Thursday marked the start of a new joint venture from the Garden State Wine Growers Association and the Garden State Culinary Foundation. It's a recurring series of suppers meant to illustrate the burgeoning relationship between great wine and food both grown in New Jersey.

New Jersey wines are now being recognized both nationally and internationally, not to mention bringing somewhere in the neighborhood of $323 million into the state. Last year, Gov. Phil Murphy announced that only wines produced here would be served at state functions.

As for the state's leading restaurants, Wine Growers Association Executive Director Tom Cosentino said many of them are BYOB, but a suggestion by a chef to pair his or her food with something from a New Jersey winery can enhance the dining experience, because as much as anyone in the culinary world, chefs are influencers.

"If you get some of the leading New Jersey chefs to want to cook and pair dishes with leading New Jersey wines, that's going to turn some heads," Cosentino said.

Another initiative of the Wine Growers Association is the promotion of a series of Wine Trails, primarily found in four regions of the state where grapes are prevalent. Cosentino said the launch of the culinary series will hopefully get people to try New Jersey wines, if they haven't already, which in turn may lead them to visit a winery.

Since wines here have started to get so much attention elsewhere, Cosentino said it is time for farmers, growers, and sellers to focus on attracting locals.

"Everything we do is really to raise the bar for awareness that we are a wine-producing state. We have 50 wineries currently open," he said.

The Garden State Wine Growers Association is, above all, an advocacy group that creates a platform to educate the public on where these wineries are, and to get them to go try out a tasting room. The organization is largely funded through grants; the culinary series is made possible through one such grant from the state Department of Tourism.

For much more, including information on the NJ Wine Country Passport program, head to newjerseywines.com.

"Discovering New Jersey" is a new, bimonthly series on New Jersey 101.5 that takes a look at some things about the Garden State residents might find surprising. If you have an idea for a future installment, contact Patrick Lavery, Senior Producer of Morning News and Special Programming, on Twitter @plavery1015 or email patrick.lavery@townsquaremedia.com.

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