AWG Correspondent

Charlie Toms

Mount Salem Vineyards Photos

Mount Salem Vineyards Review

Region: New Jersey

Reviewed: February 11, 2014 by Charlie Toms
Published: February 26, 2014

Specializing in premium wines made from Austrian and Northern Italian grapes, Mount Salem Vineyards is rather unique among New Jersey wineries. Peter Leitner, a former investment banker and occasional author, planted a vineyard in 2005 on historic farmland that had formerly been used as a produce, grain, and dairy farm. Peter converted a 200-year-old barn into a tasting room, and in 2010, Mount Salem opened to the public. Today, this boutique winery has seven acres of grapes under cultivation and produces approximately 1,000 cases of wine per year.

Mount Salem serves as a winegrowing test site for Rutgers University. Including its experimental plantings, sixteen types of grapes are either grown or used for winemaking – Albarino, Barbera, Blaufrankisch (Lemberger), Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay, Gruner Veltliner, Merlot, Nebbiolo, Petit Manseng, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Schiava Grossa, St. Laurent, Traminette, Vespolina, and Zweigelt. It is the only winery in New Jersey that utilizes Petit Manseng, Schiava Grossa, St. Laurent, and Vespolina, which are vinifera grapes indigenous to mountainous regions of Western Europe. Regardless of the grapes’ origin, Peter advocates Burgundian winemaking practices, which entails a strong emphasis on terroir, the use of high-quality fruit and labor-intensive farming practices.

Mount Salem is located on a narrow, country lane on the side of Mount Salem, located around 600 feet above sea level. There are no signs marking the entrance to the winery – look for a bright red barn displaying the flags of Austria, Hungary, New Jersey, and the United States. The barn serves as the tasting room and production facility, and next door is a quaint cottage where Peter lives with his wife Charlene and two children. Behind the barn are the vineyards, and a patio area that could be used during warmer weather. Upon entering, I walked up a flight of steps, and discovered an austere but charming tasting room. The dimly-lit room was furnished with antique wooden furniture and had a small bar near the front window.

I visited Mount Salem twice and tried eight wines. Peter described each one in detail and was very open to feedback. He mentioned that Mount Salem doesn’t advertise or attend festivals because they only produce small quantities of each wine.

The Traminette was bone dry with a slightly astringent taste. This wine would do well with a very sharp Cheddar cheese. The Chardonnay was dry and lightly oaked with a crisp finish. Because of the region’s cool climate, New Jersey Chardonnay typically resembles Chardonnay from France more than Chardonnay from California, being delicate with a subtle flavor. It would go well with a traditional turkey dinner.

The Albarino was a bit sharper than I prefer, and the Cabernet Franc Rose was just as dry as the other wines but fuller-bodied. The Rose is made using the traditional Saignee method, where juice which has had limited contact with grape skins is bled off from a vat of red wine must. Take this wine to a picnic and serve it with sandwiches.

Mount Salem’s red wines were outstanding. Zweigelt and Blaufrankisch grapes both originate in Austria, Peter’s ancestral homeland. Zweigelt was fruity and softly tannic and could be paired with rack of lamb. Blaufrankisch was similar but has a silkier texture. I could see myself in a country inn eating roast duck and drinking a glass of this wine. My favorite wine was the Barbera, which was dry and medium-bodied with a very smooth finish. Peter showed me a map of central Europe and mentioned that Barbera is the every-day drinking wine in the Piedmont region of Italy. Bursting with flavor, but not excessively tannic, this wine could be served with a well-seasoned filet mignon or could be drunk on its own.

Offering a number of wines that are rarely seen in the United States, Mount Salem Vineyards is a hidden gem, and Peter's desire to focus exclusively on wine quality is very refreshing. I will definitely revisit this winery in the future to try other vintages that weren't yet available. The winery is open Saturday and Sunday 12 PM to 5 PM and by appointment. The standard tasting fee is $10 for 5 wines, but prices vary for group visits and special events. Mount Salem only sells its wines on-site and by subscription.

Address & Contact Information: 54 Mount Salem Road Pittstown, New Jersey 08867. Telephone: 908-735-9359, email:, website: Tasting Hours: Sat-Sun 12:00-5:00 and by appt..

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