Hitting New Jersey’s Wine Trails

Care for a refreshing chardonnay? A marvelous merlot? You'll find plenty to sample on these trails, linking some of the state's top wineries.

Photo by Jason Varney

The public view of New Jersey wines is swiftly changing. In recent years, Garden State wines have won accolades from top wine critics and contests, and now many wineries are investing in larger, more elegant tasting rooms in an effort to attract more visitors.

The state’s wine industry is growing, too. In 2011, there were 38 licensed wineries in New Jersey. Now, there are more than 50.

Compared to other regions, Jersey’s wine industry is relatively young, and winemakers are still figuring out which varieties grow best here. A handful are working to elevate the state’s reputation, moving away from the sweet, novelty fruit wines that once typified New Jersey’s output.

These days, more effort is put into crowd-pleasers like chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon and merlot, as well as less esteemed varieties such as cabernet franc, which many believe could be New Jersey’s premier grape. Some also grow cold-hardy hybrid grapes such as chambourcin, vidal blanc and traminette.

New Jersey wines may not rival those from Bordeaux or the Napa Valley—but they’re rapidly catching up. And fall is the perfect time to taste the Garden State’s bounty.

There’s no bad time to visit wineries, but the harvest season is the busiest and most exciting. It’s arguably the most beautiful, too, as the grapes are picked and crushed, and grapevine leaves begin to turn from green to yellow and red.

Winemaking in the Garden State extends from Sussex County to Cape May County, but mostly takes place in the west and south. To get a better picture of an area’s wines, it’s best to hit several tasting rooms in a row. You can do so by following these wine trails, adapted from trails established by the Garden State Wine Growers Association.

It’s possible to tackle the four wineries in Hunterdon County in a day. South Jersey’s route is more ambitious; design your own abbreviated map from the wineries highlighted here, or spread your visit out over a few days. Cape May County’s five wineries are best explored over a weekend. Other wineries, like Alba Vineyard in Milford and Working Dog Winery in Robbinsville, don’t fit as neatly on a trail, but are still worth your attention.

Hunterdon County Trail

Beneduce Vineyards
Pittstown
In 2010, winemaker Mike Beneduce Jr. graduated from the winemaking program at Cornell University, where he trained in vineyards throughout the Finger Lakes. Now, he’s brought his winemaking skills back to the family-owned Beneduce Vineyards, home to more than 20 acres of grapevines. For $5, get a taste of the winery’s current releases, including the outstanding blaüfrankisch, a red Austrian variety, and the bright and floral gewürztraminer, Beneduce’s signature white.
1 Jeremiah Lane; 908-996-3823

Johnsen and Quilty inside Unionville’s winery.

Johnsen and Quilty inside Unionville’s winery. Photo by Jason Varney

Mount Salem Vineyards
Pittstown
You won’t see tour buses or limos at Mount Salem Vineyards, where self-taught owner/winemaker Peter Leitner prefers his wines to be enjoyed in a more intimate setting. The unmarked, low-key winery, opened in 2005, is invested in growing Austrian varieties like grüner veltliner, zweigelt, St. Laurent and blaüfrankisch.
54 Mount Salem Road; 908-735-9359

Old York Cellars
Ringoes
There always seems to be a Groupon deal available for Old York Cellars, where the modern tasting room overlooks a portion of the winery’s 13 acres of vineyards. Choose six wines to taste for $10. You can also visit Old York’s tasting room at Bridgewater Commons, which opened last year.
80 Old York Road; 908-284-9463

Unionville Vineyards
Ringoes
Located on preserved farmland in rustic Ringoes, Unionville Vineyards specializes in estate-grown wines. This year, Unionville is celebrating 25 years since its first vintage in 1993, when the vineyards were planted with hybrid varieties like chambourcin and vidal blanc. The winery has evolved since then, and associate winemakers Stephen “Zeke” Johnsen and Conor Quilty now focus mostly on Burgundy and Rhône varieties like chardonnay, pinot noir, syrah and viognier. Sample a flight of wines for $10 in the tasting room, which overlooks stainless steel tanks in the production room below. Then buy a bottle of the outstanding Pheasant Hill pinot noir to savor at a picnic table outside.
9 Rocktown Road; 908-788-0400

South Jersey Trail

Amalthea Cellars
Atco
Step into the cool, dark tasting room at Amalthea Cellars and sample a flight of white or red wines for $6, or both for $10. For a true taste of Jersey terroir, ask for those made from Amalthea’s own vineyards, which date back to 1976. For a real treat, buy a bottle from the excellent Europa series, various Bordeaux-style blends made with estate-grown grapes.
209 Vineyard Road; 856-768-8585

Auburn Road Vineyards
Pilesgrove
Julianne Donnini, a self-taught winemaker, practiced law for 10 years before opening Auburn Road with her husband, Scott, in 2007. The winery offers a range of reds and whites. Taste up to eight of them for $6 at the Enoteca, a vineyard-style wine bar that offers an assortment of meats, cheeses and sandwiches. The winery also hosts local musicians and open mic nights on their Vineyard Stage.
117 Sharptown-Auburn Road; 856-769-9463

Bellview Winery
Landisville
The Quarella family has grown produce like strawberries and watermelons at Bellview Farms as far back as 1914. Jim Quarella turned his attention to wine grapes in 1999, and in 2001, Bellview Winery opened its doors. On 45 acres of vineyards, more than 20 different grape varieties are grown, including viognier, chambourcin and blaüfrankisch. The wines can be tasted in Bellview’s small yet charming tasting room.
150 Atlantic Street; 856-697-7172

Sharrott Winery
Hammonton
Formerly an apple orchard, Sharrott Winery opened to the public in 2008. Earlier this year, Sharrott debuted an expanded tasting room, complete with a kitchen. From the tasting bar, take in the beautiful view of the lush rows of vineyards while sampling six wines for $10, including a dry riesling and juicy cabernet franc.
370 South Egg Harbor Road; 609-567-9463

Associate winemakers Stephen “Zeke” Johnsen and Conor Quilty and NJM associate editor Shelby Vittek stroll through Unionville Vineyards in Ringoes.

Associate winemakers Stephen “Zeke” Johnsen and Conor Quilty and NJM associate editor Shelby Vittek stroll through Unionville Vineyards in Ringoes. Photo by Jason Varney

 

Tomasello Winery
Hammonton
Founded by Frank Tomasello in 1933, Tomasello Winery is the second oldest winery in the state. It’s still family-owned, and offers more than 20 wines to taste in 10 different tasting rooms across the state.
225 North White Horse Pike; 800-666-9463

White Horse Winery
Hammonton
A relative newcomer, White Horse Winery opened in July 2016. Situated on a 56-acre farm, the vineyards are planted with grapes such as chardonnay, chambourcin, cabernet franc, nebbiolo and merlot. Sample five wines for $10 at the four-sided bar in the tasting room, which overlooks the barrel room.
106 Hall Street; 609-270-1411

William Heritage Winery
Mullica Hill
One of the state’s most prominent producers, William Heritage Winery (formerly Heritage Vineyards) opened to the public in 2002 after Bill and Penni Heritage converted their family’s peach and apple orchards into vineyards. Since 2009, winemaker Sean Cominos has been leading the winery, experimenting with various projects like putting wine in a can and producing pét-nat, a type of sparkling wine. Taste the full range of wines, including a delightful rosé and cabernet franc, in the newly renovated tasting room, or on Thursday UnWine’d nights, featuring live music from local musicians. The winery also hosts Harvest Weekends every Saturday and Sunday in October.
480 Mullica Hill Road; 856-589-4474

Cape May Trail

Cape May Winery
Cape May
Named for the region where it’s located, Cape May Winery opened to the public in 1995 and now grows over 20 different grape varieties across 70 acres of vineyards. In the tasting room, stick to the dry white and red wines, like the barrel-fermented chardonnay or Cape May Red, a red blend. Select wines are available on tap in the Tap Room. Order a wine flight to enjoy with bites from the tapas menu on the breezy, outdoor patio overlooking some of the vineyards.
711 Town Bank Road; 609-884-1169

Hawk Haven Vineyard & Winery
Rio Grande
In 1997, brothers Todd and Ken Wuerker planted the first grapevines at Hawk Haven Vineyard & Winery on family farmland. The best way to experience the winery today is on the $25 vineyard and winery tours offered on Saturdays and Sundays in October and November. Hawk Haven hosts several popular events throughout the year, such as the recurring Rootstock Vineyard Concert Series.
600 South Railroad Avenue; 609-846-7347

Jessie Creek Winery
Cape May Court House
Grapevines were planted as early as 2002 at Jessie Creek Winery, but the winery didn’t open to the public until 2012. Get a taste of the dry wines made from pinot grigio, chardonnay, merlot and chambourcin. During the winery’s Sunset in the Vineyard event series, held Saturday evenings through October, watch the sun sink behind the vineyards with a glass in hand and music from local bands.
1 Route 47 North; 609-536-2023

etsy Alger, left, leads Justin Cook, Xhoana Xhomara, and Pamela and Kevin Cook through a wine tasting at Unionville.

Betsy Alger, left, leads Justin Cook, Xhoana Xhomara, and Pamela and Kevin Cook through a wine tasting at Unionville. Photo by Jason Varney

Natali Vineyards
Cape May Court House
Founder and winemaker Al Natali planted Natali Vineyards’ first vines in 2001 in what was once a 22-acre pasture for horses. The winery opened in 2007, and in December 2017 debuted a new tasting room with beautiful views of the vineyards, where you can taste the 14 different varieties of French, Italian and Spanish grapes, including albariño, tempranillo, nebbiolo, dolcetto and barbera.
221 North Delsea Drive; 609-465-0075

Willow Creek Winery
West Cape May
Drive the winding path through vineyards to get to Willow Creek Winery. The massive tasting room features a small bar for tasting, a tapas menu, and tables to accommodate large parties, making it a popular destination for bachelorette parties. Wine tastings start at $10. A 45-minute vineyard tour costs $15.
160-168 Stevens Street; 609-770-8782

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