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.
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.
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.
Blue Mountain Vineyards owners, Joe and Vickie, are pinot pioneers. Beginning with a 5-acre experiment in 1986, they discovered that the soil of the Lehigh Valley does a fine impression of French terrain, making it suitable for growing the grapes of cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, and other European varietals. Since then, they've expanded to a 50-acre plot, where they now produce wines that have won awards from the Fingerlake International Wine Competition and Appellation America.
Panoramic views of the Blue Mountains overlook scenic terraces at the vineyards, where grapes spring from soil that soldiers roamed during the Revolutionary War. Tastings, concerts, and other events fill the winery's glass-flanked deck, spilling onto an outdoor patio surrounded by ponds as tranquil as a silent lullaby. Visitors admire the vines during tours, and they can also adopt their favorites to preserve the vines' flavorful histories.
Tasting Time is a wine-tasting event for vino enthusiasts and young professionals at Octo Waterfront Grille, a new waterside restaurant that offers scenic views of the marina and Ben Franklin Bridge. With ample space for more than 400 attendees to gather under giant tents, guests will have opportunities to make new connections sans the aid of social-networking hoodoo while sampling six different wines and champagnes, complemented by various food selections from Octo’s seafood-rich menu. In addition to socializing with wine experts and intriguing strangers, vine disciples can enjoy the beautiful waterside surroundings or loudly talk about their boss's poor tie selection, only to find out he was standing behind them the entire time. During the event, you'll gain a rare chance to gobble up more of Octo's menu selections with a special 10% discount, and at the end of the evening, you'll get to take home your own souvenir tasting glass.
WineO's chefs harvest the fruits of the Mediterranean and fuse them with American sensibilities to forge a menu of Mediterranean-inspired finery. The steamy bouillabaisse joins mussels, calamari, and bay scallops in a sumptuous broth ($20), showcasing just a smidgen of the selection of fresh sea meats culled from Philly's Italian Market. A savory mushroom-onion sauce keeps the new york strip decently dressed with piquant flavor even after its fetching dressing of potatoes and veggies has disappeared ($22), and pasta quattro formaggi melts gorgonzola, fontina, mozzarella, and parmesano into a creamy, rich sauce ($13) that makes noodles taste divine and forks twirl like a ballet dancer covered in crème fraiche. All desserts and breads are crafted fresh each day on-site, and all other ingredients are sourced from nearby Italian markets whenever possible.