Home Sales & Marketing Garden State Wine Growers Welcomes Devon Perry as Executive Director

Garden State Wine Growers Welcomes Devon Perry as Executive Director

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She’s a marketing and hospitality industry professional who knows the landscape and understands the challenges ahead.

By Paul Vigna

For six years, Tom Cosentino shepherded the Garden State Wine Growers Association (GSWGA) as executive director. In that time, he did everything he could to promote a state that has 64 wineries and another 20 or more interested in joining them — including convincing all those outfits to work together. 

“All the things that make [winery owners and winemakers] good at what we do are also things that don’t necessarily make us good at working and playing well together,” said Scott Donnini, owner of Auburn Road Vineyards, in a tribute to Cosentino. “Tom was always in the middle of [changing] all of that.”

Devon Perry, Garden State Winegrowers Association
Devon Perry, Garden State Winegrowers Association

In the wake of Cosentino’s passing in November 2021, the organization needed to find a worthy replacement. After a months-long search, WSWGA welcomed Devon Perry into the role and, by all accounts, the arrow is pointing up.

Continuing the Work

Donnini called Perry a “seasoned marketing and hospitality industry professional” in the March 21 announcement of her hire. Perry founded Segel Associates, a boutique interactive media firm. She’s a former executive director of Visit South Jersey and CEO of WineLovers LLC, among other roles. The collaboration that Cosentino pushed is one of the assets that Perry sees as an advantage.

“A lot of the owners and growers have been sitting at a full community table for years,” she says. “They understand the value of working together to elevate the perception of Garden State wine.”

Auburn Road Vineyards, New Jersey
Auburn Road Vineyards, New Jersey

What are some of the other assets? Start with a “beautiful drivable state within 43 million people,” she says, including four American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) and several wine trails. “There are wines coming out of the state that are winning medals in national and international competitions, and friendships have already formed between the GSWGA and the tourism, agritourism and the restaurant/hotel industries. New wineries are required to have at least three acres of cultivated grapes contiguous to the tasting room before they can open, which will limit the need for out-of-state fruit.”

As she says, this is “an exciting time to be in this role.”

Support of the Community

A number of wine industry veterans share Perry’s enthusiasm, including John Cifelli, GM at Unionville Vineyards in Ringoes (seven miles northeast of New Hope, Pa.). Cifelli preceded Cosentino as the GWSGA director and says, “There are some very well-capitalized startups looking to do things the right way — using exclusively New Jersey-grown grapes for their wines, planting blocks well beyond the minimum required by the state, and focusing on quality,” he says. Producers are “getting a good dollar for their premium bottlings.” Overall, he says, the rising tide is raising all ships.

 

Mike Beneduce Jr., Beneduce Vineyards, New Jersey
Mike Beneduce Jr., Beneduce Vineyards, New Jersey

Beneduce Vineyards is a little less than 15 miles to the northwest of Unionville, N.J. Both wineries are members of The Winemakers Co-Op, created a few years ago to help elevate that tide. “We’re attracting a new wave of winemakers from all over the globe that are now putting their experienced hands on New Jersey-grown fruit,” says owner and winemaker Mike Beneduce. “Vineyard plantings are expanding and are overall much better managed, with more emphasis on sustainability. Many [growers] are also starting to look more closely at clonal and rootstock selection. I think very few people were even talking about that 10 or 15 years ago.”

Notes Gary Pavlis, longtime professor and agricultural agent at Rutgers University, who judges his share of wine competitions, “I think the best thing that’s happened is that no one living in New Jersey asks if there are wineries in New Jersey anymore.”

First Things First

Perry already Is planning to roll out a campaign in May called “Finely Grown” that will encourage New Jersey residents to sample the quality and value of the wines produced in the state. She’s also going to announce a passport program at the National Restaurant Show in Chicago in mid-May that will offer winners an “elevated experience” at some of the state’s top wineries.

It’s all part of what Perry says is the goal of getting the industry more respect and fighting what Beneduce calls “an uphill battle” to give the state’s wines a fair chance.

Says Donnini, who knows Perry from when they both sat on the Visit South Jersey board, “Her biggest challenge is going to be convincing people that something coming out of New Jersey — other than tomatoes — is not a joke. It’s finding a way to mute the laugh track that follows us around as we talk about New Jersey.

But she knows that,” he continues. “That’s job one. The wine quality is here. The wine consistency is getting there. We’re starting to get to critical mass, which gives us some level of credibility. There’s lots of wineries doing good things.”

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Paul Vigna

Paul Vigna is a writer and editor in Harrisburg, Pa., who has been covering East Coast wines for 10 years. He was the first winner of the Atlantic Seaboard Wine Association’s Birchenall Award in February 2018. You can find him at the Wine Classroom at www.pennlive.com and follow him on Twitter @pierrecarafe

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