Natali Vineyards Review
Address: 221 US Highway 47 Cape May Courthouse,New Jersey 08210.
Phone Number: 609-465-0075
Tasting Hours: See website for wine tasting details.
Region: Outer Coastal Plain AVA, New Jersey
Reviewer: Charlie Toms
Review Date: 8/3/2013
Reviewer: Charlie Toms
Cape May County is a major resort area in New Jersey, consisting of a number of popular beach communities including Cape May, Wildwood, and Ocean City. The county is also blessed with six wineries, including Natali Vineyards. Al Natali, a network engineer and college professor, planted a vineyard in 2001 on a former horse pasture. Natali partnered with Ray Pensari and Tony Antonelli, two real estate developers, and the tasting room opened to the public in 2007. The winery sits on 22 acres of land on the Delaware Bay near the village of Goshen. Natali is in the Outer Coastal Plain Viticultural Area, which consists of more than 25 Southern New Jersey wineries, and is a member of the Garden State Wine Growers Association. Currently, Natali has 7 acres of grapes under cultivation, and produces around 1,800 cases of wine per year.
The winery cannot be seen from the road, but a wooden sign marks its entrance. After driving down a narrow, gravel driveway, the farmhouse and vineyards appear. Adjacent to the house is a wooden pirate statute and a patio with chairs, tables, and tents that Natali uses to hold events in the summer. The tasting room is small and rustic and feels like the inside of a house. Two blackboards list the selection of wines, and a shelf behind the tasting counter displays all their vintages. Natali produces wine from Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Dolcetto, Merlot, Muscat Blanc, Nebbiolo, Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, Tempranillo, Trebbiano, Viognier, and Zinfandel grapes. They also produce wine from bananas, beach plums, blackberries, blueberries, cherries, cranberries, peaches, pineapples, plums, and strawberries. A few of Natalis wines are rare nobody else in New Jersey sells plum wine or banana wine – and they are the only winery in the world known to produce wine from beach plums, a fruit that grows wild in coastal areas and is often used to make jams.
The atmosphere at Natali is very relaxed, and service is excellent. Ray Pensari reminds me of a bartender in a country pub who makes everyone feel at home. I tasted six of Natalis wines Goshen, Pinot Grigio, Meadow’s Edge, Shiraz, Beach Plum, and Banana. Goshen is made from Trebbiano grapes, and had a mild fruity flavor. I would pair Goshen with a traditional turkey dinner. The Pinot Grigio was crisp and had a much stronger fruit flavor. Meadows Edge, also known as Nonnos Cellar Wine, is based on a secret family recipe. During Prohibition, it was legal to produce wine for personal consumption, and the grandfather of one of the owners made wine from grapes grown in Lodi, California. The wine was strong, dry, and smooth, and Im wagering that its mostly Zinfandel blended with a bit of Tempranillo.
The Shiraz was full-bodied and spicy and could accompany a grilled steak. Beach Plum was a bit of a disappointment, especially since I had tried it some years ago and had liked it. While it had the characteristic tartness that beach plums are renowned for, it also had an unpleasant acerbic taste. My understanding is that beach plums are notoriously difficult to cultivate and there can be wide variations in fruit quality and taste from year to year, so I would be open to trying this wine again in the future. The Banana Wine was unique it was smooth, sweet, and had the aroma of bananas, but in no way tasted like bananas. At this point, Pensari invited me into the back room to see the banana bucket, which was filled with thousands of chopped-up bananas in the process of being fermented.
I really liked Natali Vineyards. They offer wines that aren’t available elsewhere and the atmosphere is relaxed and unrushed. Natali charges a $5 fee to taste five wines, but they were more than willing to let me taste a sixth wine free of charge. If you cannot make it to Natali, their wine is sold at a handful of restaurants and festivals around the state, can be hand-delivered to anywhere in Cape May County, and can be shipped to residents of New Jersey and 38 other states that permit wine deliveries.