What's the first thing that comes to mind when someone mentions Cape May? For many readers, the likely response would involve beaches or boardwalks. Visitors have long flocked to the seaside resort hamlet on the tip of New Jersey's Cape May Peninsula to enjoy the sun and sand.
In reality, Cape May is a far more diverse destination than many may realize. There are historical sites, shopping, concerts and theater, and an emerging wine scene. Along the Cape May Wine Trail sits Willow Creek Winery and Farm. The stunning property is definitely worth visiting while on vacation or even as a weekend getaway in itself.
How Many Wineries Are in Cape May?
There are currently seven wineries located on the Cape May Peninsula. In 2018, it became an American Viticultural Area (AVA), which officially designates it as the United States wine-grape growing region. Willow Creek Winery, however, is the only winery located on Cape Island.
Nestled between the ocean and the bay on New Jersey's outer coastal plain, the unique microclimate fosters quality grape growing conditions that yield award-winning wine. The soil is rich, and somewhat surprisingly, spring frosts are uncommon. The combination of fog and cool temperatures actually allows a more full-bodied flavor profile because grapes get more time on the vine.
The Wines of Willow Creek
The particular grape varieties cultivated at Willow Creek Winery do especially well in the cooler climate. Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, for example, have naturally thick skins and hardy, late-budding vines (so they avoid the risk of frost). A more favorable flavor profile also results, as these grapes can easily over-ripen in hot growing climates.
Visitors to Willow Creek will also enjoy wines made from these grapes:
- Sauvignon Blanc: among the most popular white wines, thirst-quenching, and pairs well with most foods.
- Merlot: smooth and silky red with notes of cherry, plum, and raspberry
- Chambourcin: known for its distinctive dark coloring and notes of pepper and chocolate
- Malvasia Bianca: golden color with notes of apricot, peaches, and honey
- Corot Noir: deep red with cherry and berry flavors
- Pinot Noir: dry and light red wine with a comparatively low alcohol content
- Seyval blanc; dry white with notes of citrus
- Petit Verdot: herbal and floral red with strong undertones of blackberry and blueberry
- Pinot Grigio: dry and light-bodied white with flavors of lime, pear, and apple
- Malbec: rich, full-bodied red that pairs well with food
Things To Do At Willow Creek Winery
First and foremost, of course, visitors will be eager to sample the goods. Willow Creek boasts an impressive 12,000 square foot post-and-beam tasting room that is open to the public daily, as well as a 9,500 square foot villa. The grand tasting room, complete with crystal chandeliers, was handcrafted by Mennonites from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and it can comfortably seat up to 400 people.
- Educational wine tastings: $25 USD per person and includes a sampling of 5 wines. Expected duration 30 - 45 minutes. Reservations are available online.
- Customized wine tastings: available for groups of 25 or more.
Perched atop a 50-acre property, there are other activities for guests to enjoy at Willow Creek Winery as well. Stroll through the elaborate, professionally-designed gardens that adorn the grounds, complete with game cocks roaming freely. There is also a full-service restaurant with a farm-to-table grill menu.
- Dining hours: Sunday - Thursday 12 pm - 8 pm, Friday and Saturday 12 pm - 9 pm.
Check the calendar for frequent events such as comedy shows, holiday parties, dog-friendly gatherings, and even yoga classes in the vineyards. There are workshops too, where attendees can learn about the winemaking process, planting, pruning, and harvesting. There is also a unique adopt-a-vine program.
- Fire Pit Fridays: a weekly staple at Willow Creek, complete with live music. Reservations are suggested if dining.
Stay On-Site at Willow Creek Winery
No need to search far and wide for accommodation or worry about transportation; Willow Creek winery has five adorable rental cottages located conveniently on the grounds amongst the vineyards. They also manage several off-site properties nearby that accommodate more guests. All of the cottages are available for booking via Airbnb.
- Merlot Cottage: 1 bedroom/1 bathroom, sleeps three guests
- Malaysia Cottage: 1 bedroom/2 bathroom, sleeps two guests
- Chambourcin Cottage: 1 bedroom/1 bathroom, sleeps two guests
- Hamilton Cottage: 2 bedrooms/2 bathrooms, sleeps four guests
- The Stable: 2 bedrooms/2 bathrooms, sleeps four guests
- Lafayette Cottage (off-site): 5 bedrooms/3.5 bathrooms, sleeps ten guests
- Crepe Myrtle Cottage (off-site): 2 bedrooms/1 bathroom, sleeps four guests
- Canal House (off-site): 4 bedrooms/2 bathrooms, sleeps eight guests.
Visit Willow Creek Winery's Sister Property: The Southern Mansion
The Southern Mansion is an award-winning bed & breakfast in a historic seaside palace. Originally constructed as a country estate in 1863, it was later turned into a boarding house in the 1950s - 1980s until the license was revoked. Not long after, the grand Victorian home underwent an extensive restoration project and re-opened its doors in 1997 as Cape May's best B&B. Guests will love the stunning grounds and heirloom artwork and furnishings combined with all the modern comforts.
- Little Extras: guests can also order special touches such as a cheese and fruit platter, chocolate-covered strawberries, or Southern Mansion robes.
Continue Sipping Along The Cape May Wine Trail
Cape May has the longest growing season of any other AVA region in New Jersey, and its emerging wine industry is now a year-round draw for visitors. After enjoying Willow Creek, there are six more wineries on the Cape May Peninsula to explore. There are also various breweries and distilleries in Cape May County that can be easily incorporated into the itinerary in case there are any non-wine drinkers in the group. Just remember to sip responsibly! There are plenty of tasting tours available that offer transportation.