HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Cream Ridge Wineries co-founder and Chair-Mom! Joan Amabile!
Better With Age: A Birthday Tribute to Joan Amabile
by Julie Lyons
Strong-willed. Strong faith. Strong mind. When people imagine someone, who is 88 years old (today 5/19), they certainly don’t envision Joan Amabile: a lively, witty, and sharp-minded woman who is still going strong, with a zest for life that could rival that of someone years younger!
Joan served as a driving force and powerful support behind Cream Ridge Winery since its inception. While her late husband, Tom, secured the land and financing for the fledgling winery, Joan contributed her own “blood, sweat, and tears” to the operation, as the bookkeeper, accountant, counter server, and moral support. Times weren’t easy when they opened in 1988, because even though New Jersey boasts over 50 wineries today, at the time Cream Ridge was only the 7th winery in the state. Despite knowing that being a trailblazer can be difficult, Joan was determined to match her husband’s optimism to believe that the winery would become a success.
Throughout her entire life, Joan relied on her faith – and when it came to the winery, she needed all the faith she could get. From being on the verge of bankruptcy, to personal family tragedies – including the loss of her husband – it wasn’t always clear if Tom’s 100-year vision of Cream Ridge would come to pass.
But one of her favorite Bible verses from the book of Psalms gave her strength, especially in the aftermath of Tom’s passing. As Joan explains, the verse reassures us that God “keeps track of all our sorrows and collects all of our tears in His wineskins.” The reference to a wine vessel holding tears is especially poignant for Joan, considering her years-long marriage to a winemaker. At the same time, she believes this message is perfect for anyone who has lost a loved one and is dealing with grief and sorrow. “[That verse] is a picker-upper!” Joan proclaims.
And even though Tom Amabile and Cream Ridge still remain synonymous today, Joan certainly has held her own when it comes to the spark behind the winery’s success. From the very beginning, the dynamic duo worked closely together, drawing on one another’s strengths, to make the winery what it is today.
For example, during the early years, as Tom waxed poetic about wine during the group tours, Joan would take him to task, knowing that the other groups who were lined up and waiting were also anxious to hear Tom’s words of wisdom. Joan remembers, “He [would be] talking for 20-25 minutes, so I’d go to the door and give him a signal” to keep the groups running smoothly and on-time.
Her business acumen extended to boots-on-the ground marketing as well. When the winery published its Clarion newsletter, Joan would pack up stacks of the publication and drop them off at local establishments. The pair continually thought of innovative ways to bring people through the door, with anything from selling locally grown produce and Christmas trees at the winery, to holding special events and festivals.
Their hard work paid off, as Cream Ridge prepares to celebrate its 33rd year of business. And if anyone thought the pandemic might stop the winery – or Joan, for that matter! – they couldn’t be more wrong. She is truly excited that the winery is still serving up good wine, good fun, and great memories – even during difficult times.
To Joan, it comes down to living a life without regrets. This wise octogenarian recognizes that both positive and negative experiences are necessary, since “it’s all for making you grow . . . [and it’s part of] your purpose in life.” Something Joan certainly has no regrets about is accepting help and support when she needs it. “You can’t do it alone. You need the support of others, like Jackie and Tim [co-managers of Cream Ridge] and Jerry [Joan’s son].”
Jerry concurs that his mother’s positive attitude has been a consistent presence in his life: “She’s got a solid background of reminding you it’s going to be fine,” no matter how difficult our lives may be at any given moment. Joan’s resilience is certainly one way she has survived the ups and downs of life in an ever-changing world.
After Hurricane Sandy devastated the state, New Jerseyans proclaimed themselves “Jersey Strong.” If only we could be as Jersey Strong as Joan Amabile, the world would certainly be a better place.
Happy Birthday, Joan!
Julie Lyons is a freelance writer who lives in South Jersey with her husband and children. When she isn’t busy writing, Julie enjoys reading, long walks, and a good glass of wine.