Former Owner, Pa. Winery Partners Again for New Venture in Southern New Jersey
Tim Jobe says he has found his comfort zone.
Richard Caplan says he has found a company that will “challenge” him intellectually.
The two men who ran for years Twin Brook Vineyard in eastern Lancaster County are reunited again, having just completed their second harvest. The two see a lot of potential, taking over an already established winery in southern New Jersey near Cape May.
Natali Vineyards opened about 20 years ago as one of the first licensed wineries in Cape May County, New Jersey. Al Natali, who designed telephone circuits as a network engineer for the brokerage industry, planted 10 acres of mostly vinifera grapes and supplemented the dry wines he made from them with an assortment fruit wines.
Natali decided to sell sometime after the pandemic started. It was more than five years after Caplan close Twin Brook, about a mile off Route 30 west of Gap after running for more than 25 years.
Jobe said he had a few other jobs, ranging from working as an urban carrier for the U.S. Postal Service to tending a vineyard in Berks County. “Then Dick called me and said would you do anything if I buy [a winery]?” he said recently.
The new owners (Jobe has part of the business) took over last June. “Just the winemaker and the vineyard manager,” said Jobe, appointed vice president of operations. “I don’t manage like I did at Twin Brook. I am very happy. i didn’t want to do that [again].”
As for Caplan, he sounds much more optimistic about the wine industry than he did in a conversation in June 2015 before Twin Brook closed. He saw the list and had Jobe come down to see the place. At the end of the negotiations, he owned a property of 23 acres, of which 15 acres he can use. About 10 hectares are planted with vines. Caplan said there’s also a “small-scale manufacturing and storage facility and a nice tasting room” that the previous owner recently built.
“I wouldn’t have bought it if Tim had said he wasn’t coming,” Caplan said. “To try to look for a winemaker, it is almost impossible to find one who is good.”
Caplan said the idea of being back in the industry is fun, although he admits he “has a lot of the issues that Twin Brook had, and he’s a lot smaller than Twin Brook in terms of sales,” he said. Still, “the guy made good wine.” He pointed out that a submission of wines this summer to the New Jersey State Fair competition won four medals, including a double gold for its mead as the best dessert wine. Other accolades were received for its Tempranillo and red blend.
Over two harvests and more than a full year, they did several things to get the business under control and look for ways to grow it.
From a product perspective, Jobe has significantly reduced the fruit wines that Natali had been selling for years. “People keep coming in asking for things like banana wine,” he said. “I think they did a lot of 10 gallon batches. I do not do it. I said we’d keep blueberries and cranberries, two fresh fruits we can buy in New Jersey.
Jobe did his share of quality dry red and white wines at Twin Brook, but one of his staples was his sparkling wines. Here, the 20-year-old vineyard is a blend of mostly red grape varieties: Nebbiolo, Dolceto, Barbara, Syrah, Tempranillo, and Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. Yet there are not enough grapes to increase production. “Everything is vinifera, about fifteen varieties on 10 acres. There is a bit of this and that,” he said.
This leads to Caplan’s other purchase. He purchased a 37-acre farm in Pittsgrove, Salem County, just over halfway up the Delaware River, where he plans to plant in 5-acre increments over the next five years. Jobe said those vines are already purchased for the first planting next spring and include mostly Chardonnay in addition to Pinot Gris, Cab Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and some Petit Verdot.
“I want to have enough Chardonnay to do what I want to do with it,” he said. “I would love to get back to making sparkling wine at some point, but right now I have nothing to work with. I would have to use all my Chardonnay to do that, and I really don’t want to do that.
Caplan said he recognizes the obstacles to growth, given that the property he purchased in Cape May County is landlocked and the vines, some of which are 20 years old or older, are beginning to show signs of aging. Thus, Farm Credit’s decision to purchase the Salem County farm. “Hopefully every year we find enough investors to add another 5 acres to it,” he said. “So in 3 or 4 years we will have 20 acres. Everything will be fine as long as we can find the people to cultivate them.
“I bought the company not so much for what it is as for what it could become,” Caplan continued. “I’m a long-term investor; I don’t buy something just to return. I thought here that this winery had potential due to the quality of the grapes you can grow in this area and the sandy loam soil. You don’t have to fight proliferation in the Cape May area as much as [southeastern] Pennsylvania. In addition, milder winters and later springs are useful » to avoid premature bud break and frost. “There are benefits to that,” he said.
As the wine inventory grows, he expects to have enough product to develop online business as well, so it’s not so much a winery dependent on summer crowds, but one that can grow its sales from October to April. Although not a major destination winery, located on North Delsea Drive (Route 47) at Cape May Court House, it held a few weekly events throughout the summer in addition to a blow of grape last month. An inaugural food truck festival is scheduled from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on November 12.
The cellar is open from Thursday to Sunday.
Jobe said that while the winery brings in grapes, the majority of what it produces comes from the grapes it grows. This new vineyard, once commissioned in a few years, will be added to this offer. There is the potential with this second property to replace what is currently a small production building with something larger and more modern.
“I don’t want to become as big as [we were] at Twin Brook,” Jobe said. “We had 30 acres, and it was a lot to manage.
“I just want to make quality wines,” he continued. “I think Dick wants this place to get huge. We sell everything down here every year, but the opportunity is there to grow this business. I don’t want it to get out of control again where it’s too much to handle. He’ll just have to hire a vineyard manager for the other place” if things get too big.
However, he is happy to be back “at home” to make wine and take care of the grapes.
“I like it so far, it’s great here,” Jobe said. “I can see the bay through my office window. It’s a pretty cool place. I have never encountered crabs in the vines, gulls, turtles. All kinds of interesting animals there.