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.
Perched on a hill overlooking northern Baltimore County's scenic valleys, Royal Rabbit Vineyards typically provides guests pleasing views throughout the year. It isn't until late spring and summer, however, that the landscape begins to change: heavy green and purple orbs crop up along 4 acres of climbing grapevines. By fall, the heavy, ripened grapes are ready for harvest—later on they’ll be turned into the winery’s award-winning wines or used as low-impact marbles. The small winery lies along the Piedmont Wine Trail and Mason-Dixie Wine Trail, which connects more than 20 small, family-owned wineries in Pennsylvania and Maryland.
In keeping with the Royal Rabbit Vineyards motto—"Treat yourself royally"—many of the wines have royal titles, including a cabernet franc blend dubbed “the duke.” Wine labels display a kingly rabbit holding a golden chalice.
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.
Growing up, Marcie Spampinato watched her father, Mike, masterfully manage a local country club. By seventh grade, she was working alongside him, and today—with a restaurant management degree from Penn State under her belt—she joins with Mike to co-manage their steak-and-sushi joint, Spamps.
Chefs trained in Japan artfully stuff the eatery's sushi rolls with fresh ingredients such as black-pepper-crusted tuna and flying fish roe. Fusion flourishes such as kimchi tartar sauce, miso beurre blanc, and sake reductions give entrees such as rib-eye steak an Asian flair.
And much like a chocoholic's dream journal, the eatery's new cocktails revolve around sweet flavors, especially Marcie's favorite, the pumpkin-pie martini. Libations, which also include wine and beer, flow freely behind a copper bar with TVs or fill glasses in a dining room with exposed brick walls and private booths. At an outdoor patio dubbed The Grotto, lofted TVs illuminate trellises and tabletops as well as bar-goers shimmying to a live DJ's beats on Friday and Saturday nights.
Your tongue won't be the only sensory organ experiencing Morocco, though. The restaurant's walls are decorated with murals of the Moroccan landscape and dotted with pottery and artwork, and Moroccan music wafts through the air like hookah smoke. After sinking like a sultan into Taste of Morocco's lush maroon-and-gold pillows and chairs, warm up the palate with some mint tea before diving into Taste of Morocco's most popular treat: bastilla, a thin pastry of phyllo dough stuffed with a variety of ingredients. The chicken bastilla is marinated and stuffed with almonds, parsley, and onions, all topped with confectioner's sugar and cinnamon. The vegetarian bastilla, on the other hand, mixes stewed vegetables with parsley, cilantro, onions, almonds, and Moroccan spices. A small bastilla for two is $15.99, while a large bastilla for eight is $49.99.
Chris, Cardinal Hollow Winery's owner and winemaker, ferments more than 2,000 gallons of juice each year to fill the facility's wood-paneled, cabin-like interior and its tasting room with more than 25 innovative varieties of the potent potable. Both independently and as part of the grape-cobbled highway of the Montgomery County Wine Trail, Cardinal Hollow invites visitors to wet their whistles at tastings and nourish brain orchards in classes. A two-hour lesson includes a full tour of the facilities such as the tasting room, which can be rented for parties of up to 100 people. Along with a tasting, guests will be given an overview of the history and the process of winemaking. During the class, oenophiles sink incisors into salty cheese and crackers while absorbing lessons on wine-and-food pairings at a bar that's supported by sturdy wine barrels. Guests can also peruse Cardinal Hollow wearables at the winery’s retail shop or groove to the live music that permeates the air about once a month.