Why You Must Wine and Dine in Hammonton

Hammonton's thriving wine culture, intriguing food scene, vintage downtown and welcoming environment make it a lively road-trip destination.

Wine and food at Sharrott Winery in Hammonton

Sharrott Winery in Hammonton serves enticing wines and gastropub-style food. Photo: Courtesy of Sharrott Winery

Maybe you already know South Jersey’s Hammonton as the blueberry capital of the world—or as first lady Jill Biden’s birthplace. But this farm-encircled Pinelands town of 15,000 has come into its own as a day-trip or getaway destination. It has a thriving wine culture, intriguing eating, a vintage downtown, and an aura of welcome. “Visitor or resident, Hammonton just draws you in,” says local Kelly Perone. “My family tore ourselves away from Montclair to start up Blueberry Rascal Distillery and encountered this friendly, creative, inclusive community. Hammonton has incredible spirit.”

A half-hour from Philly’s Jersey suburbs and Atlantic City, Hammonton is a stop on the NJ Transit train connecting them. But it has never been a mere stopover. For decades, visitors have descended upon Hammonton to pick blueberries in June and July. Others drop into town after adventures in the adjacent Wharton State Forest, which offers 123,000 acres of nature’s magic.

Now, visitors to Hammonton are also driven by its boutique wineries’ tasting rooms.

Overall, New Jersey wine has reached critical mass, garnering oenophile buzz, impressive ratings and national awards. Hammonton has emerged as a Jersey-wine superstar with its own official grape-growing region, Outer Coastal Plain. Here, rich soil and Atlantic-gentled seasons nourish robust vines of red and white grapes: Old World, New World and French-American hybrids. But what ultimately raises Hammonton’s wine game is its committed, inspired winery owners and masterful winemakers.

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Visitors experience the fruits of their labor while swirling, sipping, and dipping into food pairings in country-chic winery tasting rooms. The Hammonton-centric Wine and Ale Trail of South Jersey, whether self driven or on low-priced jitney tours, conveniently links local wineries and craft breweries.

White Horse Winery, run by father and son Brock and BJ Vinton, is a must-visit for Parisian brasserie eats, refined Bordeaux blends aged in French oak, and mellow chambourçin red. Over at Sharrott Winery, founder Larry Sharrott says visitors “come for the bottle and stay for the food.” That bottle could be a lip-licking vignoles white or Tango, a lively cabernet blend. And the food? Enticing gastropub-style bites.

The Wine and Ale Trail includes Hammonton’s trio of high-quality craft breweries, known as the Brewmuda Triangle. Jersey breweries cannot provide food service, so food trucks roll up on weekends, and patrons are encouraged to bring their own grub. At the convivial Three 3’s microbrewery, taps dispense 14 frothy house lagers and ales. Vinyl Brewing Company is bouncy and social, and its gutsy, small-batch beers wink-wink with monikers like Adult Party and Low Life. Smack downtown, Chimney Rustic Ales’s tasting room and sidewalk tables prove handsome settings for flights and pints.

Curtis and Kelly Perone’s Blue Rascal Distillery is embraced by cocktail connoisseurs. Distiller Veronica Townsend’s spirits highlight Hammonton blueberries, some grown on Curtis’s family farm. Six fruit liqueurs showcase South Jersey berries and cherries. Tipplers can opt for tastings, shots, full pours, or sophisticated cocktails with “zero junk ingredients,” says Kelly.

Hammonton’s dining is as vibrant as its drinking. El Nuevo Mariachi Loco delivers fun, flavor and name-dropping; the premises of this authentic Mexican cantina once housed the ornate drugstore and soda fountain owned by the first lady’s paternal grandparents. The accent is Italian at Bagliani’s, a fourth-generation specialty market. Waffles are the way at the laid-back Funky Cow. Since 1972, Evelyn Penza has run Penza’s Pies at the Red Barn, slinging breakfast, lunch and hefty berry pies. Annata Wine Bar, a modern bistro, uncorks 125 wines (some from Hammonton), and Rocco’s Town House proffers an appealing, something-for-everyone menu and a downstairs speakeasy, Rock Bottom.

“There’s so much to love about Hammonton, but six words say it,” says local entrepreneur Jim Donio, founder of the Eagle Theatre. “Small-town feel, big-city appeal.”

KT Harrison, a career journalist on the lifestyle beat, is a longtime New Jersey Monthly dining critic and the magazine’s online Eat & Drink columnist.

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