Western New Jersey isn’t exactly brimming with nightlife or locales full of widely-reviewed dining options (although towns like Lambertville or Hackettstown will surprise a lot of people). But to be fair, you don’t really take a trip out to counties like Warren to “rage.” The West—more specifically Hunterdon, Warren and Sussex counties (part of Morris County, too, if we want to split hairs)— affords visitors plenty of room to breathe and gorgeous scenery to explore.
There’s no place better in the state for hiking, biking, fresh-water fishing and camping; or, if you’re not quite looking for so much adventure, there are a number of opportunities to take in pastoral landscapes over some fantastic local produce, cider or beer.
While there are also multiple vineyards in this region, all of the wine we’ve tried in the past has been comparable to what you’d experience anywhere in the state. And though there are some truly beautiful settings to enjoy at several of the region’s wineries, none of the wineries alone are quite worthy of a day trip. This week, however, everything we thought we knew about wine from West Jersey was undone after a visit to Beneduce Vineyards in the quaint, unassuming farm town of Pittstown in Hunterdon County.
Open to the public for just over a decade, Beneduce is a family-owned and -operated vineyard that produces estate wines of a quality on par with the most heralded wineries on the East Coast, regardless of the growing region. (And, you don’t have to take our word for it; four of their wines received 90+ points from James Suckling.)
The folks at Beneduce have taken great care to cultivate varieties of grapes that can not only survive in our unique climate, but flourish in the local terroir to create great-tasting wines. On their property you’ll find familiar grapes like Chardonnay, Riesling, Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir, yet, its the successful maturation of less common varieties (in the region) like Gewürztraminer and Blaufränkisch— which feature prominently on the tasting room menu—that exemplify the vineyard manager’s expertise and sets Beneduce’s wine apart from its peers in the state.
Our visit: The Beneduce family has done a fantastic job creating a warm, inviting atmosphere and thereby an overwhelmingly positive experience for patrons. Visitors are encouraged to relax, enjoy themselves and explore everything the vineyard has to offer by staff members who are attentive, friendly and extremely knowledgeable about their product.
The indoor facility is an impressively renovated storage barn that houses the winery and tasting room. Before taking a seat at the tasting room bar, we were greeted by vineyard overseer, Louie the dog ,which now stands as our favorite welcome of all time, anywhere. It’s worth noting that I don’t think this is the customary greeting and if you’re not a dog person, you have nothing to be concerned about considering we may have welcomed or even initiated the interaction. It’s also worth noting that well-behaved, leashed dogs are allowed on premises in the outside seating areas.
The terroir at Beneduce might not actually be the most picturesque of all West Jersey vineyards, but it’s producing some incredible wine. The tasting was reasonably priced at $15 (on par with or lower than most of the other wineries we tried), and we learned quite a bit about each of their varieties and the history of the vineyard with each pour.
Of the many wines we sampled, the Gewürztraminer (aromatic, full-flavored white) and Blaufränkisch (the signature red, rich and savory with a spicy finish) were special; we truly couldn’t believe that estate wines of this quality could be done in Jersey and had to purchase a bottle of each to take home. Each wine was well-refined and balanced, indicative of both the care taken in cultivating the grapes and in the winemaking process.
Before leaving the tasting room to explore the grounds a bit, we bought a glass of the chilled acqua pazza (“crazy water”) to walk with. A tasty and refreshing, lower ABV% spritzer made from pressed Blaufränkisch skins and local wildflower honey, acqua pazza is a perfect companion for a hot summer afternoon. And while we were on a strictly liquid diet for this visit, cured meats and cheeses are available for purchase and make for proper pairings.
When to go: We visited Beneduce on a weekday in the early afternoon. Though the outside seating areas had plenty of patrons, there was still ample room to sit on the covered or uncovered patios or inside at the bar/tables in the tasting room. If you’re planning a trip for any other time, we strongly suggest making a reservation online. On the weekends Beneduce does special events or smaller festivals with food trucks and live music—there’s an outdoor stage set up in front of another uncovered seating area with picnic tables and plenty of standing room (and a bocce court off to the side).
To be expected, weekends are typically the most lively of times at the vineyard, but if you have the ability to sneak away on a weekday afternoon, you won’t be disappointed or feel like you’ve missed out. It’s a wine experience that Jersey can be proud of.