New Jersey’s nickname is “The Garden State”. As someone who grew outside NYC that moniker seemed surprising…until I visited southern NJ. I swear, the burbs of northern end of the state is like a different world from the farmland in the southern part.
I found Auburn Road several years ago by accident; after traveling several hours on I-95 I wanted a pit-stop, and looking at my wine map I found a winery conveniently close to the Delaware Bridge. I passed farm after farm until I drove down a dirt road advertising the ‘enoteca’, located in a refurbished horse barn.
To my surprise, they had not only wine but were also serving pizza – something that’s on the menu many evenings. Needless to say, you won’t go hungry or thirsty here, so I’ve been back several times.
Auburn Road is on the border of two appellations; the Inner and Outer Coastal Plain AVAs. The former is a mix of silt, sand and clay; the latter is characterized by sandy or sandy loam soil. On top of that, the Delaware River acts as a mellowing influence to the weather, so the temperature here rarely gets especially cold and it isn’t quite as humid as my home of Virginia. In other words – this is not only FARM country, but good terroir for vines.
Owner Scott Donnini explained he started off as a… corporate lawyer! That’s right, no farm or winery background at all (although he IS New Jersey Italian…so that should count for something on the wine background). Ironically enough, one of Scott’s consultants was none other than Tom Payette, from Grey Ghost Vineyards in Virginia. Scott’s wife Julianne became the (self-taught) wine maker, and in 2007 they opened to the public.
Today they have 23 acres of vines on two vineyards (one sandy loam/clay, the other gravely/sandy) and produce around 4500 cases/year. The vineyards are a mix of vinifera and hybrids, including Chambourcin, Vidal and Cayuga. Of the vinifera, Cabernet Franc is the star…although Petit Verdot is making inroads (Scott was very proud of his). It’s actually a similar story to Virginia – the terroir of the two have a lot in common, so New Jersey’s younger wine industry is taking cues from what’s going on in the Dominion state.
Scott explained Auburn Road’s biggest challenge is getting the public to take New Jersey wines seriously. The reality is when people think of NJ, vineyards and wineries are NOT what they think of – despite the “Garden State” nickname and hosting over 65 wineries. Still, it’s a growing business, and NJ wines are starting to get noticed.
As for the wines they make, Auburn Road makes a mix of sweet and dry styles. Scott noted that he and Julianne are in the business of making people happy, so they have a huge assortment of wines of all styles including several fruit wines. I personally tasted about a dozen samples, and still didn’t complete the roster.
I particularly liked the red-blends. Good Karma was a nice ‘starter’ red, and well-priced too. Gaia had the best complexity, while Eidolon was the heaviest and smokiest. As befitting a winery that styles itself after Italy, they even had a Chianti-style! All were well done.
Of the whites, I ended up bringing home a bottle of the 2017 Chardonnay (the “White Bottle”), which I thought had great acidity and was nicely complimented by its French Oak. But I liked the Provence-style Rose a lot too, as well as the 2018 NV Blanc.
Of the sweeter options, I found myself surprised by their Vidal Blanc – which went down way to easily (the surprise was not that it wasn’t well done, but I usually don’t enjoy this grape). Rounding out the lighter options were the “Give Peach a Chance” (which I swear was like biting into a fresh peach) and their Granny Smith-driven apple wine.
One of the biggest surprises was their Petit Verdot. I’m a huge fan of this grape, which grows well all over the eastern seaboard. It was rustic to me – but in this case, I say that in a good way. I tasted strong black cherry and earth notes. I’d decant this to smooth it out, but it’s definitely drinkable now.
So if you never been to a New Jersey winery – start here! If all of them are like this, you’ll be back soon enough.