Wine trails are great fun, offering the opportunity to sample vintages from several vineyards while checking out their beautiful digs. But with every sip, the trail becomes necessarily shorter because of drinking and driving laws, and the same sprawling beauty that makes vineyards so attractive also makes it difficult to visit more than a couple in one day.

That's why several South Jersey winemakers got together last year to create their indoor Winter Wine Festival, hosted by Renault Winery Resort & Golf in Egg Harbor City.

"In winter, the vineyards are dormant and all the wine tours tend to slow down," says Renault spokesperson Kevin McCarty. "Here we have the indoor facilities some of the other wineries don't have, so our Winter Wine Festival allows wine lovers to come and taste wines from 10 different vineyards in one place."

McCarty said coming together with other vineyards through the New Jersey Wine Growers Association to offer "a nice reward for the people who come visit us, to sample some other names" was a no-brainer for the folks at Renault. And once they got to discussing what each had to offer, the wineries all "fell in love" with the plan to host an afternoon of wine tasting and discussion in the golf resort's ballroom.

Apparently wine enthusiasts loved the idea, too. Last year's event drew about 1,300 people from throughout the state, and as far away as New York City and Maryland.

This year, they addressed the vast popularity of the event by expanding their space to present five wine growers in the Renault Ballroom, and another five in the Vintage Room. Participants include DiMatteo Vineyards and Tomasello and Plagido wineries in Hammonton, Bellview Winery in Landisville and more. Each winery usually brings about 10 different vintages, so the offerings add up quickly.

"Think about it, you have 10 different wineries each offering 10 wines within about 50 feet of each other," McCarty says. "The guests have their glass and their wristband and they can walk around and sample 50, 80 or 100 different wines. And our chefs create a festive menu of food they can walk around eating. Then, of course, they can stay and relax. If someone doesn't want to drink, they can drop off their wife at the festival and go play golf for a few hours."

Gary Pavlis, a professor at Rutgers University will present free, 20-minute seminars on general wine knowledge with information on local vintages at 1:30, 2:30 and 3:30 p.m. If you don't want to drive after all that sampling, Renault offers a hotel package that includes a champagne brunch on Sunday.

Renault's winemaker, Marco Bucchi, says he's excited to present his red fresello, a semi-dry, slightly effervescent wine that's relatively new, but already gaining a measure of the popularity enjoyed by Renault's white fresello, which complements a variety of foods. But for those looking for a "wintery" vintage, he recommends his May Wine, made with white grapes and strawberries, it can easily be converted to a spiced, mulled wine.

The weather is expected to cooperate with the festival, too, at a balmy 50 degrees. That should match nicely with Tomasello Winery's Winter Chill White, which will be among the offerings available for purchase.

Contact Felicia Compian:


Winter Wine Festival

Renault Winery Resort & Golf,

72 N. Bremen Ave., Egg Harbor City

Noon to 5 p.m. Saturday $10 in advance,

$15 at the door; Brunch: 10 a.m. to

2 p.m. Sunday, $21.95 per person. Call 609-965-2111 or see