Behind the Natural-Wine Movement in NJ

A willingness to let grapes be grapes is gaining traction.

natural wine

Beneduce Vineyards’ new Crafted wine series. Courtesy of Beneduce Vineyards

Over the last 15 years, a category known as natural wine has bloomed in shops, bars and restaurants around the country. The movement, rooted in the desire to make wine with as little intervention as possible, originated in France in the late 1970s. Now, it’s gaining traction in New Jersey.

 The term natural wine has no official regulation in the United States, but is generally defined as wines made without additives, fermented with native yeast, using minimal sulfites and, usually, organic fruit. This hands-off approach is a move in the direction of “how wine used to be made before we had all the technology we have today,” says Mike Beneduce, winemaker at Beneduce Vineyards in Pittstown. 

While Jersey winemakers have introduced more sustainable methods, the humid climate does not always allow for entirely organic farming. Those who embrace natural methods therefore use the term judiciously. 

“We always say our projects are inspired by the natural wine movement,” says Rich Heritage of William Heritage Winery in Mullica Hill. At Unionville Vineyards, winemaker Conor Quilty has focused on honing “an approach to natural,” without compromising wine quality. [Since this article went to press, Quilty has started a new position as winemaker for Soleiada Winery in Oldwick.]

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For Beneduce, the movement’s appeal is not the trendy term, but “the techniques—lower-sulfur, lightly filtered wines that are less manipulated.” 

Last fall, Beneduce debuted its Crafted series of small-batch bottlings with labels featuring illustrations inspired by Italian hand gestures. The series includes two pét-nats, an ancient type of sparkling wine: a rosé of blaufränkisch and a white made from gewürztraminer. There’s also an orange wine, Intermezzo, which gets its amber hue from extended skin contact during fermentation.

At shops that carry natural wines, such as Amanti Vino in Montclair and Morristown, Court Liquors in Long Branch, and WineWorks in Marlton, you’ll find crown-capped pét-nats, skin-contact orange wines, fun piquettes and wines that appear cloudy. Natural-wine enthusiasts, who seek its sometimes wild and funky flavors, savor the freshness and raw complexity in these bottlings.

For years, the wine industry dismissed natural wine as a marketing fad. But the category is now impossible to ignore. The good thing about the movement, says Beneduce, “is that it’s making us all realize that wine was always intended to be an agriculture product.”

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