Renault Winery Review
Address: 72 N. Bremen Ave. Egg Harbor,New Jersey 08215.
Phone Number: 609-965-2111
Tasting Hours: Mon-Thurs 12:00-4:00, Fri 12:00-5:00, Sat 10:00-7:00, Sun 10:00-4:00
Region: Outer Coastal Plain AVA, New Jersey
Reviewer: Charlie Toms
Review Date: 6/15/2013
Reviewer: Charlie Toms
Renault is the oldest and best-known winery in New Jersey. The winery has a long and colorful history, and in recent years has blossomed into a full-fledged resort with two restaurants, a 50-room hotel, and an 18-hole golf course. In 1864, Louis Nicholas Renault planted a vineyard in Egg Harbor City, New Jersey using vinifera grapes from Europe. Renault had been a winegrower in the village of Mareuil-sur-Ay in the Champagne region of France, but much of Europes grapes were devastated by phylloxera (an aphid-like insect) in the mid-nineteenth century. With its mild climate and sandy soil, Egg Harbor was already a major winemaking area, and Renault had heard that New Jerseys vineyards were not affected by phylloxera.
Renault Winery (pronounced re-nalt, not re-noh) started selling wine in 1870 and soon became the largest producer of champagne in the United States. Prohibition would be no match for Renault Winery. In 1919, John DAgostino, a grocery store owner, purchased the winery from the Renault family. DAgostino obtained a permit from the federal government to make sacramental wines and various medicinal wines, including the 44-proof Renault Wine Tonic which was sold by pharmacists throughout the United States. Users were “warned” that chilling the tonic would cause the medicine to precipitate to the bottom leaving only wine!
While Renault once grew 600 acres of grapes and sold 500,000 cases of wine per year, global competition required that the winery reinvent itself. In 1977, newspaper publisher Joseph Milza purchased Renault, and began the transformation of the winery into a winery resort. Milza opened a gourmet restaurant in 1983, a hotel and second restaurant in 2000, and a golf-course in 2004. Today, Renault has 48 acres under cultivation, and produces around 20,000 cases of wine annually using over fifteen different varieties. Blueberries grown on site are used to flavor the winerys blueberry champagne.
Renault is in southern New Jerseys Outer Coastal Plain Viticultural Area which is composed of more than 25 wineries spread throughout 2,250,000 acres of farmland and forests. Renaults property spans 1,400 acres in the towns of Egg Harbor and Galloway with most of the land being environmentally-preserved pinelands. Upon approaching the winery, we passed a 25-foot concrete champagne bottle giving directions to the winery. In the early 20th century, Renault constructed a number of these iconic landmarks throughout southern New Jersey. The winery itself looks like a French chateau, whereas the hotels red roof gives the appearance of a Tuscan villa. Outside the front of the winery is a large wooden barrel with a picture of Louis Nicholas Renault painted on it.
Renault gives a highly informative 40-minute tour and tasting for $5, which includes a souvenir wine glass. The tour started in a meeting room where the walls are made of wine barrels and display paintings of key figures in Renaults history. Besides the standard fermenting tanks and bottling equipment, our guide showed us Renaults extensive collection of wineglass art and antique winemaking tools. At the end of the tour, we were led to a large wood-paneled tasting room with a rectangular bar. Despite having over 200 employees, the Milza family is actively involved with the operation of the winery, and the owners son served the wine samples.
I tried seven of Renault wines Riesling, Fleur de Blanc, Blueberry Champagne, Burgundy, Cabernet Sauvignon, Garden State Red, and American Port. The Riesling had the varietals characteristic fruity flavor, but could have been crisper. Fleur de Blanc is made from Noah, a white grape native to New Jersey, and was quite satisfying. This full-bodied semi-dry wine with a very slight tart taste would pair well with salmon or other strongly-flavored fish. The Blueberry Champagne possessed the appealing aroma of blueberry muffins without the tart taste of blueberries. Renault is only winery in the United States to make blueberry champagne, and because the winery has long made champagne, they have the right to label their sparkling wines as champagne even though they are not produced in France.
Renaults Burgundy is made primarily from Pinot Noir, with small quantities of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Petit Verdot. The Burgundy was mediocre, medium-bodied and dry, but lacking the rich flavor often seen with French Burgundies. The Cabernet Sauvignon was equally dry but much bolder. Garden State Red, which consists mostly of Baco Noir, was a bit sweeter than the other two reds, and had a mild oaky flavor. Garden State Red could be paired with a charbroiled steak. The American Port was the best wine that I tasted at Renault. Made from Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon, the port was strong, smooth, and sweet, and would go very well with a rich piece of chocolate cake.
Renault is open daily. While I highly recommend the tour/tasting combo, wine can be purchased at their gift shop and at festivals sponsored by the Garden State Wine Growers Association. Renault can also ship to residents of New Jersey and 38 other states that permit wine deliveries. Besides making good wines, Renault offers visitors a broad array of accommodations and an overall experience that I have not experienced elsewhere.