At Renault Winery Resort & Golf, a glimpse into history begins at a wine barrel. Fashioned from the top of an old oak cask, a gold-lettered sign marks the entrance to the state-registered historic site, where staff cultivates and harvests 12 local and international grape varietals across more than 31 acres of vineyards. This flourishing estate owes its existence to one man, whose journey began nearly 150 years ago.
In the mid-1800s, vintner Louis Nicholas Renault plied his trade in Rheims, France. When a parasitic aphid nearly crippled France’s winemaking industry, Renault fled to California, where the insect struck again. He followed rumors of an aphid-resistant American grape varietal to the fields of New Jersey where he found a climate similar to that of his native France—and his winemaking flourished.
Not even Prohibition could halt his operation, which continued under a special permit. After his death in 1948, the winery continued to expand for the next five decades, adding a chateau, 50-room inn, and restaurant by 2001. Since then, Renault Winery has offered lodging and entertainment in addition to the fruits of its vines.
Visitors to the Tuscany House won’t remember crossing the Atlantic Ocean, which is perfectly normal. The House’s decadent lobby, an inner courtyard with a garden, mimics the villas of Italy: its marble columns and curving staircase lead up to a mezzanine constantly patrolled by at least one member of the Swiss Guard. Off the lobby, hallways lead to private rooms and suites filled with king-size beds and heavy wood furnishings.
Joseph's Restaurant melds the estate’s Mediterranean charm with New Jersey influence. Executive Chef Joseph DeGennaro—whom food critic Bob Bickell described as “outstanding” in his Restaurant Report—fills plates with Tuscan burgers and pastas tossed with grilled chicken and lobster.
Arbor-covered corridors and rambling lawns dappled with statuettes lead to the winery. On tours, guides lead visitors past the mixing and fermentation tanks while revealing the steps of the winemaking process. After the tour, groups select samples from more than 32 varieties of wine. The on-site wineglass museum lets groups dive further into the world of wine, displaying glassware dating back to the 13th century.
Visitors don’t have to join in the harvest to experience the grounds firsthand. Vineyard Golf, an 18-hole championship-level course, winds through the rolling vineyards. Players drive down open fairways, avoid five water hazards, and putt onto greens nestled against the rows of plantings.
Herds of buffalo and cows graze between hundreds of fruit-bearing trees. But it’s the grapes sprouting throughout Cassinelli Winery & Vineyards' 110 wooded and open acres that matter most. Each hand-selected and sustainably farmed grape emerges from the earth to take its first step toward becoming one of 12 wines produced at the vineyard. Those include a 2009 barbera reserve and a 2009 merlot, bronze- and gold-medal winners, respectively, at the Maryland Governor’s Cup, a cup always filled with wine or melted cheese. Five total medals have distinguished Cassinelli wines, which the company’s sommeliers share at their tasting room, events, and a quartet of outlets throughout the state.
For Denise and John Wilkerson, owning a vineyard had always been a shared dream, but not one they thought would ever be realized. Wandering through the French regions of Dijon and Bordeaux on their honeymoon, the two sampled myriad wines and mustards, refining their palates and developing an appreciation for wine-dipped mustard sandwiches. Back in the states, the two tried their hand at cattle farming before making a dramatic decision: they'd sell the cattle, work on beautifying their 20 acres of land, and find a sunny patch of earth to plant those first few rows of wine grapes.
Today, the two curate tastings of their award-winning wines in a renovated barn, where barrels have been re-purposed into tables, and grapes have been re-purposed as alcohol. Through open doors, the rustic tasting room looks out over the Wilkersons' 20 acres, which are populated by rows of grapes and the lush undergrowth of native plants.
Built in 1750, the old bank barn on the Sweetwater Farm bed-and-breakfast property boasted a diverse resumé before it fell into disrepair more than two centuries later; it held malting barley for distilled spirits, sheltered herds of livestock, and even hosted a party or two. After a two-year renovation completed in 2010, the barn came out of retirement to fulfill its new purpose: hosting french-oak barrels and stainless-steel fermentation tanks—custom-made in South Africa—that quietly ferment and age small-batch wines from the property's 5-acre vineyard.
Grace Winery's European-origin varietals, grown on California vines that were transplanted by hand and carrier pigeon, include merlot, pinot gris, and petit verdot. Winemaker Sean Kramer combines new technology with tried-and-true tradition to create wines such as the bright 2010 rosé, which was served at the brunch the day after Prince Albert of Monaco’s wedding. His other wines include the 2010 chardonnay reserve, aged for 14 months in french oak that imbues it with dark caramel and butterscotch flavors, and the crisp 2011 pinot gris, whose light honeysuckle aromas lead to delicate hints of citrus and melon.
To get to know Philadelphia's Main Line, visitors could spend days on the road, meticulously traveling from Bala Cydwyd to Malvern in search of new, notable hotspots. However, they could also save themselves the wear and tear by researching their destinations in Main Line Today Magazine. The glossy guide highlights area restaurants, boutiques, and salons while sharing background on the region's culture, stories, and most eligible eccentric billionaires. Striking photos accompany thoughtful feature pieces; recent topics of interest include everything from behind-the-scenes stories from multicultural weddings to lists of the area's best doctors.
Mixology Wine Institute's oenophilic classes teach aspiring mixologists and mixonomists how to craft a diverse roster of libations while regaling students with the rich history and social function of the cocktail. The seasoned staff—which includes a resident sommelier and beer experts—dispense thoughtful nuggets of drink-dispensing wisdom, such as ways to add flair to a bartending routine, various wine-and-food pairings, and how to win a cocktail-sword duel. Each session takes place in the institute's well-equipped classroom, which simulates a real bar setting with working soda guns, sinks, and a full catalog of liquors. Pupils leave classes with the knowledge necessary to help bargoers make informed drink decisions.
The 8th Annual Harvest Festival will showcase the 2010 vintage grapen goodness of eight distinct wineries along the Brandywine Valley Wine Trail. With barbecues, hayrides, and free license to use words such as oaky, robust, and foozy, the festival is bound to please cork-poppers of all philosophies. Tickle ear hammers with live music on the 26th and 3rd at Black Walnut Winery or at Chaddsford Winery, which is also hosting a festival wine sale. The Kreutz Creek Vineyards are having their second-annual Grape Stomping Competition on the 25th and 2nd, and Stargazers Vineyard is holding a blending workshop (additional $5 fee).