Wine growers have flocked to New Jersey for its marine climate and fertile soil — similar to that of the Bordeaux region of France — since the 19th century. Its development as serious source of fine wines was checked by Prohibition, however. But with the repeal of Prohibition-era restrictions — which in some cases did not occur until late in the 20th century — New Jersey once again began building what has developed into a growing viticulture — with 52 wineries distributed across the state.
Besides producing excellent wines, many vineyards are also stops on oenophile itineraries, a win-win for the state economy. The Garden State Wine Growers Association is working to make New Jersey wineries a staple for summer tourism by mapping trails for wine lovers to visit wineries.
In 2012, George Taber helped organize the Judgment of Princeton, a blind wine-tasting that pitted New Jersey wineries against the highly acclaimed wineries of France. Several Garden State vintages placed among the most revered and expensive wines, which helped bolster the reputation of the Garden State wines and its wines compared with other well-known regions.
What follows is a list of 10 New Jersey wineries that have won the greatest number of competitions over the past few years, including in the Finger Lakes International Wine Competition, Garden State Association of Wine Growers’ New Jersey Wine Competition, San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, and Judgment of Princeton Wine Tasting.
1. Heritage Winery
The Vineyard and Winery is located in Mullica Hill. It is a family-owned and operated estate vineyard, led by Penni and Bill Heritage. When the farm was purchased it was home to exclusively tree fruit, but in 1999 they switched to grapes and produced their first vintage in 2001. Now they have 46 acres of grapes and specialize in merlot, with mostly Boudreaux varietals.
Heritage won a double gold, three silver, and four bronze medals in 2014 and three silver medals in 2012 at the Finger Lakes International Wine Competition. It also won “Winery of the Year,” the Governor’s Cup for the fruit category for its “Jersey Blueberry,” as well as four gold medals for a total of 21 from the Garden State Association of Wine Growers Wine Competition. It won third place in the white wine category and third in the red category in the 2012 Judgment of Princeton, and took home two silver medals in the 2014 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.
2. Alba Vineyard
Located in the Finesville, at the border of Hunterdon and Warren counties, Alba’s focus is to produce wine through minimal-impact, renewable viticulture. The Alba Estate Vineyard is located in the hills of the Musconetcong River valley and primarily grows Pinot Noir, Dijon Clone Chardonnay, and Riesling.
Alba won four silver and three bronze medals in 2014; three silver in 2013 and two gold plus three silver medals and one bronze in 2012 at the Finger Lakes competition. It won “Winery of the Year” in 2013 in the Growers Association New Jersey Competition. It won three silver medals and a bronze medal at the San Francisco Chronicle competition.
3. Tomasello Winery
Although the vineyard is located in Hammonton, Tomasello has tasting rooms in Lambertville, Smithville, Freehold, and at Alstede Farms in Chester and Abma’s Farm in Bergen County. The winery has been passed down for three generations and currently has 70 acres and grow 30 varieties of grapes.
Tomasello won three gold, three silver and three bronze medals in 2014 and a double gold in 2012 at the Finger Lakes Competition and the Governor’s Cup in the Dessert Category for their Vidal Blanc Ice Wine at the Garden State Competition. They also won fifth place in the Red category of the 2012 Judgment of Princeton competition.
4. Amalthea Cellars
Located in the Outer Coastal Plains American Viticultural Area of southeastern New Jersey, Amalthea prides itself on blending new techniques with old French traditions. In honor of George Taber’s 1976 Judgment of Paris, in which American wines were favored over certain European ones, Amalthea hosted a similar competition at its estate in 2008. In 2012, it participated in the Judgment of Princeton, were it scored among the most renowned revered wineries of Italy and France, like Mouton-Rothschild. In the Judgment of Princeton, it won eighth in the white and ninth in the red category.
5. Sharrott Winery
The winery in Winslow Township was started in 2003 by the father-son duo of Larry Sharrott Jr and Larry Sharrott III. The winery relies solely on solar power to produces 100 percent of the energy needed for production and the heating and cooling of the buildings. Almost every weekend the Sharrotts have an event, like live music or tastings.
In the Finger Lakes Competition, Sharrott won a double gold, three silver, and five bronze medals in 2014 and eight silver medals in 2012. At the Garden State Competition it took home the Governor’s Cup in the grape category for its Vignoles, as well as two silver and six bronze medals.
6. Old York Cellars
Located in Ringoes in Hunterdon County, the property is made up of 25 acres of farmland, 13 acres of vineyards, and three estate buildings. It was the first vineyard to start producing wine under the 1981 New Jersey Farm Act, which eased Prohibition-era laws and has helped New Jersey become a growing wine region.
At the Finger Lakes Competition Old York won a double gold for its blackberry wine and a bronze for its Sweet Riesling in 2014 and a silver medal in 2012. At the Garden State Competition, it won the Best Sparkling Category for a Blanc de Blanc chardonnay. It also won a gold and two bronze medals at the San Francisco Chronicle competition.
7. Auburn Road Vineyards
Located in Pilesgrove, Auburn Road includes a vineyard and winery and enoteca — where wines can be tasted. Its Vineyard Stage at the enoteca features local musicians and national touring acts. Every Friday Auburn Road hosts a five-course meal with wine tastings.
The winery won two gold and four silver medals in 2014, two silvers in 2013, and two gold, one silver, and one bronze in 2012 at the Finger Lakes Competition.
8. DiMatteo Vineyard
Located in the Outer Coastal Plain American Viticultural Area in Hammonton, the winery is owned and operated by Frank DiMatteo, Jr. and his son Frank III.
At the Finger Lakes competition, DiMatteo won two gold, one silver, and four bronze medals in 2014 and three silver medals in 2012. At the Garden State Wine Competition, it won the Best American Varietal award for its Niagara Wine.
9. Cape May Winery and Vineyard
This winery is one of the premier tourist attractions in the Cape May area after about two decades of wine making. It owns four vineyards on 70 acres that grow 16 varieties of grapes. Its signature wine is a barrel-fermented chardonnay, which is aged in French oak for 16 months.
Cape May took home eight silver and four bronze medals in 2014, a double gold and a gold in 2013, and a gold, three silver, and two bronze medals in 2012 at the Finger Lakes Competition.
10. Renault Winery
Located in Egg Harbor City, the Renault Winery is one of the oldest continually operating wineries in the United States and it is one of New Jersey’s State Historical Sites. Louis Renault started the winery in 1864 in Egg Harbor City, because the soil was similar to what he knew in France. The vineyard was allowed to keep producing wine during Prohibition for religious purposes. It grows 12 varieties of grapes; the property houses a hotel, Tuscany House and Joseph’s Restaurant.
It won one silver medal at the Finger Lakes in 2014 and a gold and three silver medals in 2012. They won 18 medals total at the Garden State Wine Competition.