Throw some country music on. My preferred tunes for the journey: Robert Earl Keen‘s “What I Really Mean”. Skip the highway and cruise the back roads through the farms of the Garden State, passing roadside stands offering zucchini, tomatoes, and zinnias with an honor system coffee can labeled “Money Can”. Make a few sharp turns, trust your GPS and there’s the sign: Laurita Winery.
Follow the curving driveway up and around to a massive building crafted from two historic barns originally slated for destruction. Walk the final hill to the entrance and be rewarded with a valley vineyard spread out before you, as far as your eye can see. In the center of the horizon a huge American flag waves proudly above primarily European vines.
Inside the barn, sidle up to one of two tasting bars offering 6 wines for $7. For an extra $4 you can try the Grand Cru, Laurita’s Chardonnay double fermented in aged Hungarian oak. This is a powerful wine, reminiscent of a single malt whiskey, meant to be savored after a great meal. A rich mouthfeel with flavors of butterscotch, oak and vanilla make the Grand Cru a succulent dessert experience not to be missed.
The Grand Cru wasn’t the only surprise in store for the tasting. Dubbed “extra dry,” the Lemberger, an Austrian dry red, proved to carry a remarkable fruit forward character. A light body carrying a black raspberry tang and spice nodes, I immediately took to this unique wine proving once again my palate’s preference for the spicy, fruit forward characteristics of German wines over the complex body of French grapes like Merlot or Cab Sav.
Moving onto Laurita’s chilled offerings, I sampled the Beachcomber Blush, a perceptibly sweet but truthfully dry blend of Cabernet and Chardonnay. Admirable for its strength, the grapes actually gain character when chilled. Relaxing Red, a chilled Cab blend, is the perfect illustration of how to enjoy a chilled dry red vinifera in the summer. Laurita’s Strawberry and Chocolate wines, made with fresh Jersey cream and berries, knocks the mass marketed wines of the same type out of the competition.
The Barcelona collection is by far Laurita’s best red and white offerings. Influenced by the Spanish Grenache, Barcelona Red has a unique finesse, pairing a refreshing fruit forward flavor with a slight oak finish. Barcelona White, an homage to the Albarino, offers a refreshing excitement to the American palate. A brilliance, at first subtle and understated, is met with a powerful finish – this is the wine you want to linger over on a hot, sunny afternoon. Bored with Vidal Blanc? Tired of Pinot Grigio? Challenge yourself with this most unique chilled white and open your palate to a new world of flavor.
Originally an early 20th century dairy farm, Laurita Winery sits on 250 acres nestled in between two of the largest pick your own farms in New Egypt, NJ. With a natural spring and solar panels on the property, Laurita is totally self-sustaining. Their bat house is home to approximately 1,300 bats, each of which devours 100 insects a minute, allowing the growers to use as few pesticides as possible. The two barns rescued from the wrecking ball are furnished with fixtures from demolished buildings across the state.
The Winery’s eco-friendly ethos and people friendly perspective (visitors are welcome to roam among the vines at their leisure; biking, jogging, and hanging out are also encouraged – no pets or picnics, please) makes Laurita an oasis in the middle of the New Jersey farmlands. Their penchant for variety in European varietals issues a challenge to New Jersey wine fans to expand their knowledge and excite their palates with some of the freshest, classiest offerings in the Garden State.