By Pat Tanner
As if it’s not enough of a challenge to grow wine grapes in New Jersey – especially the major European vinifera varieties such as chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon - the determined folks behind Villa Milagro Vineyards, one of our state’s newest wineries, are upping the ante by going organic. In fact, theirs is one of only two organic vineyards on the entire East Coast.
Steve Gambino and Audrey Cross-Gambino planted their first grapes in 2003 on a scenic, 104-acre cliff overlooking the Delaware and Musconetcong Rivers in Finesville, not far from Alba Vineyard. Steve, a businessman and former formula racecar driver, is operations manager and Audrey, who was raised in California’s grape-growing Central Valley, is winemaker. “Dr. Audrey,” as she is known, has a Ph.D. in nutrition, is a former television host, and the author of numerous books. She also conducts cooking classes at the winery.
But what about the wines, you say? All are blends, most featuring one major varietal. I recently tasted five and came away impressed that each – even the white and blush wines – has a distinct, pronounced personality and silky body (no thin, watery wines here). Like the winery’s name, which means “House of Miracles,” they all sport Spanish designations. My favorite is Sombra, a robust red blend primarily of Shiraz with a lush, velvety finish. I rarely enjoy “blush” wines but the one here, Rosie’s, won me over with its distinct taste of roses. You may not mistake the cab blend, Suave, for a French or California wine, but is has a lingering smoky/tobacco quality that pleases.
For information about visiting the winery, tasting the wines, and meeting the committed, genial folks who produce them, log on to VillaMilagroVineyards.com.