, Devon Perry.

And the number of wineries has increased from 38 to 50 in the state. A new study by the Garden State Wine Growers Association also found wine production has gone up by 73.1 percent from 2011 to 2016.

“Since the wineries really began to proliferate in the early 2000s right up to 2012, we saw a huge uptick in tourism in this region in particular where the concentration of wineries was. Being the Garden State and having the benefit of the Jersey Fresh brand and all the Jersey Fresh product, also adds to that, so we really do have a huge opportunity, agritourism-wise in the state,” said Jake Buganski, a former director of the state’s tourism division and the current vice president of strategy for Tempest.

“Agritourism is a huge generator in our state. Millions of dollars. Employs thousands and thousands of people,” said the New Jersey Department of Agriculture Secretary Douglas Fisher.

But Buganski says there needs to be efforts to increase funding in order to push the agritourism industry forward.

“When you add up all of the funding for local tourism bureaus, plus the state tourism offices, in all the other states the average is over $80 million. In New Jersey we’re about $20 million,” Buganski said. “Just by not keeping pace with the average in this country, we’ve left $200 million in state tax revenue on the table since 2010.”

“It’s not that it’s forgotten, but the priorities were probably not there in the past and we need to re-examine that,” said Sen. James Beach.

That’s why a joint Senate committee meeting was called to figure out how to promote the agritourism industry.

“We really have to diversify our offerings beyond just the shore offerings, which will always be our bread and butter. But because of the competitiveness in the industry we really need other things to offer and the wineries, the breweries, the distilleries, and all of the agritourism assets are part of those other offerings,” said Buganski.

The problem?

“There is no funding mechanism right now to fund tourism bureaus at the municipal or county level like there is in every other state,” Buganski said.

“The state of New Jersey kind of oversees the structure, and we need to give the counties more of a say,” Beach said.

The first step could be promoting what is already here.

“The state can help us in a number of ways. One of the ways would be to enact legislation that would provide for signage that really identifies areas of the state as wine producing areas,” said Larry Sharrott, owner of Sharrott Winery.

“Otherwise we’re the best kept secret, and that’s a horrible tag line,” said Perry.

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