New Jersey's Top Winery & Tourist Destinations

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For most wine tourists, the term "New Jersey wine country" creates nothing short of cognitive dissonance. Various images of New Jersey, mostly urban, collide   with bucolic visions of vine-covered, rolling hills. For those who haven't experienced it, New Jersey wine country does exist. It might not make you forget about your trip to Tuscany, but the vineyards, historic farm houses, and the wine make it very clear that you are indeed in wine country.

One common misconception about New Jersey is that the entire state is terribly overcrowded; New Jersey is the nation's most densely populated state. Fortunately for wine tourists, sprawling vineyards and dense population centers rarely congregate in the same area. To illustrate the point, the graphic below compares the population density of New Jersey's three main "winery areas" to the population density of Pennsylvania Dutch Country. For those who consider Pennsylvania Dutch Country overcrowded, New Jersey wine country probably is overcrowded. For everyone else, it's a welcome getaway.



Recommended New Jersey Wine Books

       


It's almost impossible to discuss New Jersey's best wineries without mentioning the June 2012 Judgment of Princeton. The tasting, hosted by the American Association of Wine Economists (AAWE), was meant to be reminiscent of the 1976 Judgment of Paris. At the 1976 competition, a Stag's Leap Wine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon and a Chateau Montelena Chardonnay finished ahead of their French rivals, stunning the all-European tasting panel. The results in Princeton were similar. Nine wine judges from the U.S., France, and Belgium rated wines from the same French producers who participated in the 1976 tasting as well as several New Jersey wines. The French wines, from some of Bordeaux's and Burgundy's leading estates, ranged in price from $70 to $650; the price range for the New Jersey wines was $14 to $70.

Based on the aggregated ratings, four of the top six red wines were French, but New Jersey wines took the #3 and #5 spot. With regards to the white wines, New Jersey wines placed second, third and fourth. Statistically speaking, other than the highest rated white and lowest rated red, the ranking order was statistically insignificant.

For those who love First Growth Bordeaux and Grand Cru and Premier Cru Burgundy, the results of the Judgment of Princeton are probably suspect and meaningless; there is no way that a New Jersey wine could be as good as France's best Bordeaux and Burgundy. Regardless, no one - not even the Judgment of Princeton doubters - can deny that New Jersey's best wineries are making extremely high-quality wines.


Touring New Jersey

New Jersey offers a diverse mixture of nature, history, arts and big city fun. The state is well known for its Atlantic Ocean beaches, casinos and big cities. Less well-known, but no less fun, are the charming seaside resorts, wineries and historical sites. Whether you're traveling to New Jersey to visit the state's top tourist sites, and want to add a few New Jersey wineries to your itinerary, or you're visiting New Jersey wineries and want to add a few non-wine attractions, take some time to seek out New Jersey's first-rate attractions and leading wineries.


Top Tourist and Winery Destinations - Northern New Jersey

Trenton, New Jersey's capital city, is located across the Delaware River from Pennsylvania in the west-central part of the state. The city is home to several museums, including the New Jersey State Museum, a free museum dedicated to the arts, history and science of New Jersey, located along the banks of the Delaware River. The Old Barracks Museum is also located in Trenton, a colonial-era barracks that once housed General George Washington's troops before they crossed the Delaware River during the Revolutionary War.



Alba Vineyard
Alba Vineyard was founded in 1980, but the historic barn that houses the winery, tasting room, and art gallery dates back to 1805. Located among the rolling hills of the Musconetcong River Valley, the barn, with its limestone walls and oak beam framing, provides an ideal location to taste Alba's award-winning wines.

While almost any winery can claim that they make award-winning wines, Alba is arguably setting the standard for New Jersey wine. Alba's Chambourcin, Gewurztraminer, and Riesling routinely receive high ratings from leading wine critics and win Gold and Best of Class designations in major international wine competitions. In May, Alba's 2010 Pinot Noir received a 93 point rating from the Beverage Tasting Institute. In addition, Alba was named one of New Jersey’s “leading estates” in Hugh Johnson’s 2013 Pocket Wine Book.

The winery's daily tastings pair Alba's wines with small bites of artisan cheeses, flatbreads, seasonal fruits, and warm appetizers, and tours are available on the weekend. The historic and beautiful property can also be rented for private events to include birthdays and corporate events. Couples can even make use of Alba's picturesque vineyards to create their ideal New Jersey winery wedding.


Unionville Vineyards
Unionville Vineyards is a historical jewel, which just so happens to produce some of New Jersey's best wines. The oldest section of the winery building was built in 1858, and the property, which has more than 40 acres of vineyards, is now part of the New Jersey Farmland Preservation Program. The winery has been in operation for twenty years and has built a solid reputation as one of New Jersey's leading wineries. Recent events, though, have the potential to establish Unionville as one of America's leading wineries. Winemaker Cameron Stark's 2010 Pheasant Hill Chardonnay is causing even the most jaded wine critics to take a second look at New Jersey wine. The single-vineyard Chardonnay not only received 88 points from the Beverage Tasting Institute, but also placed second in the Judgment of Princeton tasting, ahead of French Burgundy costing more than twice as much.

Unionville offers a classic and extended wine tasting seven days a week as well as complimentary tours during the weekend. Unionville also provides several beautiful winery and vineyard wedding options.

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Top Tourist and Winery Destinations – Camden to Atlantic City

Camden, located across the Delaware River from Philadelphia, is a fun and interesting place to visit in New Jersey. The Camden waterfront has been revitalized and is home to several tourist attractions including the 200,0000-square foot Adventure Aquarium; the "USS New Jersey," a 1942-circa US Navy battleship that saw action in every US war from World War II to the Gulf War.

Camden is also home to Walt Whitman House, the Camden row house where the poet lived from 1884 until his death in 1892. The house is now a museum that features many of the furnishings that were in the house during Whitman's era as well as memorabilia from his life.

Wharton State Forest is 115,000 acres of pine forest, located midway between Camden and Tuckerton, New Jersey (along the Atlantic coast.) The park, the largest single tract of land in the NJ park system, features miles of hiking trails, excellent canoeing and kayaking on the Mullica River, camping and picnic facilities and a guarded, swimming beach.

Wharton State Forest is also home to Batsto Village, a living history museum with more than forty restored structures dating back to the mid to late18th century. Highlights include the Batsto Mansion, the blacksmith's and millwright's shops, the post office (still in operation) and the Methodist Episcopal Church (still active).

Atlantic City is best known for its 4.5-mile long boardwalk, the oldest seaside boardwalk in the United States, as well as its many casinos. However, gambling isn't only attraction in Atlantic City. The city is home to a number of other sites, including the Atlantic City Aquarium and its 11 tanks and more than 100 species of fish; Ripley's Believe it or Not Museum, with its more than 400 strange and unusual exhibits and the Absecon Lighthouse, a restored 1857 brick lighthouse and museum. The lighthouse is New Jersey's tallest, and it is also one of the oldest lighthouses in the country.



Auburn Road Auburn Road's Enoteca is a European-style wine oasis set among acres of Southern New Jersey pastures and farmland. Not only will you find homemade soups, fresh bread and artisan cheeses, but the Enoteca also displays local art and hosts local musicians every Saturday. It almost sounds too good to be true....so, how's the wine? The winery, which has only been open since 2006, provides a little something for everyone. It has a range of off-dry and sweet wines such as the popular Blessington, but it also makes some of the New Jersey's highest rated Pinot Gris and red blends. Auburn Road also rents the facility, to include the manicured grass courtyard, for group events and vineyard weddings.

Heritage Vineyards
Heritage Vineyards is located on land that has been farmed by the Heritage family since 1853. Grapes were initially planted in 1999 and now occupy 40 of the estate's 150 acres. Although Heritage does have a "Jersey Line" of off-dry and sweet wines, the winery is making a name for itself with its high-quality, traditional European varieties such as Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, and Chardonnay. The 2009 and 2010 vintages of Heritage's Bordeaux blend (BDX) received 94 and 93 points, respectively, from the Beverage Tasting Institute. In addition, the 2010 BDX was selected as “Best of Category” in the Atlantic Seaboard Wine Competition, and took third place in the Judgment of Princeton. Skeptics may shy away from a $70 bottle of New Jersey wine, but the BDX proves that world-class wine can be made in New Jersey. Heritage's Chardonnay performed nearly as well in the Judgment of Princeton, placing third among the whites. Visitors can get an in-depth view of Heritage's winemaking by taking a one hour, guided tour of the vineyards (from within Heritage's tour van) and winery.


Amalthea Cellars
Amalthea Cellars produces exquisite, French-inspired wines in a rustic, New Jersey farmhouse. Lou Caracciolo learned how to make wine by helping his Italian immigrant grandfather, and he planted his vineyard in 1976. Lou combines his childhood experience with a degree in Food Science and Technology from Brooklyn's Pratt Institute to produce some of New Jersey's highest-rated, red Bordeaux blends, Cabernet Franc and Chardonnay. Amalthea's Legends Edition allows visitors to taste the impact of changing the percentage of each variety in a blend. The blend percentages, though not the exact viticulture or winemaking practices, are modeled after famous French Chateaus, and the 2007 Europa IV received 84 points from Wine Enthusiast. Amalthea provides complimentary tastings Friday through Sunday.

Tomasello Winery
There's no doubt that Tomasello Winery produces a wide range of very popular fruit and desert wines, but Tomasello has also started to receive critical acclaim for its Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. For example, Tomasello's 2008 Oak Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon received 88 points from the Beverage Tasting Institute. With such a wide range of wines and over 75 years of grape-growing experience, Tomasello provides a glimpse into New Jersey's winemaking past as well as its winemaking future. With four different tasting rooms, Tomasello makes it easy to find their wines. Tomasello also hosts weddings at the picturesque winery and vineyard.

Plagido's Winery
After more than 100 years of producing fruits and vegetables on their Hammonton farm, and producing wine for personal consumption for several of those years, the Tomasello family decided to become a commercial winery in 1999 and planted nine varieties of grapes. With such extensive experience growing fruit, it's no surprise that many of Plagido's wines are fruit-based. In addition to producing wine using estate-grown Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chambourcin, Chardonnay, Concord, Fredonia, Marquis, Merlot, Niagara, and Vidal Blanc grapes, wine is also made from apples, blackberries, blueberries, cranberries, cherries, and peaches! What is a surprise for many is the quality of Plagido's recent non-fruit wines, to include their Cabernet Franc and red Bordeaux blends.

The winery occupies a nondescript gray building nestled among fourteen acres of well-tended vines on a quiet street in Hammonton. The laid-back and complimentary tasting, regularly hosted by owner Ollie Tomasello (no relation to Tomasello Winery), is a popular Southern New Jersey wine tasting destination.

Top Tourist and Winery Destinations – Cape May

Cape May, located at the southernmost tip of New Jersey, is the oldest seaside resort in the United States. First developed in the mid-19th century, the area is known for its large concentration of Victorian architecture, its excellent birdwatching and its white sand beaches. Another popular Cape May landmark is the Cape May Lighthouse, located at the southern tip of the peninsula. The 157-foot structure, first lit in 1859, is still in operation today. Cape May is also home to a scenic, seaside boardwalk, a vibrant arts community and the Naval Air Station Wildwood Aviation Museum and its large collection of World War II-era aircraft.
Cape May Winery
With three tasting rooms, a deck overlooking the vineyards, and an informative and fun winery tour, Cape May Winery is one of area's top tourist attractions. Cape May's popularity may have something to do with its "something for everyone" philosophy. With 150 acres of vineyards growing sixteen varieties, Cape May produces more than twenty different styles of wines, to include both dry wines and sweet wines.

Cape May's Merlot and Chardonnay varietals, produced by winemaker Darren Hesington, routinely receive awards and high scores. The 2010 and 2011 Barrel Fermented Chardonnay received 87 and 84 points, respectively, from the Beverage Tasting Institute.

Hawk Haven Vineyards
Todd Wuerker's fortuitous decision to plant grape vines on the family farm in 1997 (before he was of legal drinking age) led to the eventual opening of Hawk Haven Vineyards in 2008. In five short years, Hawk Haven has established itself as a New Jersey wine leader producing a wide variety of award-winning wines. Visitors can sample Hawk Haven's wines at the wine bar or take an educational walking tour of the vineyard and winery while sipping Hawk Haven's wines. To top the tour off, it ends on the crushpad with a selection of gourmet cheeses and a beautiful view of the vineyards!


A Road Less Traveled - For Now

New Jersey wineries and attractions may get less publicity than those of neighboring New York and Pennsylvania, but the Garden State offers a myriad of interesting and educational tourist spots and first-class winery destinations. New Jersey wineries are working hard to spread the word about the state's great winery destinations, but for many wine lovers who have already discovered the relaxing joys of New Jersey wine country, keeping it a secret just a little longer isn't such a bad idea!


Published: Aug. 14, 2013

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