AWG Correspondent

Charlie Toms

Sylvin Farms Photos

Sylvin Farms Review

Regions: Outer Coastal Plain AVA, New Jersey

Reviewed: October 26, 2013 by Charlie Toms
Published: November 13, 2013

Sylvin Farms Winery is one of the most famous wineries in the state of New Jersey. Dr. Franklin Salek is a pioneer in the growing of vinifera grapes. Until the late 1970s, there were only a handful of wineries in the state, and they mostly produced sparkling wines or dessert wines from French hybrid or native labrusca grapes. Frank, a civil engineering professor at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, believed that the climate of Southern New Jersey was similar to that of Bordeaux, and that it was possible to make European wines from grapes grown in the Garden State. He defied advice from established winemakers and took the very bold step of exclusively growing vinifera grapes. As a result, the winery has on six occasions won the New Jersey Governor’s Cup, which is awarded for the single best vintage in the state in a given year.

Frank knew that the location of the vineyard was critical. He and his wife Sylvia (now deceased) bought an abandoned farm in Germania, and grafted grape vines from California onto phylloxera-resistant root stock.

Germania is approximately 15 miles west of Atlantic City, and the area has a history of viticulture going back to the 1850s. The 36-acre property is located in an upland forest in the New Jersey Pine Barrens, and is blessed with a warm maritime breeze and gravelly loam soil. Five acres of grapes were planted in 1977, and in 1985 the winery opened to the public. The winery’s name is an amalgamation of Sylvia and sylvan, reflecting his wife's name and the surrounding Pine Barrens.

Sylvin Farms currently has 11 acres of grapes under cultivation, and produces around 1,000 cases of wine per year. The winery is a member of the Garden State Wine Growers Association, and is located in the Outer Coastal Plain Viticultural Area, which consists of more than 25 Southern New Jersey wineries. Sylvin Farms grows or produces wine from 21 different types of grapes – Barbera, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Corvina, Dolcetto, Merlot, Muscat Ottonel, Nebbiolo, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Riesling, Rkatsiteli, Sangiovese, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Syrah, Tempranillo, Viognier, and Zinfandel. It is the only winery in New Jersey that uses Corvina and Pinot Blanc, the former being a red grape indigenous to the Veneto region of Italy, whereas the latter is a white grape native to the Alsace region of France.

The area near Sylvin Farms is heavily wooded, and the entrance is marked by a red sign. The ranch-style house serves as both Frank’s residence and the winemaking facility. Behind the house is the vineyard, and except for harvest time, Sylvin Farms is a one-man operation. The tasting room is wood-paneled with an improvised bar and small wine rack in the middle. The walls are covered with more than 60 medals that Frank has won over the years, and there are antique wine bottles and books on viticulture throughout the room. Sylvin Farms does not offer regularly-scheduled tastings but gives lectures that include the sampling of wine.

Frank began the lecture by displaying ten types of wine that are currently available. Several of the bottles have highly attractive labels which were created by his daughter Susan and her husband Clifford, who are graphic designers. We started the tasting with red wines, as Frank felt that the traditional practice of starting with whites causes the taster’s palette to be shocked by the first red wine.

The Pinot Noir was soft-bodied and dry with a complex array of flavors. I would serve the Pinot Noir with duck or other delicate red meat. The Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot were both medium-bodied and dry, with the Merlot having a more acidic taste. The Cabernet Franc was my favorite of the reds, bursting with tannins but smooth as silk. I could see myself drinking this wine while eating a filet mignon.

The Chardonnay was dry and light-bodied with a slight oaky taste and could accompany any mildly-seasoned poultry. Sauvignon Blanc was stronger, but also more acidic than I prefer. The Pinot Grigio was slightly tart and tasted a bit like a McIntosh apple. The Viognier was lighter than the other whites and would go well with a mild cheese. The Pinot Blanc was also semi-sweet but much smoother. Pinot Blanc is an unstable grape variety, and Frank explained that it often grows on the same vine as Pinot Noir. Pair this wine with salmon or other strongly-flavored fish.

Sylvin Farms Winery is a must-visit for anyone who wants to learn about New Jersey wine from an expert. The spectacular growth of the New Jersey wine industry over the last three decades is in part because of the work of Frank Salek. While his ideas were once considered unconventional, today there are 56 wineries in the state growing more than 50 different varieties of vinifera. An appointment is required to visit, and Frank charges $25 per person for a 90-minute lecture that includes a generous amount of wine and an even more generous amount of knowledge. Sylvin Farms only sells its wines on-site and by subscription.

Address & Contact Information: 24 N. Vienna Ave. Egg Harbor City, New Jersey 08215. Telephone: 609-965-1548, email:, website:

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