Wednesday, February 07, 2007

New Jersey Chocolate and Wine Weekend

For the love of wine and chocolate
Burlington County Times
February 6, 2007 3:03 PM

When it comes to romantic chemistry, couples either have it or they don't.

Bogie and Bacall had it. Mickey and Minnie still have it.

Brangelina? TomKat? No way.

One romantic duo that definitely has it — wine and chocolate — will be the star pairing Saturday and Sunday during the Garden State Wine Growers Wine and Chocolate Wine Trail Weekend.

The nonprofit organization is made up of more than two dozen New Jersey vineyards and works to spread the word about the state's wines.

According to the association, Garden State vintners bottled more than 1 million gallons of wine last year, in more than 40 different varieties, making New Jersey the fifth largest wine-producing state in the nation.

To give the public an opportunity to explore the area's wineries, the growers sponsor weekend events throughout the year. Three or four times a year, it offers a special event, such as the Wine and Chocolate Weekend.

Each winery will offer something different, but most will host wine tastings, new releases, tours, and of course, what's the most romantic time of the year without a little chocolate?

All participating wineries will be open for guests from noon to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Most activities are free, but there are a few exceptions. Check the association's Web site,, or contact the individual locations for more information.

In all, 18 New Jersey wineries will take part, including Valenzano Winery in Shamong.

Owned and operated by Tony Valenzano and his sons Anthony and Mark, Valenzano Winery will offer tastings of approximately 13 of its wines at no charge, including its reserve wine Cynthiana, and it latest release, Shamong White.

“It's a brand new, just-released product for us,” said Anthony Valenzano. “We're anticipating everyone is going to enjoy it. It's a light, semi-sweet, easy-to-drink white wine. It's the first event where we're promoting it.”

For the nibblers in your group, cheese and crackers as well as treats and goodies to drench in the chocolate fountain will be available to pair with the winery's raspberry, blueberry and strawberry dessert wines.

“We're just focusing on wine, entertainment and food,” Valenzano said. “We'll have a Cabot creamy cheese tasting, a chocolate tasting. We'll match chocolates with wines for Valentine's Day.”

“Our red raspberry wine, a sweet dessert wine made from red raspberries, goes with a dark chocolate dessert,” he said. “(Our) blueberry wine goes nice with milk chocolate or a cream cheese dessert. Dessert wines are all popular for Valentine's Day because chocolate is the thing.”

The Riverbank Duo, Dan Robbins and Judith Walter, a violinist and pianist, will provide romantic music from noon to 3 p.m. both days.

In neighboring Atlantic County, DiMatteo Vineyards in Hammonton also is opening its doors to the public this weekend, according to Frank DiMatteo, part-owner of the small, family-operated winery.

Weekend offerings at the vineyard will include all of its products, he said.

Guests can sample “the whole line that we produce,” he said. “There's nothing crafted special for the weekend, but it's about 12 wines.

“We have some dessert wines. Two fruit wines, a cranberry and a blueberry, and we've got a few whites and we're giving out little corkscrews this year.”

Another winery which has planted its roots in the sandy Hammonton soil is Tomasello Winery.

“My brother and I are partners in the winery, which has been in business since 1933. It's the oldest winery owned by the same family and the only third-generation winery in the state,” said winery vice president Jack Tomasello.

Built shortly after the end of Prohibition by Tomasello's grandfather, Jack's father and uncle took over the winery after the death of his grandfather, eventually handing the reins over to the brothers.

“My brother and I have been doing this for 25 years,” he said. “Last year, we did approximately 109,000 gallons sold domestically.”

Tomasello wines are sold in 26 states and exported to Japan, South Korea, parts of Singapore and Taiwan, he said.

Wine-making is the fastest growing agricultural industry in the state, according to Tomasello.

“It's happening all over. We had only a handful (of New Jersey wineries) and now we have close to 30.”

The winery has been participating in wine trail weekends for some time now, he said.

Sweet Shoppe truffles will be served this weekend, along with samples of Tomasello's fruit wines, and the winery will offer a four-course “Wine Lovers” dinner Saturday, according to Tomasello.

“We're doing a Valentine's Day weekend party and dance with gourmet food, wine and live music,” he said. The dinner, in the winery's banquet facility, will feature a choice of filet mignon or poached salmon and a chocolate torte with red raspberry wine for dessert, and costs $65 per person including tax and gratuity. Reservations are required.

Tomasello said certain wines will be paired with certain chocolates, such as the winery's blackberry and red raspberry dessert wines and “we'll talk about different wines that go with different foods.”

Vineyard visitors, residents as well as newcomers, should gain a new perspective on wine.

“We get new people who never knew we had New Jersey wines,” Tomasello said. “Many of our wines have won awards and we're getting people to see New Jersey as a wine state. Only 1 percent of the wine consumed in New Jersey is from New Jersey wineries. We're trying to make it 2. That's where education comes in.”

The weekend is a great opportunity for couples to spend a little quality pre-Valentine's Day time together and learn more about New Jersey wines.

“Every year it's getting bigger and bigger,” Tomasello said. It's the first introduction to New Jersey wines for most participants and we want to attract new people.”

Other state wineries participating in the Wine and Chocolate Weekend are:

Amalthea Cellars, 209 Vineyard Road in the Atco section of Waterford; (609) 768-8585 or The winery will host three chefs, in addition to its own staff, includng Robert Bennett, formerly of Le Bec-Fin and Miel Patisserie, who will discuss how to pair wine with food. Samples of Belgian chocolate, handmade pastries, gourmet cheeses and hor d'oeuvres will be offered to vineyard guests.

Westfall Winery, 141 Clove Road, Montague, (973) 293-3428 or

Four Sisters Winery, 783 County Route 519, Belvidere; (908) 475-3671 or

Alba Vineyard, 269 Route 627 in the Village of Finesville, Milford; (908) 995-7800 or

Amwell Valley Vineyard, 80 Old York Road in Ringoes; (908) 788-5852 or

Unionville Vineyards, 9 Rocktown Road, Ringoes; (908) 788-0400 or

Silver Decoy Winery, 610 Windsor-Perrineville Road, Hightstown; 609-371-6000 or

Hopewell Valley Vineyards, 46 Yard Road, Pennington; (609) 737-4465 or

Four JGs Winery, 127 Hillsdale Road, Colts Neck; 732-817-9463 or

Cream Ridge Winery, 145 Route 539, Cream Ridge; (609) 259-9797,

Heritage Vineyards, 480 Mullica Hill Road/Route 322, Richwood; (856) 589-4474 or

Tomasello Winery, 225 White Horse Pike, Hammonton; (800) 666-9463 or

DiMatteo Winery, 779 11th Street, Hammonton; 609-567-3909 or

Sylvin Farms Winery, 24 N. Vienna Ave., Galloway; (609) 965-1548.

Bellview Winery, 150 Atlantic St., Landisville; (856) 697-7172 or

Renault Winery, 72 N. Breman Ave., Egg Harbor City; (609) 965-2111 or

Cape May Winery, 709 Townbank Road, Cape May; (609) 884-1169 or

To view a Soundslide of the bottling process at Valenzano Winery, click here.