Garden State Wine Week 2023: Get to Know NJ’s Greatest Grapes

Our state's 50-plus wineries are receiving some extra attention for their delicious vino.

Auburn Road Vineyard & Winery
The wine-tasting life at Auburn Road Vineyard & Winery. Photo: Courtesy of Auburn Road Vineyard & Winery

When New Jerseyans do something, we do it right. And the Garden State’s 50-plus wineries are getting attention. New Jersey Wine Week (November 13-19) is both an introduction to and a celebration of our state’s distinctive, delicious wines. Try some, buy some, visit a winery and join its wine club. This quartet of wineries are especially adept at winemaking and people-pleasing. (Reservations are essential.) Here’s to you, Jersey.

Here’s a look at what some of the best wineries are doing, in the words of its owners:

Beneduce Vineyards, Hunterdon County

The tasting bar at Beneduce Vineyards in Pittstown

Belly up to Beneduce’s tasting bar. Photo: Courtesy of Beneduce Vineyards

“This is a fourth-generation farm,” says Mike Beneduce, who lives in Hunterdon County. “My dad grew shrubs and small trees here for his garden supply business. But the land was so well suited to grape-growing, that that became the plan. I went to Cornell’s viticulture program, graduated in 2010, and got the winery going. Our tasting room opened in 2012.

All our grapes are “estate-grown” here: Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, Riesling, Gewurztraminer, and more esoteric varietals like Blaufrankish, a red. Our growing practices are earth-friendly and our winery is sustainable.

I’m the winemaker and owner; I’m busy! I aim for European-style classic wines. We call them “ambitious wines.” They’re single-grape, not blends. We’re a small-batch winery, producing 4,000 to 5,000 cases annually. The wines are sold here at Beneduce Winery.

We believe that wine should be shared with friends, and have always aimed for a great visitor experience. We offer various tasting flights with ample tastes of five Beneduce wines, plus of course wine by the glass and bottle. We do a six-wine pairing with artisanal New Jersey charcuterie and cheese.

There’s a lot going on here, and it’s always social. We have outdoor firepits and bonfires, which are magical on chilly late afternoons. Indoors, we offer our Oasis, a tropical greenhouse. Saturdays we hold what we call “Group Therapy.” It’s for adults, with good live music, a rotation of food trucks, and a nice vibe. Sunday is our family picnic day, also with food available.

For wine week, we’re pouring re-releases of our “library wines” that we keep in reserve. That’s especially fun for Beneduce fans, who have come to love what we produce and want to taste something they haven’t yet. They know their wines and they can tell you that many New Jersey wines compare with any prominent wine region. We’re eager to exceed your expectations of New Jersey wine too.”
1 Jeremiah Lane, Pittstown; 908-996-3823

[RELATED: Unwind at NJ’s Most Scenic Tasting Rooms]

Valenzano Family Winery, Burlington County

The Valenzano Winery team in Shamong

The Valenzano Winery team in Shamong. Photo: Courtesy of Valenzano Winery

“My family has been farming in Burlington County for 50 years,” says Anthony Valenzano. “I saw the wine opportunity in the ’90s, when the state was giving incentives to winery owners. I was licensed to make wine in 1996 and opened the tasting room a year later.

What makes Valenzano unique is the number and diversity of our wines. We have over 30 wines in all styles. We make classic Old World-style reds, delicious whites, sparkling wines. Wines from grapes you know, like Cabernet, Merlot and Concord, and wines from interesting local grapes like Cynthiana, Chambourcin, and Vidal Blanc.

We make specialty wines like sangria, Port and mead, which is honey wine. And we love working with Jersey fruit. Fresh cranberries, blueberries and strawberries are the basis of some of our most popular wines. Our Shamong Red is New Jersey’s best-selling wine. We can succeed at such a variety of wines because, after 25 years here, we know our farm, our soil, our microclimates. So we have a strong sense of what to plant where and when. Our winemaker, Chris Lerner, grew up on a farm just a few miles from here.

Our social goings-on are also numerous. We thrive on visitors and offer a plethora of experiences. There’s always a reason to visit Valenzano, and our staff is very caring. Our picnic lawn attracts families and their dogs. Indoors, we have a beautiful tasting room within our full-service Bari restaurant. It serves Italian-style meats and cheese; fun appetizers like prosciutto-and-fig flatbread; Caesar, chicken and Niçoise salad; a nice burger, pasta, chicken Parm, and even filet mignon.

I’ve seen the New Jersey wine scene grow from a few winery owners’ dreams to the popular phenomenon it is today. Not only is New Jersey wine well-made and delicious, wineries like Valenzano have made winery visits, tastings, and events a great thing for Jerseyans to do. You can find our very reasonably priced wines at our winery and at Bottle King, Total Wine & More, Wegmans Wine & Beer, and ShopRite Wines & Spirits.”
1090 Route 206, Shamong; 609-268-4641

Auburn Road Vineyards, Salem County

Movie night at Auburn Road Vineyards in Salem County

Auburn Road Vineyards hosts cozy movie nights. Photo: Courtesy of Auburn Road Vineyards

Scott and Julianne “Jules” Donnini, “recovering lawyers from Philadelphia,” established Auburn Road Vineyards in 2006, Scott says.

“Our goal was to produce good wine while demystifying it; that’s why on our website you can match your tastes to our wines. Wine is meant to be enjoyed, not analyzed.

Jules is our winemaker, and she’s really gifted. We produce French- and Italian-style red blends that spotlight her talent. Our whites capture the grape’s character. We make five Chardonnays and they all have their own taste and personality. We grow all our own grapes on Auburn Road’s 28 acres; we’re ‘grape-to-glass.’ So while our wines are inspired by great, Old World wines, they are pure New Jersey.

We love being a day-trip destination for Jerseyans and our mid-Atlantic neighbors. We have a lot to discover and savor. Our Enoteca wine bar is just like one you’d find in Italy. Our wine tastings are highly customized; you choose the wines, or the type of wine you like. We even offer a wine-and-chocolate tasting. Enoteca seats 100 inside and 150 outside; firepits let you lounge outside year-round. On our Vineyard Stage, we host performances and movie nights that are adventurous yet cozy. On Saturdays we screen silent films with live musicians playing the score.

In Italy and France they say that wine is food and best with other food. We’re onboard with that and have delicious food options. On Saturdays and Sundays we create pizza with around 15 various toppings; on Thursdays and Fridays, our flatbreads offer those toppings. We always have a variety of piadine—Italian “street” sandwiches—with Nutella or meat and cheese. We sell “Buddha baskets” with wine-friendly snacks like cheese, olives, dried fruit, and nuts. And of course we have desserts like gelato and brownies.

We love collaborating with inventive Jersey farm-to-table chefs for our outdoor Dinner in the Vines series. They are feasts of five courses paired with an Auburn Road wine. We have one coming up on December 6th.

During Wine Week. Jules and I will be taking visitors on hourly wine-tasting vineyard walks that are up-close and relaxed. You’ll be joined by Luna, our Husky winery dog. She’s our greeter and makes sure that everyone has a great visit.”
117 Sharptown Pilesgrove Road, Pilesgrove; 856-769-9463

Old York Cellars, Hunterdon County

The wine cabanas at Old York Cellars in Ringoes

The wine cabanas at Old York Cellars in Ringoes. Photo: Courtesy of Old York Cellars

David Wolin, founder and sole owner of Old York Cellars, “bought the property, complete with vines, from a winery that went out of business,” he says. “Working part-time, I got it up and running again. I figured I’d resell it down the road, because I was still a lawyer in New York.

But when I stopped working in 2016, I couldn’t let the winery go. The team was working so hard, and we started to win prestigious wine awards. Our Cabernet Sauvignon alone has garnered a dozen gold, silver and bronze medals in important competitions, and we count around a hundred medals for our other wines. Besides our reds, we produce whites, blush and rosé, sparkling wines, dessert wine, and fruit wines. Our grapes are grown at our winery in Ringoes and on 25 acres in Cumberland County way south.

The winery has become a destination for oenophiles; for people who just like wine, and for food lovers too. We do everything we can to make our diverse clientele feel welcome. We’re open seven days a week, we offer great eats, and we also permit outside food. We’re into comfort here and we’re as dog-friendly as a winery can get. You can socialize or you can reserve a private “wine cabana” with its own firepit.

Our wine tastings let you explore the range and quality of our wines, and if you prefer to order by the glass or bottle, you have your choice of nearly 40 wines. We hope you come to Old York Cellars hungry, because our winery menu is one of the most extensive in the state. Our full-time chef, José Diaz, is from Galicia in northwestern Spain, and our menu is strong on hearty, tasty Spanish recipes, even at our Sunday brunch. There’s a big selection of tapas and snacks for wine pairings, or you can enjoy pairing meals with two, three or six courses—with a wine for each one. Then there’s Chef José’s fantastic paella. On Fridays it always has a special twist.

We’re doing exciting things at Old York Cellars. We’re getting top comedians for our Wine & Comedy nights. We’re in a partnership with Run DMC’s Darryl McDaniels, the hip-hop legend, who’s a proud Jersey guy. He has worked with us to create a line of nice wines called Darryl Mack Cellars. You can buy our wines at Wegmans.

This Wine Week, we have an exciting introduction: our BeauJerséy Nouveau. The timing coincides with the unveiling of the year’s Beaujolais Nouveau in France. BeauJerséy is the perfect Thanksgiving wine, and we hope it finds its way onto many Garden State holiday tables.

Chef José’s upcoming, five-course holiday wine dinners will be memorable. In December he’s creating a Spanish Christmas Feast, a Spanish Hanukkah Celebration, and three dinners over the New Year weekend.

In warmer months, these dinner extravaganzas are served on long, festive tables outside. You dine amidst rows of grapevines on the rolling farmland of the Sourland Mountain ridge. Guests often say to me “I can’t believe we’re in New Jersey.” And I say, “New Jersey is wine country now.”
80 Old York Road, Ringoes; 908-284-9463

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