Hunterdon County

Head to Flemington for holiday spirit

Written for MyCentralJersey.com on 12/7/16

There’s one Hunterdon County borough that has all of the makings for a classic Christmas.

Flemington, which boasts a historic district, shops large and small and a full calendar of holiday events, pulls in tons of holiday visitors each year — and for good reason.

“The historic architecture makes you feel like you’re stepping back in time when you walk down the street,” said Patricia Millen, executive director of the Hunterdon County Historical Society. “This is such a pretty, charming town with a high concentration of 19th century buildings, plus, it’s very walkable and many of the homes and stores are decorated.”

Laura Cummins, director of membership and events of the Hunterdon County Chamber of Commerce, said that she, too, feels like she is traveling back in time when she sees the simple yet classic holiday decorations, such as wreaths, lights or candlelit windows that adorn the historic Flemington homes.

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Visit Clinton Town, Hunterdon County’s autumn gem

There aren’t many places left in the world where you can stroll down a quaint, pastel-colored Main Street, grab lunch from a restaurant that’s been locally owned for 30 years, shop for leather goods, books and clothes and then hit a museum — all within one block.

However, Hunterdon County has its own picturesque destination such as this that’s reminiscent of a “Norman Rockwell painting,” as Tim Betz, assistant director of the Red Mill Museum Village, said.

“Clinton is like this perfect small town,” Betz said. “When you walk down Main Street, you are walking down the classic American Main Street.”

Clinton, which has a population of about 2,700 and pulls in another 2,500 visitors in the fall and winter seasons, has a downtown area mainly composed of its Main Street, which is filled with businesses such as the Clinton Book Shop, the Hunterdon Art Museum, the Red Mill Museum Village, the Clinton House Restaurant, Fourchette cheese and olive oil shop and much more.

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5 unique desserts in Central Jersey

There’s nothing wrong with a classic scoop of vanilla ice cream or a helping of hot, chocolate brownie to finish off a hearty meal.

But where do you go if you get a hankering for a dessert that you can’t find just anywhere?

Luckily for locals, Central Jersey’s finest restaurants have put some serious time, energy and forks to work in creating exciting desserts that venture from the norm.

The Courier News, Home News Tribune and MyCentralJersey.com scoured Central Jersey’s restaurant scene to find the most decadent, interesting and delicious desserts in the area, all of which put the simple chocolate chip cookie or slice of cake to shame.

Read on below to find out where you can go for a craving that just won’t kick.

The banana cake at Origin Thai. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Origin Thai)

The banana cake at Origin Thai. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Origin Thai)

Origin Thai’s Banana Cake 

Bananas don’t make their way into many American dishes, but Origin Thai of Somerville is bringing the fruit back to the dessert plate with their banana cake.

The homemade cake is twisted with caramel sauces and topped with fresh banana glaze, served alongside vanilla ice cream.

“In Thailand, we always use bananas,” said Chon Suthwee, manager. “This dish is a twist between Asian and American dishes.”

For $8, visitors can get the decadent dessert at Origin Thai, a French-Thai fusion restaurant with an elegant and upscale vibe located at 25 Division St. in Somerville and 25 Mountainview Blvd. in Basking Ridge.

The Himalayan salt bowl sundae at Stage Left. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Stage Left)

The Himalayan salt bowl sundae at Stage Left. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Stage Left)

Stage Left’s Salt Bowl Sundae

How would you like try a dessert that has an evolving taste – as you eat it?

The salt bowl sundae, which features a bowl cut from a solid piece of Himalayan pink salt and is layered with caramel, ice cream, candied pecans, banana bruleed with a blow torch, chocolate sauce made with Valrhona chocolate and a pretzel rod, does just that.

“People love that its interactive and changes over time,” said Francis Schott, owner. “Personally, I have never seen anything like it.”

Customers can split this dessert, intended for two, for $19, at the sophisticated New Brunswick eatery located at 5 Livingston Ave.

The crepe cake at the Bernards Inn. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Bernards Inn)

The crepe cake at the Bernards Inn. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Bernards Inn)

Bernards Inn’s Crepe Cake

No one can say no to a sweet crepe for breakfast on a Sunday morning, but what about a crepe for dessert?

The Bernards Inn serves a crepe cake, which consists of 12 layers of buttery, paper thin crepes, married with creamy vanilla infused Diplomat cream and topped with a thin layer of caramelized sugar. The dish is then garnished with fresh winter citrus fruits and a small touch of toasted pistachio.

Elizabeth Katz, pastry chef, said, “This combination creates a three-dimensional experience for the palate as the light flavors of the crepes and custard is met with deep crunchy caramel.”

For $11, visitors can get this dessert from the Bernards Inn, a 100-year-old elegant staple of the region, at 27 Mine Brook Road in Bernardsville.

The blood orange bar at the Pluckemin Inn. (Photo: ~Courtesy of the Pluckemin Inn)

The blood orange bar at the Pluckemin Inn. (Photo: ~Courtesy of the Pluckemin Inn)

Pluckemin Inn’s Blood Orange Bar

Restaurant-goers don’t think twice about ordering a lemon bar for dessert, but the blood orange bar at the Pluckemin Inn has caused some confusion.

“So many people don’t understand what it is,” said Kathryn Alberalla, pastry chef. “But then they order it and they realize it’s so good – it tastes just like oranges, but sweeter.”

The blood orange bar is paired with with brown butter caramel, fresh blood oranges, pomegranate seeds, lemon ice cream and a candied lemon garnish.

Guests can get this dessert for $10 at the Pluckemin Inn, a country-inn restaurant with a vintage flair, located at 359 Rt. 206 in Bedminster.

The Banana Caribbean at the Metuchen Inn. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Metuchen Inn)

The Banana Caribbean at the Metuchen Inn. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Metuchen Inn)

Metuchen Inn’s Banana Caribbean 

It may be the dead of winter, but it certainly doesn’t feel that way at the Metuchen Inn.

The inn is serving up their dessert the Banana Caribbean, which is very fine filo stuffed with fresh bananas, walnuts and chocolate chips served with vanilla gelato.

Jose Solano, manager, said, “People are always recommending it to their friends. The flavors are just fantastic.”

Guests can get the Banana Caribbean for $8.50 at the 1843 building, located at 424 Middlesex Ave. in Metuchen.

Think outside the glass this Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day doesn’t just get a bad rap from singles — many couples dread the holiday, too.

Too much pressure to have the perfect date.

Not enough time to plan it all.

However, what if you could celebrate Valentine’s Day with a classic glass of wine — and a local twist?

The Garden State Wine Growers Association, which is a collection of 44 New Jersey wineries who have met certain standards organized into wine trails throughout eight state counties, will be hosting Wine and Chocolate Wine Trail Weekend on Feb. 13 and Feb. 14 at wineries throughout the state. The complete schedule of events can be seen by visitingnewjerseywines.com/events/category/winery-events/.

Wine and Chocolate Wine Trail Weekend at Old York Cellars last year. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Old York Cellars)

Wine and Chocolate Wine Trail Weekend at Old York Cellars last year.
(Photo: ~Courtesy of Old York Cellars)

“Each winery creates their own event which is unique to them,” said Tom Cosentino, executive director of Garden State Wine Growers. “We don’t force them to cookie-cutter it, or else it would make everything the same and they would lose their identity.”

Old York Cellars at 80 Old York Road in Ringoes, which is a member of the Vintage North Jersey trail, a group of 10 wineries in Hunterdon, Warren, Sussex and Mercer counties, will be hosting a six-wine and chocolate tasting with chocolate from Laurie’s Chocolates of Doylestown, Pennsylvania, alongside live music from JT Rooney and Robert Viola in their Vista Room in the center of the vineyard, for $10 a person, which includes a souvenir glass.

The winery, which produces 16 wines throughout the year, will also be hosting an exclusive guided wine tasting for $50 per couple that includes eight pre-selected wines, chocolates made by Laurie’s Chocolates, a souvenir glass, plus a toast with Old York Cellars’ Blanc de Blanc sparkling wine.

Wine and Chocolate Wine Trail Weekend at Old York Cellars last year. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Old York Cellars)

Wine and Chocolate Wine Trail Weekend at Old York Cellars last year.
(Photo: ~Courtesy of Old York Cellars)

“Wine and Chocolate Wine Trail Weekend is one of the biggest events that we do,” said Laurin Dorman, chair of Garden State Wine Growers and director of Old York Cellars. “Even though it’s wintertime, the winery is beautiful in all seasons and people are getting out of the house and doing something local.”

However, by no means is Wine and Chocolate Wine Trail Weekend the only statewide event that Garden State Wine Growers hosts.

They hold four wine trail weekends throughout the year, encouraging visitors to visit multiple wineries within a region and check out their food pairings, tastings, tours, live entertainment and other special events. All of the wine trail weekend events can be seen by visiting newjerseywines.com/events/category/trail-weekends/.

Wine and Chocolate Wine Trail Weekend at Old York Cellars last year. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Old York Cellars)

Wine and Chocolate Wine Trail Weekend at Old York Cellars last year.
(Photo: ~Courtesy of Old York Cellars)

Dorman said that about 40 percent of Old York Cellars’ visitors are coming from or going to another regional winery and creating a wine trail experience, which is not surprising considering that Cosentino said Hunterdon is emerging as a major wine territory.

“Wine trail weekends get people to sample new wines and visit wineries throughout the state,” said Cosentino. “When people do tastings, they’re then asking, ‘Where can I purchase this?’ and then asking their local restaurants, ‘Can you start carrying this?’ The trail allows all of our wineries to showcase their products.”

Plus, due to the differing soil throughout New Jersey regions, local wineries can offer anything from dry reds to dessert wines to visitors, so no one has to go without an empty glass.

Wine and Chocolate Wine Trail Weekend at Old York Cellars last year. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Old York Cellars)

Wine and Chocolate Wine Trail Weekend at Old York Cellars last year.
(Photo: ~Courtesy of Old York Cellars)

Garden State Wine Growers also offers a passport program in which visitors can receive a ‘wine passport’ at any of its 44 member wineries and then get stamped at each winery they visit. If they visit all 44 wineries within three years and submit it by May 15, they are entered to win a trip to a wine region.

In order to become a member winery, wineries must be a working, licensed vineyard, make wine on at least three acres of their land and pay dues and meet the other regulations of the association to receive representation and promotion.

Cosentino said, “The long-term goal is to create agritourism. The way the wineries feel is the more, the merrier. They don’t want you to just come to their winery, they encourage you to visit the other ones, too, because it’s good for the entire business and region.”

Wineries normally offer a tour and tasting of several wines for $5 to $10, making for a cheap yet outside-the-glass day out. Old York Cellars holds tastings from noon to 5 p.m. seven days a week to taste six wines for $7, no appointment necessary.

Wine and Chocolate Wine Trail Weekend at Old York Cellars last year. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Old York Cellars)

Wine and Chocolate Wine Trail Weekend at Old York Cellars last year.
(Photo: ~Courtesy of Old York Cellars)

About 43 wineries have opened in the state since 1980, and existing wineries have become more established, including Old York Cellars, which has seen exponential growth since it opened six years ago and received almost 22,000 visitors last year, compared to 13,000 visitors in 2013. In 2011, a study conducted by Frank, Rimerman and Co. determined that 100,000 people visited New Jersey wineries within the year.

New Jersey winemaking has changed a lot over the years, for reasons such as partnerships with Garden State Wine Growers, local promotion and wineries’ abilities to offer a local hangout with food, live entertainment and events.

In-state wines have been receiving more publicity from winning blind taste tests and receiving other awards.

“New Jersey makes great corn, tomatoes and crops, so why shouldn’t we have great grapes?” said Cosentino. “It all comes down to exposure.”

Plus, the setting of wineries in the state, particularly in Central Jersey, makes for a great backdrop.

“People are sort of transported when they come off Route 202 to Old York Cellars and see mountains and rolling hills down the driveway,” said Dorman. “People constantly say, ‘It doesn’t even feel like I’m in New Jersey.’”

Get out of your galaxy at the RVCC Planetarium

Written for MyCentralJersey.com and DailyRecord.com

The Raritan Valley Community College Planetarium is taking a blast into the future, and bringing thousands along for the ride.

In 2014, the 100-seat dome saw some 40,000 visitors, a figure that has been steadily increasing since the planetarium opened in the college’s East Building in May 1990.

The planetarium differs from many other theaters in that a variety of shows are offered throughout the year, instead of one generic star show; these shows are geared towards small children, families and adults. The planetarium also caters annually to 14,000 school children who view one of 15 educational school programs.

The Planetarium upgraded to a digital theater in 2008. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Raritan Valley Community College Planetarium)

The Planetarium upgraded to a digital theater in 2008. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Raritan Valley Community College Planetarium)

“We are unique because we are one of the few planetariums in the country where we produce our own laser shows and do a variety of shows all year as we cycle through them,” said William McClain, planetarium associate.

The 40-minute shows feature topics such as planets, black holes, universal explosions, children’s shows about stars and planets, the search for aliens, the sun and sun spots and evolution of species.

McClain said that by viewing a star show, visitors can get a better understanding of the universe, learn about a specific topic, see what’s currently in the sky, or find out what a specific bright star in the sky is.

Each show at the Planetarium lasts about 40 minutes. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Raritan Valley Community College Planetarium)

Each show at the Planetarium lasts about 40 minutes. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Raritan Valley Community College Planetarium)

After the evening shows, the 3M Observatory is also open. This observatory, added in the fall of 2013, allows visitors to check out interesting stars, planets and galaxies currently visible in the sky.

The planetarium also produces its own hour-long laser shows, which McClain said can also be enjoyable for someone not necessarily interested in space. Afternoon laser shows are recommended for those older than six and evenings laser shows are recommended for those older than 12.

McClain said, “If you just want to see some cool laser lights and listen to classic rock, you can come specifically for those, or just to have a night out.”

The Planetarium produces their own laser shows. ~Courtesy of Raritan Valley Community College Planetarium

The Planetarium produces their own laser shows. ~Courtesy of Raritan Valley Community College Planetarium

Shows with popular topics, those at the end of the season, those featuring promotions, special events and childrens’ shows tend to sell out, so McClain recommends that prospective visitors call 908-231-8805 to make a reservation.

Otherwise, those who just show up for the Saturday 3 p.m., 4 p.m., 7 p.m. or 8 p.m. shows from October through May will probably get a seat. One show costs $8 per person and two shows in one day cost $14 per person.

“We are getting popular,” said McClain. “People are finding out about us.”

Current stars, galaxies and planets are visible from the 3M Observatory. ~Courtesy of Raritan Valley Community College Planetarium

Current stars, galaxies and planets are visible from the 3M Observatory. ~Courtesy of Raritan Valley Community College Planetarium

The local planetarium also became the first digital theater in 2008 in the state, allowing it to bring visitors to other galaxies without any special effects. Many other local theaters have also since gone digital or adapted a hybrid system.

“We can go through a database of stars seamlessly into a pre-recorded show and we don’t have to worry about slides jamming or tape measures acting flaky,” McClain said.

The use of the digital theater also brings about higher sound quality, since there is no need for fans running throughout the Planetarium dome.

“Video quality is also better, since we can customize it with the constellations and it’s also easier to show things in the past or the future,” he added. “We can show the moon rising, eclipses and the skies.”

30,000 to 40,000 people visit the Planetarium annually. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Raritan Valley Community College Planetarium)

30,000 to 40,000 people visit the Planetarium annually. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Raritan Valley Community College Planetarium)

RARITAN VALLEY COMMUNITY COLLEGE PLANETARIUM

Where: 118 Lamington Rd., Branchburg

Cost: $8 for one show or $14 for two shows in one day

Dates: Every Saturday at 3 p.m., 4 p.m., 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. Arrive 20 to 30 minutes early

Contact: Call 908-231-8805 to make a reservation or click here for more information

Tour de Farm rides through Hunterdon

Written for MyCentralJersey.com and DailyRecord.com

As Mitch Morrison, organizer of Tour de Farm New Jersey, knows, Hunterdon County is a breathtaking blend of rolling hills, quiet farms and green landscape.

Having biked across the United States four times and been biking for 52 years, he said, “I can say it and in my heart and soul I believe Northwest Jersey is one of the most gorgeous places to bicycle in the world.”

For the first time this year, Hunterdon County is coming to Tour de Farm New Jersey, a collection of three biking tours across Sussex, Warren and now Hunterdon counties that brings bikers to local farms along the ride.

Hunterdon riders can set off for the 81-mile Extreme Tour with 4,000 feet of elevation at 9 a.m. or the 20-mile Weekend Warrior Tour with 1,200 feet of elevation at 10 a.m. (Photo: Courtesy of Tour de Farm New Jersey)

Hunterdon riders can set off for the 81-mile Extreme Tour with 4,000 feet of elevation at 9 a.m. or the 20-mile Weekend Warrior Tour with 1,200 feet of elevation at 10 a.m.
(Photo: Courtesy of Tour de Farm New Jersey)

However, this tour isn’t just about wandering the countryside. It’s about taking the sunglasses off and showing bicyclists where their food comes from and introducing them to the farmers that create it, following a dramatic trend in how people think about their food.

“People are getting more curious about what’s being put into their bodies,” said Morrison. “The purpose of the tour is to introduce people to the farmers who serve them.”

As Morrison explained, very few people have spoken to a farmer or visited a farm, so with this tour, they get to finally see the produce, animals and what goes on behind grocery walls.

Tour de Farm New Jersey offers a quirky yet logical pairing — bicycling one of the most beautiful regions of the state while sampling some of the healthiest and tastiest food, bringing New Jerseyans to understanding the purpose of buying local products. (Photo: Courtesy of Tour de Farm NJ)

Tour de Farm New Jersey offers a quirky yet logical pairing — bicycling one of the most beautiful regions of the state while sampling some of the healthiest and tastiest food, bringing New Jerseyans to understanding the purpose of buying local products. (Photo: Courtesy of Tour de Farm NJ)

Sparta’s Donna Fell, who participated in the Warren County tour last year and will be registering for this year’s tour, said that she loved learning about each farm and talking to the farmers about how they’re making their living. Plus, she said that she learned there were many more local farms than she thought.

A five-year recreational biker who has done several New York City tours with Transportation Alternatives, Fell said that even though she enjoyed the Weekend Warrior tour very much, it was a hard course.

“I found it challenging because of the hills and I am used to riding in the city, which is flat,” she said.

For the first time this year, Hunterdon County is coming to coming to Tour de Farm New Jersey, a collection of three biking tours across Sussex, Warren and now Hunterdon counties that brings bikers to local farms along the ride. (Photo: Courtesy of Tour de Farm NJ)

For the first time this year, Hunterdon County is coming to coming to Tour de Farm New Jersey, a collection of three biking tours across Sussex, Warren and now Hunterdon counties that brings bikers to local farms along the ride. (Photo: Courtesy of Tour de Farm NJ)

Morrison stresses that although the tour can be challenging, it isn’t just for experienced riders, as 20 miles isn’t a particularly high mileage for biking.

Besides checking out the farm grounds, bicyclists also sample local farm products, such as the short-rib ravioli that Lou Tommaso of LL Pittenger Farm in Andover plans to offer this year in a partnership with Nicola’s Fresca Pasta of Kenilworth at the Sussex County tour. The farm has been raising beef, pork, chicken, turkey, lamb and eggs — most of which are sold directly to the consumer — for the past 12 years.

Tommaso has participated in similar events in the past, but he said that last year’s Tour de Farm, his first, brought him more business than eight to 10 other events that he has done collectively. Plus, he said, “It was the single event that I have done that I have gotten the most recognition from old and new customers following the tour.”

Very few people have spoken to a farmer or visited a farm, so with this tour, they get to finally see the produce, animals and what goes on behind grocery walls. (Photo: Courtesy of Tour de Farm NJ)

Very few people have spoken to a farmer or visited a farm, so with this tour, they get to finally see the produce, animals and what goes on behind grocery walls. (Photo: Courtesy of Tour de Farm NJ)

LL Pittenger Farm wasn’t the only one to have lasting success thanks to Tour de Farm. Another such farm was Bear’s Den Alpacas, which sold wool products at Tour de Farm of Warren County and then had bicyclists come back at Christmastime to purchase gifts.

However, Tour de Farm wasn’t always the popular outdoor event that it is now. Morrison said that there has been a “dramatic expansion,” as there are now three tours in its third year.

“Frankly, we could have done seven tours, but this year we went from one tour to three,” said Morrison.

The year’s Hunterdon County tour will begin with a farm-fresh locally sourced breakfast provided by tour organizers at South Hunterdon Regional High School in West Amwell on Sunday, Aug. 2, from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. (Photo: Courtesy of Tour de Farm NJ)

The year’s Hunterdon County tour will begin with a farm-fresh locally sourced breakfast provided by tour organizers at South Hunterdon Regional High School in West Amwell on Sunday, Aug. 2, from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. (Photo: Courtesy of Tour de Farm NJ)

During the first year, about 100 total riders roamed Northwest Jersey on the tour, which then exploded to 650 in the second year with 200 being turned away for logistical purposes. So far, 150 tickets have been sold for Hunterdon’s tour, which Morrison said may be capped at 400.

The year’s Hunterdon County tour will begin with a farm-fresh locally sourced breakfast provided by tour organizers at South Hunterdon Regional High School in West Amwell from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. Sunday, Aug. 2. Then, Hunterdon riders will set off for the 81-mile Extreme Tour with 4,000 feet of elevation at 9 a.m. or the 20-mile Weekend Warrior Tour with 1,200 feet of elevation at 10 a.m.

Participants are encouraged to bring cash to purchase products at the farm stops, which are Fulper Farms, Woodsedge Wool Farm, Headquarters Farm, Tullamore Farms, Villa Milagro Vineyards, Bobolink Dairy Farm, Philips Farm, Humdinger Alpacas, Fields Without Fences and the Sugar Maple Jerseys Farm. Tour organizers will transport purchases back to South Hunterdon Regional High School in the afternoon for the participants, or they can bring their own backpacks.

The year’s Hunterdon County tour will begin with a farm-fresh locally sourced breakfast provided by tour organizers at South Hunterdon Regional High School in West Amwell on Sunday, Aug. 2, from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. (Photo: Courtesy of Tour de Farm NJ)

The year’s Hunterdon County tour will begin with a farm-fresh locally sourced breakfast provided by tour organizers at South Hunterdon Regional High School in West Amwell on Sunday, Aug. 2, from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. (Photo: Courtesy of Tour de Farm NJ)

Until June 1, early-bird registration prices are in effect for $55 for the tour, farm tastings and a T-shirt, which can be purchased on TourdeFarmNJ.com via Eventbrite. After June 1, prices will rise to $65.

Following the tour, a Farm to Fork celebration three-course dinner will take place at Tullamore Farm at 3:30 p.m. and include plated first courses such as New Jersey heirloom tomatoes and grilled peaches, an entrée buffet including world-class grass-fed beef and roasted sweet potato salad with locally smoked bacon, and desserts such as peach and blueberry cobbler with oatmeal streusel and callebaut chocolate brownies.

Fell said, “The Farm to Fork dinner was amazing. They did a great job of feeding everyone health-conscious food in an elegant outdoor setting with wine and white tablecloths.”

Besides checking out the farm grounds, bicyclists also sample local farm products. (Photo: Courtesy of Tour de Farm NJ)

Besides checking out the farm grounds, bicyclists also sample local farm products. (Photo: Courtesy of Tour de Farm NJ)

Farm to Fork tickets are sold separately and can also be found on TourdeFarmNJ.com via Eventbrite for $150.

Tour de Farm New Jersey offers a quirky yet logical pairing — bicycling one of the most beautiful regions of the state while sampling some of the healthiest and tastiest food, bringing New Jerseyans to understand the purpose of buying local products.

“The necessity of buying local is to help support local agriculture,” said Tommaso. “The only way we can stay in business is to sell our products locally.”

Following the tour, a Farm to Fork celebration three-course dinner will take place at Tullamore Farm at 3:30 p.m. and include plated first courses such as New Jersey heirloom tomatoes and grilled peaches, an entrée buffet including world-class grass-fed beef and roasted sweet potato salad with locally smoked bacon, and desserts such as peach and blueberry cobbler with oatmeal streusel and callebaut chocolate brownies. (Photo: Courtesy of Tour de Farm NJ)

Following the tour, a Farm to Fork celebration three-course dinner will take place at Tullamore Farm at 3:30 p.m. and include plated first courses such as New Jersey heirloom tomatoes and grilled peaches, an entrée buffet including world-class grass-fed beef and roasted sweet potato salad with locally smoked bacon, and desserts such as peach and blueberry cobbler with oatmeal streusel and callebaut chocolate brownies. (Photo: Courtesy of Tour de Farm NJ)

TOUR DE FARM NJ – HUNTERDON

When: Sunday, Aug. 2 with breakfast from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m., tours starting at 9 a.m. and 10 a.m.

Where: South Hunterdon Regional High School in West Amwell

Cost: $55 until June 1, then $65

Mileage: Hunterdon riders can set off for the 81-mile Extreme Tour at 4,000 feet elevation or the 20-mile Weekend Warrior Tour at 1,200 feet elevation

Farm to Fork Dinner: Takes place at Tullamore Farm at 3:30 p.m. for $150

Contact: Organizer Mitch Morrison at mitchell.morrison5@mac.com

Website: TourdeFarmNJ.com and sign up here

Wine loosens up at Beneduce Vineyards

I’m no wine connoisseur, but I’ve definitely made an effort to visit local wineries, whether I’m in San Gimignano or Seneca Lake for the weekend.

This has been especially true for the wineries that are in my New Jersey backyard, including Four Sisters Winery in Belvidere, Cape May Winery in Cape May and Amalthea Cellars in the Atco section of Waterford Township.

However, one thing I have noticed is that in the United States, wine isn’t for kids. I’m usually the youngest person at American wineries and one of the few more than happy to take home the $14.99 bottle.

This doesn’t come as a real shock. In America, wine isn’t a part of our daily lives. Instead, we sip it at white-tablecloth dinners under chandeliers.

Jenna Intersimone Photography

Jenna Intersimone Photography

However, Beneduce Vineyards in the Pittstown section of Alexandria Township is working to quash that notion with as much ferocity as they squash a barrel of grapes.

“We have a very unpretentious view of wine and we brought that down-to-earth attitude to the winery with our design,” said Mike Beneduce Jr., who owns the winery with his father, Mike Beneduce Sr., and sister, Justen Hiles.

When you enter the winery’s production, aging and tasting center, housed inside a 7,000-square-foot barn on the rolling green hills of Hunterdon County, the entirety of the once-mysterious winemaking process is before you. Through an aged door from an old English church, you are greeted by a tasting bar fashioned from a counter top that was formerly housed inside a 19th-century English storefront.

The open-kitchen concept of the winery allows visitors to interact and understand winemaking, rather than keep it shrouded in secret.

Photo Courtesy of Beneduce Winery

Photo Courtesy of Beneduce Vineyards

“It’s really just fermented grapes, and we wanted people to see that,” said Beneduce.

For $5, visitors can taste five current wines and take home a wine glass or they can add a meat and cheese pairing for a $10 tasting, no reservations are needed. Seating is available at the tasting bar inside the barn or outside on the heated stone patio.

On-site wine experts talk visitors through each wine, and at the end of the tasting, the winery hands over keys to a golf cart so they can cruise the vineyards either with a wine expert or by themselves. It’s no surprise that during a busy summer or fall weekend, the winery can receive 500 visitors.

There’s a reason why Beneduce has never seen wine as something reserved for first-class gatherings — he was making it long before he had set foot in a suit.

Photo Courtesy of Beneduce Winery

Photo Courtesy of Beneduce Vineyards

“We have been making wine in our basement since I was 2 or 3 years old,” he said. “I have photos of myself in diapers wearing purple-stained pants.”

Before Beneduce was making wine in his basement with his parents as a child, his ancestors had been doing the same since they emigrated from Italy in the 1900s, making him a fourth-generation grower. As a result, it was only natural for him to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in viticulture and enology tailored to cool-climate grape growing and winemaking from Cornell University in 2010.

The family also owns Great Swamp Greenhouses in Gillette, and when they grew to their capacity in 2000, they purchased the 50-acre property that is now the winery, to supplement their landscape stock. Then, they decided to give winemaking a try and the facility opened in July 2012. It now houses 16 acres of grapevines, with expansions in mind.

“Since we are growers, it was natural for us to say, ‘Hey, can we grow grapes here?’ Now, our biggest problem is that we are selling the wine faster than we can make it,” said Beneduce.

Photo Courtesy of Beneduce Winery

Photo Courtesy of Beneduce Vineyards

Beneduce Vineyards focuses on premium wines that tend to be dry, European styles that work well with food, so no sweet or fruit wines. Beneduce said that this is because he was always taught that drinking wine should be paired with food, and he makes his wines to reflect that.

Due to the well-drained soil and south-facing slopes with sufficient sunlight exposure, the winery makes cool-climate aromatic varieties such as whites, including Chardonnay, Riesling and Gewürztraminer, and reds, including Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc and an Austrian red named Blaufränkisch. Bottles range from $14.99 to $48.99.

Once Beneduce realized that the growing area in Austria was identical to that of Central Jersey, he had solved the matchmaking mystery.

“Even though some of the wines we decided on were not grapes that other local wineries had been focusing on, I was convinced that they would work here,” he said.

Photo Courtesy of Beneduce Winery

Photo Courtesy of Beneduce Vineyards

When Beneduce makes these kinds of decisions for the winery, he does so knowing that he is in this for the long haul.

“Being that I am only 26 years old, I have a bigger picture in mind knowing that I will be farming this land for 40 or 50 years from now,” he said. “In everything we do, we think about how this is affecting the soil, water and our customers, and asking ourselves if this is economically viable.”

Beneduce said that this gives him a very different perspective than other wineries where owners are changing every few years.

Beneduce Vineyards has pulled in quite a few awards in their short time of operation, including two gold medals from the 2014 Finger Lakes International Wine Competition and four silver medals at the 2015 Finger Lakes International Competition, as well as kind words from Stuart Pigott, acclaimed British wine critic, who called Beneduce a “Riesling star in the making.”

Jenna Intersimone Photography

Jenna Intersimone Photography

Although Beneduce is grateful for the recognition, he said, “I would rather have my customers appreciate my wine rather than a white-coated lab judge.”

So what keeps Beneduce in the wine business? He likes the connection between the land and creating something tangible from the land.

“When people come out here and listen to live music at our farm while drinking wine made from our farm,” he said. “It really connects people to the land and goes full circle.”

Beneduce Vineyards

Where: 1 Jeremiah Lane, Pittstown

Cost: $5 for a tasting of five current wines or can additional meat and cheese pairing for a $10 tasting. Both include a wine glass and a golf-cart trip around the vineyards. No reservations necessary.

Contact: 908-996-3823 or beneducewinery.com

See the world from 14K feet through skydiving

Study abroad students swear by skydiving.

When I studied abroad in Florence, Italy in 2012, one of the big trips, among heading to the Amalfi Coast in Italy and Oktoberfest in Munich, was to venture to Interlaken, Switzerland, to jump out of a plane and get a bird’s-eye view of the Swiss Alps.

There were many students I knew who chose to take the mid-air plunge and the first thing they said upon their landing was, “I need to do that again.”

“Those who are interested in trying new things and pushing new boundaries are ideal candidates for sky diving,” said Chuck Owen, owner of Skydive Jersey. (Photo: Courtesy of Skydive Jersey)

“Those who are interested in trying new things and pushing new boundaries are ideal candidates for sky diving,” said Chuck Owen, owner of Skydive Jersey. (Photo: Courtesy of Skydive Jersey)

Still, I couldn’t bring myself to defy a human’s natural fears and hop out of a plane at 120 miles per hour.

Today, I wonder if I made the right decision. Well, I still have the chance to plummet through the air, as do you, right at home thanks to Skydive Jersey, a Pittstown skydiving facility catered to beginner sky divers.

The establishment just celebrated the beginning of its fifth season, as it sends off 3,500 first-time skydivers per year from the first weekend in April to the last weekend in October.

All Skydive Jersey instructors are trained under the standards set by the United States Parachute Association. (Photo: Courtesy of Skydive Jersey)

All Skydive Jersey instructors are trained under the standards set by the United States Parachute Association. (Photo: Courtesy of Skydive Jersey)

“Many people who run sky diving establishments do it for experienced divers, but we do it for the first-timers,” said Chuck Owen, owner of the facility who has been on more than 10,000 skydives.

The safest and easiest way for beginners to skydive is tandem diving, where a “student” diver is paired with an instructor for the entirety of the jump. This only requires less than an hour of training for students and allows them to simply enjoy the experience since they can rely on the instructors, who, at Skydive Jersey, have all been on more than 500 jumps and are trained by the standards set by the United States Parachute Association.

With this in mind, can a beginner sky diver simply enjoy the experience? Is skydiving, an extreme sport, really safe?

Chuck Owen, owner of Skydive Jersey, said that no one gets in the plane and is completely fearless. (Photo: Courtesy of Skydive Jersey)

Chuck Owen, owner of Skydive Jersey, said that no one gets in the plane and is completely fearless. (Photo: Courtesy of Skydive Jersey)

According to the United States Parachute Association, out of 3.2 million American jumps last year, there were 24 accidents, which means that you have a 0.00075 percent chance of being in a skydiving accident. To equal your risk of dying in a car accident in a single year, you would need to skydive 17 times.

Owen said that on top of that, experienced jumpers going it alone are much more likely to be in an accident over beginner skydivers since they may want to push the limits of their skills.

“No matter how intimidated a person is when they first arrive, no one has ever landed and not had a smile on their face and been ecstatic,” Owen said. “It’s a very transformative experience that you just conquered this major feat. The expression on their face is priceless.”

“No matter how intimidated a person is when they first arrive, no one has ever landed and not had a smile on their face and been ecstatic,” said Chuck Owen, owner of Skydive Jersey. (Photo: Courtesy of Skydive Jersey)

“No matter how intimidated a person is when they first arrive, no one has ever landed and not had a smile on their face and been ecstatic,” said Chuck Owen, owner of Skydive Jersey. (Photo: Courtesy of Skydive Jersey)

When students express fear after arriving at Skydive Jersey, Owen said his team calmly talks them through it and explains that skydiving isn’t what they think. Contrary to what most non-skydivers believe, there is no roller coaster stomach drop. Instead, free fall, said Owen, feels like a gentle float.

“No one gets in the airplane and is completely fearless,” Owen said. “Once you’re out in free fall, you realize it wasn’t so bad.” Then, he said, there’s usually “a ‘wow’ and then speechlessness.”

Diving students at Skydive Jersey range in age from 18 to 95, but generally, they are between 18 and 45 year old. Students must be at least 18-years-olds and height-weight proportionate; men must be less than 230 pounds and women must be less than 215 pounds.

At Skydive Jersey, the exit altitude is 14,000 feet. (Photo: Courtesy of Skydive Jersey)

At Skydive Jersey, the exit altitude is 14,000 feet. (Photo: Courtesy of Skydive Jersey)

“Those who are interested in trying new things and pushing new boundaries are ideal candidates for sky diving,” Owen said.

After training, students take a 20-minute plane ride over the Delaware River Valley as it climbs to 14,000 feet. Once at exit altitude, students are attached to their instructor’s harness and the door will be opened. Then, the 50 seconds of freefall at 120 miles per hour begins before the parachute is deployed and student-and-instructor drift down to the ground at 20 miles per hour for 10 minutes into a gentle landing.

It’s the idyllic landscape that skydivers get to enjoy from their view in the sky that also makes Skydive Jersey an ideal spot for thrill-seekers to get their fix. Skydivers will spot the Delaware River, Spruce Run Lake, Round Valley Lake as well as the Manhattan and Philadelphia skylines.

Chuck Owen, owner of Skydive Jersey, said that skydiving is a very transformative experience. (Photo: Courtesy of Skydive Jersey)

Chuck Owen, owner of Skydive Jersey, said that skydiving is a very transformative experience. (Photo: Courtesy of Skydive Jersey)

“Hunterdon County is incredibly beautiful,” Owen said. “I was blown away at how untouched it is the first time I took off.”

Plus, Skydive Jersey is situated at Alexandria Field, a peaceful and historic airport tucked away in the countryside that has been in the same family since the 1940’s.

Groups should plan to spend a full day at Skydive Jersey for weekend dives and a half a day for weekday dives, which can also be affected by the size of the party, weather delays and unexpected plane maintenance.

After the experience is over, Owen said there is usually a “’wow,’ and then speechlessness.” (Photo: Courtesy of Skydive Jersey)

After the experience is over, Owen said there is usually a “’wow,’ and then speechlessness.” (Photo: Courtesy of Skydive Jersey)

Weather delays are very common for sky dives — about one in three dives will be rescheduled, which Skydive Jersey gives priority to versus new bookings.

Owen said, “Some people smile, some laugh, some scream, but everyone comes back to Earth glad that they took the plunge.”

 

SKYDIVE JERSEY

Where: 70 Airport Rd. in Pittstown

Contact: reservations@skydivejersey.com or 866-669-3020

Website: skydivejersey.com

Cost: $195 per person for one to three people and $185 per person for 4+ people

Qualifications: 18 or older and men must be less than 230 pounds and women must be less than 215 pounds

Season: First weekend in April to last weekend in October

Hours: Monday through Friday 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., Saturday and Sunday 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.