Join Beneduce Vineyard's Winemaking Club
I've been working with the New Jersey wine industry for nearly 30 years. When I started, there were only 12 wineries in the state. There are more than 50 now, and many of them are making world-class-quality wine. One such winery, Beneduce Vineyards in Pittstown, is also helping its customers craft a barrel all their own.
I was first introduced to Justen Beneduce when she was in my wine class at Rutgers and she told me of her family's interest in starting a winery. At the time, the family ran a very successful nursery business on their 51-acre farm. While Justen pursued a degree in business and marketing, her brother Mike was studying viticulture and enology at Cornell University. Once they both completed their degrees, they brought their knowledge home, and the results are evident throughout their family's new winery business, from the signage to the building, from the bottle labels to the website, and of course, in the wine itself.
Ten acres of vines were planted here in 2009 and there are plans to turn over another three acres to grapes next year. During a recent tour I took with Mike, it was obvious that the land is well-tended and the winemaker has done his research. When asked why he isn't planting Cabernet Sauvignon, Mike explained that before he started planting grapes on the property, he researched his soils, his climate, his drainage, and the length of his growing season in order to deduce what grapes were best suited for his site. As a result, he knew he could not produce a quality Cabernet on his land – and his goal is to produce top-quality wine. He believes that if the wine is great, even if it's not a wine people are familiar with, it will sell.
My tour of the vineyard included, naturally, a tasting session. Beneduce's 2011 Chardonnay had complex aromas of apple and Bartlett pear, with just a slight hint of French and American oak. The 2012 Chardonnay still in barrel was even more complex, with pineapple and citrus aromas and more weight on the palate. These wines were among the best Chardonnays I have experienced in New Jersey, and a surprise considering that this winery just opened last year. The Rieslings, too, had incredible character and complexity, showing that northwest Jersey has a great climate for this grape. But Mike's talent doesn't stop with the whites. I also tasted a Cabernet Franc-Blaufränkisch blend that displayed gorgeous aromas of cherry, black pepper, mocha and spice.
To help pass on the passion of winemaking to their clients, Beneduce Vineyards has started a winemaking club, an opportunity for wine lovers to handcraft their very own barrel of wine at a real vineyard and winery. The total process takes nine months and includes crushing, pressing, racking and bottling. Club members use the same equipment used by the winery. At Beneduce, grapes for the club are sourced from the family's own vineyards but also from some of the finest vineyards in California and Chile. Mike asks club members what wine they especially like – and sometimes encourages them to bring in a bottle of their favorite domestic or international wine – and will help them craft a similar wine.
"The winemaking club debunks the mystery that surrounds wine and winemaking, and helps our guests understand the process in its purest form, from vine to bottle," Mike says. "It's also a great opportunity to enjoy wine's power of bringing people together."
I met one of the club members while I was visiting Beneduce, and she told me that the winemaking club was an "unforgettable experience from beginning to end. Everyone in the group has a much deeper appreciation for the wine after seeing the labor and love that are required throughout the process."
Beneduce Vineyards currently has nearly 100 club members and the number is expanding. If you're interested in crafting your own barrel, contact the winery.
AND THE WINNERS ARE
The New Jersey Wine Competition was held in May with 254 wines entered, and 14 gold, 34 silver and 105 bronze medals awarded. The top-scoring wine was a Syrah from Silver Decoy Winery in Robbinsville. Also receiving gold medals were Alba Vineyard (for their Chambourcin, Port, Pinot Noir, Raspberry, Riesling, Gewürztraminer), Cedarvale Winery (Cabernet Franc, Strawberry), Heritage Vineyards (Brut Rosé), Sharrott Winery (Chambourcin), Terhune Orchards (Peach), Tomasello Winery (Blackberry) and Unionville Vineyards (Port).
The Best of Show Governor's Cup awards went to Cedarvale Winery for their Cabernet Franc, Terhune Orchards for their Peach and Unionville Vineyards for their Port. The Winery of the Year award went to Alba Vineyard.