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Wednesday, April 17, 2024


State: Controversial Neighborhood Vineyard Can Begin Wine Production

Courtesy Thomas E. Atkins
Inside a pole barn at Mike and Robin Halpern’s Marmora vineyard is where they will make wine.

By Shay Roddy

MARMORA – The state has approved a winery license that will allow a vineyard that has long been unpopular with its neighbors and with Upper Township officials to start producing wine immediately.

The license was issued earlier this month by the Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control to Mike and Robin Halpern, who converted a former Christmas tree farm into a vineyard, situated on protected Marmora farmland in a quiet residential neighborhood.

The license allows the Halperns to make up to 250,000 bottles of wine per year on the Bayaire Road property, which they will brand the Ocean City Winery.

Mike Halpern told the Herald the plan is to do much less than that, but he thinks that, conservatively, he will be able to make about 7,000 bottles annually from the 10 tons of grapes he harvests, which he said should produce 1,400 gallons of wine. On the optimistic side, Halpern thinks he can do 12,000 bottles in 2024.

The Halperns are also able to bring in grapes from other vineyards around the country and internationally and use them to make wine on their property under the new license, although he said he has no immediate plans for a large-scale operation involving outside crop.

Inside the pole barn – part of the five-acre farm on which the Halperns live full time, in a separate house – Halpern said he already has enough tanks to do 5,000 bottles and has more tanks coming. He and his wife will produce the wine in cycles and have plenty of room in the barn, he said. He has another vineyard in Cumberland County.

Mike Halpern at his Marmora vineyard. (Photo Credit: File Photo/ Shay Roddy)

The Halperns can immediately start selling through all wholesale channels, which include online sales direct to consumers, as long as the product ships within New Jersey, Halpern said.

“I think we’re going to go online pretty quick,” he told the Herald. “If I can’t do that, then I’m not a retired tech guy.”

He said he and his wife are set back by the fact that they sold their 2023 crop, but he is still optimistic he will have a wine with an Ocean City Winery label available to consumers within six months. Before this latest development, they were allowed to grow grapes, but not make wine.

Their first wine to hit the market would most likely be a white made with juice or grapes they would purchase, with the wine done in stainless steel, as opposed to in a barrel, Halpern said.

“Reds and whites take a different amount of time; barrel-aged and non-barrel-aged take a different amount of time; fruit wines, which we can do, take a different amount of time,” he explained.

A South American grape or juice they acquire in February or March should be finished and in the bottle within three months.

Halpern said that, as a business strategy, he may shy away from some of the more celebrated French grapes that are popular among some wine elitists but fall flat with the New Jersey consumer.

“I don’t think there’s a sellable $40 bottle. It just doesn’t have the market. But I think there’s plenty of $20 bottles sales, depending on what you’re doing,” he said. “It’s no longer all French. We’re big French grape bigots … We always say, ‘Oh no, we’re too good for that. We only grow French.’ But that attitude has to change.”

A label for the Ocean City Winery’s planned first product, “Five Acre White.”

Planted in Marmora are two American whites as well as Chambourcin, a red often used as a blender, cabernet sauvignon, one of the most popular red varietals, and merlot, another classic stand-alone varietal.

“It’s going to take a couple of years to get to the point where you have a 2024 out in a bottle,” Halpern said. “It’s going to take a while to get there. In the meantime, we’ve got to find our market.”

He said his long-beleaguered Ocean City Winery can also sell to liquor stores, other retailers, brokers and up to 15 outlets, like restaurants and the space in Somers Point they hope to soon have open. He plans to start the process of obtaining approvals to open in Somers Point in February. At an outlet, sales are by the bottle only, but the bottle can be enjoyed on the premises. Limited tastings are also allowed, but not by-the-glass sales.

Mike and Robin Halpern in front of the detached garage behind a Bay Avenue home in Somers Point where they plan to open the first outlet for the Ocean City Winery. (Photo Credit: Shay Roddy/File Photo)

“I need to get zoning and possibly planning approval for dual use on that property,” he said of the lot, which has a century-old house that will become an Airbnb rental, as well as a detached garage he plans to convert to the wine outlet. “Since it will have a residential piece and a commercial piece – which is not unusual, a lot of them are zoned that way [in Somers Point] – they’re going to want a chance to give us approval, set requirements, perhaps limit us a bit.”

The Marmora license includes a tasting room, one privilege the Halperns will not be using after agreeing to give it up to appease neighbors who were angry with their plans, which at one point called for a tasting room. Marmora is a section of Upper Township, which also joined the neighbors’ fight, hiring an attorney to focus solely on opposing the winery.

The township lost jurisdiction of the property’s use to the County Agriculture Development Board, which approved Halpern’s plan over Upper Township’s objection.

Mike Halpern at a hearing in front of the county’s Agriculture Development Board in February 2023. (Photo Credit: Shay Roddy/File Photo)

Neighbors and Upper Township appealed that approval to the Office of Administrative Law, raising questions about whether the property is actually the requisite five acres, a matter that was previously adjudicated in the Halperns’ favor.

While the appeal is pending, Halpern is allowed to operate under the full approval he was given by the county board.

To contact the author, Shay Roddy, call (609) 886-8600 ext. 142 or email


Shay Roddy is a Delaware County, Pennsylvania native who has always spent as much of his summers as he could at the Jersey Shore. He went to Friends’ Central and is a graduate of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University.

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