These days, more and more Garden State wine lovers are discovering the joys of limited-production wines, also known as boutique or artisanal wines. They’re made not by big brand-name vineyards, but by small winemakers who lovingly coax a small number of bottles from their soil. In recent years, leading wine shops and importers have been working to bring boutique wines to their shelves and to restaurant menus. Some New Jersey winemakers have even begun working with grapes from California, Chile and Argentina to craft their own artisanal pours.
“They’re fun while they last,” says Don Carter, the co-owner of The Wine Seller in Ridgewood. “We’ve sold wines with as small as a 70-bottle production. A customer may try a bottle and come back a week later looking for another, and there may not be any more left.”
Generally, wine professionals classify as boutique wines those that are made in batches of 400 to 10,000 cases. These might be cult cabernets out of California or Super Tuscans out of Italy. Kermit Lynch is a California-based importer who pioneered bringing boutique wines, particularly from France, to the United States. Liz Farley, Lynch’s Northeast sales manager, says he now imports some 1,000 labels, more than 100 of which are available at some of the Bergen County wine shops and restaurants listed at right.
One Bergen native was inspired to follow in Lynch’s footsteps. A graduate of Le Cordon Bleu culinary school, Englewood’s Thomas Petito decided to become both a serious boutique winemaker and an importer. These days, Petito Wine Selections looks for winemakers in Spain, Germany, France and California who might produce, at most, 25 cases, which he then brings to New Jersey restaurant menus and shops. Petito also works with vineyards in California to craft his own boutique wines there that are also available locally.
“We really baby these wines,” says Petitio. “We read bedtime stories to these barrels every night.”
Wine connoisseurs who prefer a sweeter or more fruity pour also visit the Cream Ridge Winery in Allentown, which has a loyal 25-year following for its dessert wines—look for its new java berry wine debuting for Valentine’s Day.
The pros aren’t alone in creating boutique wines. There’s a hands-on winemaking experience available for the eager amateur right here in Bergen at Ramsey’s California WineWorks and at similar facilities elsewhere in the state.
Carlo Russo of Carlo Russo’s Wine & Spirit World, which has been in business in Ho-Ho-Kus for 65 years, reports that customers are actively seeking out interesting, complex limited-production wines: “People enjoy trying boutique wines from the Pacific Northwest, California, Italy and France,” he says.
Precisely because they’re different and unusual, limited-production wines must sometimes be introduced carefully to connoisseurs, says Terri A. Baldwin, the award-winning sommelier and wine director at The Bernards Inn in Bernardsville. “You have to tread very lightly and gauge their palates—be almost a kind of psychiatrist.” But it’s a delight, she adds, when the sommelier hears, “Where can I buy that?”
WHERE TO FIND BOUTIQUE WINES
18 Piermont Rd.
476 Route 17 North
Carlo Russo’s Wine & Spirit World
626 Maple Ave.
Englewood Wine Merchants
3 E. Palisade Ave.
Quench Wine & Spirits
2450 Lemoine Ave.
The River Palm Terrace
1416 River Rd.
41-11 Route 4 West
209 Ramapo Valley Rd.
172 Piermont Rd.
The Wine Seller
6 W. Ridgewood Ave.
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