WHEN YOU THINK OF NEW JERSEY, wine isn’t normally the first thing that comes to mind, but the Garden State is the seventh-largest producer of wine in the United States. There are more than 40 wineries throughout the state, from the southern tip of Cape May all the way up to the northern tip of Montague. The climate and soil varies greatly across the state, and southeastern New Jersey, known as the Outer Coastal Plain, has even been designated as an American Viticultural Area (AVA). AVAs are official wine grape-growing regions of the U.S. selected by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. This region recently created its own wine blend, Coeur d’Est, a French phrase meaning, Heart of the East.
From the region and vision to the variety of grapes grown and types of wine produced, each winery is completely unique. Many host tours and tastings, and some host meetings and events that range in size from six to thousands. Here’s a sampling of some of the best:
Laurita Winery is one of the largest and most unique wineries in New Jersey. It is located in Ocean County, which is part of the Outer Coastal Plain. Laurita has 250-plus acres, more than 50 of which are planted with vines. The vines were planted in 1998, which allowed for the first vintage to be bottled and sold in 2003. The winery now grows nine different varieties of grapes and sells 17 different wines. Laurita is a blend of Laura and Rita, names of the owners’ mothers.
The 100-percent solar-dependent, 20,000-square-foot winery at Laurita was finished in 2008. The interior of the winery is made entirely from recycled N.J. materials; the wooden beams are from two barns; the brick is from an old school building; the 110-year-old elevator is from the Warren Hotel in Spring Lake; even the bathrooms are from the Garden State Park Racetrack.
Laurita hosts festivals, wine tastings and live music every weekend and is also available for private events. Many of its events are held outside, where there’s room for thousands of people. Inside, the Laurita Room can hold up to 200 people. Additionally, there are two areas upstairs that look down on the tasting room: The Club Room, which can hold 40, is perfect for smaller corporate events and meetings; and the Loft, has space for 90. “We’re not in the wine business selling to people; we’re in the people business selling wine, and that’s our calling,” says Ray Shea, one of the owners. “People don’t buy what you make; they buy why you make it. The artwork, the exterior mural, the recycled materials, the view shed, music, family-friendly atmosphere and our staff set the stage before your first sip. People rarely say they like Laurita; they usually declare that they love it here.”
Laurita also has a 10-room inn from the 1830s that was renovated and reopened in 2001. The rooms, each with different themes, range in price from $190 to $295. Amble over to the barn, where Laurita offers horseback riding and hippotherapy, a horse-based therapy designed for people with disabilities, such as individuals with autism and disabled veterans.
Four Sisters Winery
Four Sisters Winery is set on 240 acres in the Warren area, 11 miles east of the Delaware Water Gap. Named for the owner’s four daughters, the winery has been in business for 30 years. Eight acres are planted with grapes, which result in 26 different wines. Sweet wines are the winery’s most popular, but Four Sisters also makes dry reds, dry whites and four fruitflavored wines for each daughter: cherry, raspberry, apple and strawberry. Additionally, they make two spiced wines, two ports, one sparkling wine and one blueberry wine, named for the owner’s granddaughter.
Four Sisters’ owner is the winemaker and a professionally trained chef, so the elegant corporate dinners are always a hit. Five-course dinners feature expert pairings with Four Sisters’ wines. The winery itself can hold 45 people indoors. They also have a beautifully decorated barn that can hold up to 200 people. For larger groups (up to 400), many of their events are held outside, under the state-of-the-art tents complete with a permanent outdoor kitchen and bathroom. “Four Sisters Winery not only provides a unique and beautiful setting for your special occasion, but when it comes to making every event special, we are only limited by your imagination,” says Robert (Matty) Matarazzo, owner, chef and winemaker. “From grape stomps to murder mysteries, from hayrides to team-building activities, we promise to make every visit to the winery a day full of memories and fun. As the executive chef for all our in-house dinners I make every meal from the freshest ingredients available and provide my fresh homemade breads for every event,”
Four Sisters Winery doesn’t just serve as a venue; it also has progressive business concept meetings for effective team-building. The most popular group activity is wine blending, where each team is given three different wines to blend in an attempt to create the perfect wine, followed by a tasting and contest.
Beneduce Vineyards in north Jersey, about an hour from New York City, is one of the state’s newest wineries. It opened in 2012, five years after its first 3 acres were planted. The family-owned and family-run farm is 51 acres, 10 of which are vines. The farm was originally purchased in 2000 for the family’s retail garden center business.
The winery is run by two of the three sons, Justen, 27, and Michael, 25, as well as the father, Mike Sr. Michael, who studied viniculture and agriculture at Cornell University, is the winemaker. Justen, the marketing and event director, runs the business side of the winery. Kevin, 22, is in college studying landscape and agriculture, and plans on joining his family at the winery when he graduates. He will focus on the landscape division of the garden center.
Beneduce Vineyards creates eight unique wines from 12 grape varieties. The best growing grape is a German grape called Blaufrankisch, which is used to make a wine called Blue Print. The winery also grows and makes pinot noir, both red and white. The white, which is rare, is called Tuxedo because it is a white wine made from a black grape.
Events can be held in Beneduce’s state-of-the art greenhouse, known as The Tropical Oasis, where orange, fig, lemon and tangerine trees grow. The Tropical Oasis, which was converted to an event space, can hold 125 people. The Loft is a space for smaller groups, with room for 20 people and a beautiful view of the winery. Events can also be held in the 7,000-squarefoot winery, which is one large tasting room surrounded by winemaking. “Amid the sea of white shapeless catering halls, we are excited to have an event space as unique as The Oasis,” says Justen Beneduce. “The industrial look of this converted greenhouse has been morphed into a fun and alluring getaway with the addition of an indoor stone patio, antique bar, tropical palms and fruit trees you can actually eat from. Where else in N.J. can you hang out year-round, listen to live music, enjoy delicious local wine and pick an orange from a tree?”
Hopewell Valley Vineyards
Hopewell Valley Vineyards is a winery located in central New Jersey on 75 acres of land with 24 acres of planted vines. It currently makes 20 different wines, most of which are estate grown. One of the wines, Sangiovese, is made with juices from the owner’s brother’s vineyard in Italy, and the white and red port is made with fortified brandy.
The 100-percent-sustainable and solarpowered winery is owned by a couple, Violetta and Sergio Neri. Sergio, the winemaker, hails from an Italian family with three generations of winemaking experience.
Hopewell Valley Vineyards holds events inside, as well as outside under tents. The main room, with a stage, grand piano and projector, can hold 99 people. Sergio himelf plays piano with his band that performs the last Friday of every month. The smaller tasting room can hold up to 49 people. Hopewell Valley also makes fresh, made-to-order pizzas\ with a brick oven. “We are a family-run, family-oriented and service-driven winery that focuses on making the best wine for everyone to enjoy,” says Violetta.
Willow Creek Winery
Willow Creek Winery is the southernmost winery in New Jersey, and one of six wineries located in Cape May. Its main focus is sustainable agriculture; all meetings and events held there have a focus on agriculture, which can include a winery/farm tour or wine tasting. Willow Creek Winery is on a 50 acre farm with 26 acres of vines growing 10 different grape varieties, from which 24 different wines are made. During the fall, the winery makes a very popular pumpkin wine from local pumpkins.
All events are held inside a beautiful 9,000-square-foot winery, with space for up to 400 people. The tasting/event room is sectioned off into smaller areas and can be used for meetings for as little as six people. Kevin Celli, farm director and wine maker, says, “Our 50-acre farm nestled on the Cape May Island is an incredible place to host any event.”