Willow Creek Farm & Winery in West Cape May hosted 124,000 visitors in 2017, but its winemaker, Kevin Celli, would welcome even more people stopping by if a new state initiative succeeds.

Last Thursday, Gov. Phil Murphy signed legislation establishing a marketing and advertising campaign to promote New Jersey wineries and viticulture attractions.

“The fastest growing sector of agriculture in many decades in this state is vineyards and wineries,” Celli said. “For us, I feel that the legislation will do so much for all the wineries in the state. ... Getting people in Trenton to pay attention is always a plus.”

The law requires the Division of Travel & Tourism, in consultation with the Department of Transportation and the Department of Agriculture, to create an advertising campaign to attract residents and visitors to the state’s wineries and viticulture attractions through outdoor displays.

Under the law, the State Council on the Arts, in consultation with the Division of Travel & Tourism and the Garden State Wine Growers Association, will establish a publicized visual art competition for aesthetically pleasing, original art to be displayed as outdoors displays or advertising.

The State Council on the Arts and the Garden State Wine Growers Association will select the winning art to be displayed, subject to the approval of the Commissioner of Transportation.

The legislation was sponsored by U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew, D-2nd, and one of the primary sponsors of the bill was state Sen. Bob Andrzejczak, D-Cape May, Cumberland, Atlantic.

“The growth of New Jersey’s viticulture industry has provided a significant boost to our state’s economy, increasing tourism and encouraging the success of many local businesses,” said Andrzejczak in a statement. “Over 100,000 people a year visit our wineries and this legislation will help the industry continue to flourish.”

Jeffrey S. Vasser, executive director of the state’s Division of Travel & Tourism, said this is a good time for this initiative because wine enthusiasts have been talking about this state as an emerging wine market, which has been great and encouraging. In 2016, wine tourism revenue totaled nearly $20 million, according to the Garden State Wine Growers Association.

“Right now, we are in the process of creating wine itineraries and wine trails, same thing with breweries,” Vasser said. “We need to go out and promote our food, our wine and increasingly our distilleries.”

Brock J. Vinton II, co-owner of White Horse Winery in Hammonton, said the state’s upcoming campaign is great and long overdue.

“It feels like the fine wine that is being made in New Jersey is still a secret. This is exactly the type of situation where a broad informational PR campaign could be very effective. I think that most people living in N.J. and the surrounding states still don’t know that New Jersey is producing truly world-class wines,” Vinton said.

There is a need and opportunity to educate the state, Mid-Atlantic region and really eventually the world, that some of the best grapes in the world can be grown and some of the best wine in the world can be made in this state, Vinton said.

“I would like to see a billboard on the A.C. Expressway promoting N.J. wines and vineyards. I think such a campaign, done right, would boost sales for most N.J. winery tasting rooms, help to change the perception of N.J. wine and support our efforts to sell into other markets like Delaware, Pennsylvania, New York and Maryland,” Vinton said.

Celli is a member of Garden State Wine Growers Association, and the organization has been requesting and campaigning its legislators to get any help that it can.

The Cape May County Department of Tourism said the wineries are among the top attractions in the county along with the beaches and the Cape May County Park & Zoo, Celli said.

“Farming is very difficult and very expensive,” Celli said. “Vineyards are great to keep the land in agriculture.”

Willow Creek will be building a new processing building that will house a new production facility, and there will be more of a focus on helping other farmers and vineyards.

“We want to stay in agriculture, stay in farming,” Celli said. “Anything that will promote our industry is good. A rising tide lifts all ships.”

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