Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Beneduce Vineyards - The New Kid on the Block (NJ)

I was running early to get to a business dinner last week, in Pennsylvania, when I decided to make a left hand turn and stop in at Beneduce Vineyards. A fellow dinner guest, John Whalen, of Cider Mill Press, asked what I was doing, because he too was running early. I told him he could join me. And he did. We met in the parking lot. He asked me if I had ever been there before, and  told him I had not. I told him that it was a newer winery, and that this was my first time visiting this one. But I also told him they'd been getting a lot of nice write-ups, and press, and I wanted to see for myself what all the fuss was about.
The Beneduces opened the doors of the winery on Jeremiah Lane in Pittstown, New Jersey to the public in July of 2012. This is a family affair. Their son makes the wine. Their daughter runs the events and marketing. And Dad and mother are the overseers. Michael Beneduce Sr. was a successful nursery and gardening retailer. And his love of home winemaking begat a new business. It's obvious that careful planning went into the venture. And they've obviously put a lot of time and money to try and do it right.  

We tried a half-dozen wines. Several were made from New York state fruit because the vineyard had not produced the necessary fruit up 'til now. In some cases, these wines contained a small amount of estate fruit. Others were a blend of New Jersey grapes and estate grapes. A one was an all estate affair. However, that said, I thought it was still a very good experience. Over all, I can tell you before I recount the wines individually, is that on a whole, our tasting experience was fantastic. For such a young winery, the wines were very well done, with nice balance and complexity, and across the board along a range of styles. Very, very nicely done.

The first wine we tasted was the Three Windows White Riesling 2012. The east wall of their winery is framed by three vintage windows that originally graced a schoolhouse in the 1870s.  Today, these restored beauties drench the tasting room in sunlight. This wine was cold fermented and aged to maximize the crisp flavors of the fruit. It worked. The wine was lovely, with big, big, green apple flavors and a nice citrusy ending. A lovely Riesling!

The next wine we tasted was the Beneduce Barrel Fermented Chardonnay 2102, which was aged sur lee. As promised, notes of tropical fruits, pineapple, and citrus fruits all came through. A nice whiff of vanilla. Lots of green apple, juicy pear came across the palate. A light creaminess, with a zesty ending. Very lovely wine! 

John and I shared a charcuterie plate. The cheeses were excellent. A lovely accompaniment to the tasting.
When they first broke ground to plant their Chambourcin, Corot Noir and Noiret vines, they unearthed a graveyard of old shotgun shells. They took this as a sign – or maybe a threat – and blended those grapes into a single wine - Shotgun Red 2012. This is a blend of here grapes, some of which are estate. This was a very nice, solid table red. Medium bodied, with nice fruit up front, and good acidity which helped the fruit to linger for a nice long time. A great wine to have with pasta and pizza.

This next wine was very exciting, though, funnily enough, it was not my favorite of the tasting. That said, there is no question that it is a very good wine and it shows tremendous promise. The Blueprint Blaufrankish 2012. Now, I have not been a fan of Blaufrankish. My favorite of the specimen is Red Tail Ridge's version of this varietal wine. But I have to say Mike Beneduce Jr. is keeping pace with the trendsetter here. I liked this wine.
 Beneduce's notes read: "Every ambitious endeavor begins with a detailed plan – a blueprint – in our case. Seeking to create a wine definitive of our Estate vineyard, our answer was unveiled in the form of a unique varietal, Blaufr√§nkisch. The vines have anchored themselves deeply into our mineral-rich hillside...."
The wine was a medium bodied dry red, with lovely, bright fruit up front. Plum and raspberry come across, blueberries and cracked pepper too, as promised. A lovely drinking wine with nice acidity and low tannins. A lovely, Rhone-ish styled red with plenty of flavor. A lovely lunch or dinner wine!
Now, why do I believe that this wine has promise? Because it's so young and his is the first evidence of what this estate fruit can produce as far as wine is concerned. There is no question that Beneduce wants to join the ranks of Unionville, Turdo, Alba, and Heritage in wanting to be one of he foremost quality wine producers in the state. And their first real statement is with a red?! Oh, yeah! Game on.

The 60/40 Cabernet Sauvignon-Malbec 2012 was my favorite of the tasting. Made with fruit from Long Island, the wine was big and robust, with dark cherry, blueberry, and black currant. Great acidity, nice tannins. Well balanced. A beautiful wine with great structure and super taste. Amazing. I brought home a bottle of this. Again, Michael's winemaking skills are on display here, showing a lot of promise for the estate in years to come.
Mike Jr.
Michael Beneduce Sr. started his career as a young grower while working at his Grandfather’s farm stand in Madison, NJ.  When he was 19, he started Great Swamp Greenhouses, which has since grown to become one of the largest retail garden centers in New Jersey. Mike and his wife, Casey, oversee the production of both Beneduce Vineyards and Great Swamp Greenhouses
Justen Beneduce Hiles (pictured above, bottom right hand corner - with other recent celebrated Rutgers wine grads), who studied agricultural sciences, opened the 51-acre Beneduce Vineyards in Pittstown last summer with her brother, Mike Beneduce. Now, they make eight wine varieties, including a dry chardonnay and a pinot noir. Mike is the grape-wrangler, and Justen is the event director and handles management and sales. “I took one wine course at Rutgers, and Gary Pavlis [a Rutgers agricultural agent] gave me a little exposure and got me going with the Garden State Wine Growers Association,” says Beneduce Hiles. Justen is the marketing and event coordinator.

Here's Mike Beneduce Jr. getting the chardonnay ready to bottle, he's the Vineyard Manager and Winemaker. In 2010, Mike graduated Magna Cum Laude from Cornell University with a dual degree in Plant Sciences and Viticulture/Enology. The recently introduced major focused on the hands on teaching of techniques specific to cool climate grape growing and winemaking. Mike also gained experience working at Sawmill Creek Vineyards in the Finger Lakes region of NY, where he learned the arts of pruning and canopy management from a fourth generation grower. Travel experiences to wine regions in California, Oregon, New York, Ontario, Italy and Austria have helped broaden his knowledge of the world of wine.  He is currently studying for his Level II Certified Sommelier exam under the Court of Master Sommeliers, and he is an active member of the international gastronomic society the Chaine des Rotisseurs.

Reviews have been great all the way around:
“Mike Beneduce of Beneduce Vineyards also in Pittstown/NJ has just put his first wines on the market ... it will be the 2013 whites, which we tasted from tank and barrel, that are going to make his reputation. Of these the most important for me is the dry 2013 Estate Riesling, the first wine of this kind from Jersey which completely convinced me. It is quite powerful and complex with a certain amount of spice, and that’s perhaps why Mike compares it with Alsace. Frankly, though I think it’s closer to the Riesling GGs from Germany. The medium-dry 2012 Three Windows Riesling made part from estate fruit and part from Finger Lakes fruit is a juicy and polished wine with pear and citrus aromas for just $16. Jersey has a Riesling star in the making and the only question is if anyone in NYWC or America’s mainstream wine media really cares about that.” -Stuart Pigott, international wine critic, Riesling Global
“One of New Jersey’s newer wineries, Beneduce Vineyards, has ten acres of vines and produces some of the best Cabernet Francs, Pinot Noirs and Rieslings this side of the Atlantic. Their 2012 Pinot Noir, aptly named Centerfold, and whose bottled is emblazoned with a set of dark red lips is medium bodied with hints of raspberry, lush tones, and to pull out a snobby wine term ‘velvety smooth’ with a nice finish. Any fan of Pinot Noir will love this wine and the effort put into the production. Do I like this wine? I drive forty five minutes to get to the winery if that gives you any indication.” -Scott Baldwin, wine writer, The Wineosaur
“I recently had the opportunity to spend some time with Mike Beneduce Jr., the winemaker and viticulturist. His philosophy of matching the varietals to the vineyard site was refreshing (and commercially risky) as the goal was clearly what the terroir will best express, not necessarily what grape varietals are most popular… Highlights of the portfolio included the Chardonnay, which is made in the classic Burgundian style—barrel fermented, aged on the lees in 60 percent new oak. It has lovey acidity and elegance and is beautifully balanced, with the oak offering a complement to the bright tropical and citrus fruit. The White Pinot Noir, called Tuxedo, is beautifully balanced and complex while exhibiting crisp acidity. This is a versatile wine you can enjoy with fish or lighter meats. The reds had nice depth of flavor and balance with great intensity. The Blueprint, which is estate-grown Blaufrankisch, was unique. A cool-climate red with great mineral and spice notes and generous earthy blueberry flavors, this wine really had the most terroir or site expression.” -George Staikos, wine writer and educator, NJ Monthly Magazine
“The five wines available to us were each impressive in their own right. The 2012 Chardonnay fermented on the lees in 60% new oak carried lively citrus notes too often stifled by winemakers looking to achieve the buttery oak flavor that has become the standard expectation of the varietal. Rather than live up to expectations, the winemakers at Beneduce found a unique balance of oak and fruit that produces a refreshingly lightweight, well structured Chardonnay.  …Thankfully, the folks at Beneduce are breaking new ground in the Jersey wine world by introducing one of the most refreshingly brilliant Rieslings in the state. Three Windows White is everything a Riesling should be – crisp, bright, with just a touch of sweetness. It is so aromatic that you feel you’re drinking it in with one whiff…Hidden among the houses and farms of north Jersey, Beneduce Vineyards is the next big thing in Jersey wine.” -Susan Goldberg, travel writer, PJ Lifestyle

I finally understand what all the fuss is about. I finally get it. Beneduce wants to be a better winery. They are already a good winery. They want to be a better winery. They want to be the best. It's nice getting in on the ground floor of something like this. And a great addition to New Jersey winemaking as well!