Travelling for a weekend getaway is not always cheap or easy to plan, but I am here to tell you about a forgotten gem in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey that will not disappoint. At the end of a long, straight road, where the pavement ends at a fountain placed in the middle of the road sits the Renault Winery, the oldest operating winery in the New Jersey. The boast wine made in-house, two excellent restaurants, a golf course, swimming pools and are close enough to Atlantic City to have some fun there too if you wish.
The winery was founded by a French immigrant named Louis Renault in 1864, 10 years after it’s hometown, Egg Harbor City was founded in 1854. There was some kind of aphid infestation in France at that time that was wiping out wine grapes nationwide. Mr. Renault came to Egg Harbor after attempting to grow his grapes elsewhere after he learned of it’s similar climate to his hometown in France. Knowing that would be good for his grapes, he settled there in order to be able to save his industry.
Egg Harbor City itself is an interesting place, and was founded by Germans that were
experiencing anti-immigrant violence – an American problem even today. One of Egg Harbor City’s most famous past residents was a Quaker woman, Mildred Norman, later dubbed “Peace Pilgrim” for her anti-war stance during the Korean and Vietnam wars, as well as infamous treks on the Appalachian Trail and later across the entire United States. It is a very quiet and modest community boasting good food at places like The Egg Harbor Diner for American and Greek food or Mickey & Minnie’s for some great German Food. Although there is no reason to leave the winery to find great food. If you have the time, everyone should try the Honey Dipped Fried Chicken and Spaghetti plate (it’s amazing) or the Prime Rib at Ye Olde Mill Street Pub just up the road in Mays Landing. If you are a seafood lover, and have a good GPS, the best local seafood and dinners are at Oyster Creek. But be warned that going there, you may never want to leave New Jersey ever again; and may quit your job and never again leave The Pines Barrens. When World Famous chef Guy Fieri went there, he said their food was “Phenomenal”
Egg Harbor City is located 13 miles outside of Atlantic City, and yet is nestled far enough
in the Pine Barrens to be quiet and relaxing. There is a commuter train in the small downtown area that runs between Philadelphia and Atlantic City, making the trip very commute-able for anyone without a vehicle or choosing not to use one. The current rules and times for taking bicycles on the New Jersey Transit System and Amtrak can be found here. This area is very flat and easy to bike, and is known to be very bike friendly in traffic.
Renault Winery itself sits on over 50 acres of farmland and butts up to the deep Pines. It
also boasts a restaurant, a Spa, and an 18 Hole golf course. Renault produces a wide variety of wines, many blueberry variations are created due to the local economy reliance on blueberry farm production for generations. It is also the only winery in the United States that makes Blueberry Champagne.Their Hotel provides a quirky, “Tuscan” theme that is kitschy and a fun place to take photos. The Hotel’s restaurant, Joseph’s, is staffed by great chefs and staff serving fresh favorites like clam chowder, Taylor Pork Roll sandwiches for lunch or dinner entrees like salmon, crab cakes, and chicken parmesan. Sundays boast a brunch buffet with a bloody mary bar and a Bellini bar offering fresh, seasonal flavors all at reasonable prices.
Renault offers many different seasonal packages, many include dining credits towards
Joseph’s Grill. It costs about $300 to spend the weekend there on one of their all-inclusive
packages, but if you ask about lower rates they do sometimes offer them without the food credits or other amenities. It is worth it to get a package if you want to stay in and relax. They also offer massages and spa services on site at their Blue Garden Wellness Spa. If you do want to venture out, The Historic Town of Smithville is close enough to bike to, and is full of little shops and local history. They also have many decent restaurants on site.
Other local history/nature sites include: Batsto Village in the Wharton State Park, Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge and The Absecon Lighthouse.
If you are a true foodie and want to pickup some great local food, try these places: Bagliani’s Italian Market, Asia Supermarket, or Santori’s Produce & Deli Outlet.