Wine Tour in New Jersey
Tasting the Good Life on the Skylands Wine Trail
by Dr. Audrey Cross
Dawn at Villa Milagro Vineyard
The world was shocked in 1976 when a California wine toppled France in an international blind-tasting competition. Unrivaled for centuries, wines from the New World were challenging its position.
Closely regulated, French wines are grown in “appellations” – areas and regions of the country which have ideal soil and weather conditions to produce premium wines. Today the US recognizes 188 officially designated “appellations” spread across 25 states.
Needless to say, the majority (95%) are in California. New Jersey’s first appellation, called an AVA or American Viticultural Area, is located right here in the Highlands. Named “Warren Hills AVA” it covers 226 square miles and includes within its borders Four Sisters Winery and Brook Hollow Winery near Belvidere and Villa Milagro Vineyards in Finesville. Other wineries that make the Highlands their home include Westfall Winery and Ventimiglia Winery in Sussex County, and Unionville Vineyards, Old York Cellars and Beneduce Vineyards in Hunterdon county. So, dust off your picnic basket, wipe off your wine glasses and head out to taste the good life in the Highlands!
At the “top of New Jersey,” located in Montague, NJ is Westfall Winery. With a colorful history that begins in the 1700s and includes chapters on the Continental Congress, the Underground Railroad, and most recently, its legendary Morgan horses, Westfall turned a new leaf in 2000 when Loren Mortimer, a third-generation owner, and his winemaking wife, Georgene, broke ground to plant a vineyard. With High Point monument in the distance and horses trotting around this working horse farm, you will enjoy a relaxing time sampling wines and visiting the historic grounds of this lovely farm.
Travel a bit west into Wantage to visit Ventamiglia Winery. Owners Anne and Gene Ventamiglia have been making wine for decades and have finally decided to share their talents. Newly opened, their tasting room is inviting and friendly. You will feel like part of the family when you join Anne and Gene to taste their wines.
Dropping down just north of Route 80 in Columbia, you will find Brook Hollow Winery which opened in Fall 2007. Brothers Paul and Richard Ritter have long sold fruit from Brook Hollow farm and offered “Pick-your-own” peaches, apples and pumpkins. They might invite you back in October to help with harvest, but no need to wait as you can enjoy their grape and fruit wines now!
From Columbia, drop down to Rt.80 and travel east a short distance to CR519 then South to Four Sisters Winery, just north of Belvidere. Owner, Robert “Matty” Matazzaro, prides himself on the fun events held at his farm. From corn maize to hayrides to grape stomping, murder mystery dinners and weddings, you will find many reasons to return again to Four Sisters.
Nearby places to settle in for the night include the RoseMary Inn and Hotel Belvidere. The RoseMary Inn the beautifully appointed RoseMary Inn, a bed and breakfast located on 17 pastoral acres in scenic Knowlton Township. The Hotel Belvidere is located in Belvidere, a charming Victorian town located on the banks of the Delaware and Pequest Rivers.
While in the area take time to visit historic Belvidere and admire the lacey porch Victorian houses, Italianate structures and the county’s seat offices. A central park makes this quiet little town a lovely retreat. Continue across Routes 57 and 22, then through the boro of Alpha.
A right turn on High Street will join you with Carpentersville Road where a left onto Oberly will bring you through the Alpha Grasslands, approximately 1000 acres of preserved open space and farmland designated part of the Natural Heritage Priority program of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s Green Acres Program. NJ is in a direct migration route between Canada and Mexico for thousands of birds. Bring your binoculars to see not only birds native to our state but also those in transit to their homes elsewhere.
Continue on Oberly to a dead end, then right on Snyders Road through the quaint village of Carpentersville. Left at the dead end takes you pass a Fish Hatchery that is a source of trout for local rivers and streams, including the Musconetcong River and Pohatcong Creek.
Continue south on River Road with the Delaware on your right. The years 2005 and 2007 saw the river swell to its 100 year high mark, leaving a path of destruction along its shores and on islands in the middle of the river. When you reach the Rieglesville Bridge note that the water’s high mark splashed again the bottom of the bridge, threatening to damage this 100 year old historic landmark. The bridge was constructed by John A. Roebling, builder of the Brooklyn Bridge.
Facing you as you motor past the bridge is the Pohatcong Mercantile. Recently saved by a group of local citizens, the old general store once served employees of the Rieglesville Paper Company, one of several papermills that graced the Delaware. Currently under historic restoration, the Mercantile will one day open as a general store.
Following the road left, you come to Villa Milagro Vineyards. Opened in 2007, Villa Milagro is one of the state’s newest wineries. This 104 acres preserved farm hosts the east coast’s only organic vineyard with eleven acres planted with twelve varieties of grapes. Meaning “the place or home of miracles,” Villa Milagro produces blended wines that highlight the best of each varietal yielding one-of-a-kind wines. Owner Dr. Audrey Cross, a reknowned nutritionist, will help you understand the health benefits as well as the pleasures of wine.
Continuing east on CR627 to Bloomsbury then south on CR579 into Hunterdon County, you will pass through one Star-Bangled borough after another and miles of lush farmland, reaching Ringoes. In Ringoes you will find Unionville Vineyards, housed in a barn built originally in 1858. Fox hunting, a sport practiced in the Amwell Valley, is the theme of beautiful original art work that graces the tasting room and labels of Unionville’s wines.
Exhausted and satiated, your taste of the good life in the Highlands will hopefully make you proud to boast to Californians, French and New Yorkers alike that indeed there are wines from Jersey…. and mighty fine ones at that!