At Grape Beginnings, passionate wine aficionado Frank D’Aponte splits his time between producing his own high-quality vintages and instructing others on how to do the same. Frank has a decade of winemaking experience under his belt; as a third-generation winemaker, grape juice runs through his veins. Frank has deepened his knowledge with extensive travel throughout the Napa and Sonoma valleys, studying under master winemakers such as James Allen of Sequoia Grove Vineyards. Novice vintners delve into every aspect of the process, including pressing fresh grapes from California, Chile, Italy, and Argentina, racking in oak barrels, and bottling with custom-made labels.
A vineyard-lined drive and the panoramas of the Sourlands provide a feast for the eyes to complement the rich taste of Old York Cellars' wines, which include malbecs, syrahs, and chardonnays. After taking in the sights from beneath a shady umbrella on the expansive, stone-accented patio, oenophiles retreat to a timber-frame tasting room and sample from the award-winning wines and chocolates. To support the community, the vineyard also holds regular art exhibitions, holiday events, and meet-the-artist events.
Home to a rousing lineup of award-winning wines, Sharrott Winery's passionate staff helps make the nuanced art of drinking wine more easily accessible. Located on 35 rolling acres, the winery and vineyard crafts a host of varietals from start to finish—tending to rows of grapes and fermenting the juices at their on-site facility. Samples of nectars such as the silver medal-wearing dry riesling or the trio, a grape trifecta that results in smooth notes of vanilla, lilac, and fresh cherries, are available inside the spacious tasting room, which overlooks the vineyard so grapes can mature before guests' very eyes.
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.
At Staten Island Winery, wine enthusiasts transform into bona fide winemakers. They do so under the guidance of Bob Rando, who holds rank as the winery's owner and as an accredited winemaster. Bob and his team walk aspiring vintners through the process, starting with the crushing of grapes and ending with the bottling of finished products. Participants can even choose what kind of wine they make, either by selecting from the facility's list or coming up with their own blend.
Brooklyn Winery's team crafts small-batch, artisanal wines in Williamsburg—and if winemaking in an urban environment sounds odd to customers, they can always find out how it works during Tuesday winery tours. The tour guides walk groups through their entire process, from the moment the grapes arrive at the facility to when the cork goes in the final wine bottle, trapping the wine genie inside for good. Of course, the process varies from wine to wine. The team ages some vintages in stainless-steel containers, while the barrel-fermented riesling is aged, predictably, in oak barrels, an old-school technique that originated in prerefrigeration Germany. The result? A quirky riesling with hints of soapstone, mushroom, and honey.
The team doesn't just reclaim old German traditions, though. For their unpretentious 1,200-square-foot wine bar, they also reclaimed most of the building materials. In the cozy, unpretentious bar, visitors sip vintages pulled from wine racks that were once World War II ammo boxes; the walls, meanwhile, were barn wood in a past life, and the bar itself is made from old church pews, completing the aura of modernity rooted in history.