Nearly a century and a half old, Renault Winery is a recognized New Jersey State Historical site and one of the oldest continuously operating wineries in the United States. Like a fine varietal, the winery has continued to grow, develop and improve with age. The winery’s story begins in Europe, with one man and a tiny, sap-eating insect. Master Vintner Louis Nicholas Renault was a representative of the ancient champagne house of the Duke of Montebello in Rheims, France when Europe was hit by the greatest disaster in the history of wine. The accidental introduction of phylloxera, a parasitic aphid, in the mid 1800s nearly destroyed France’s entire wine industry. In 1855, Renault set sail for the new world with hopes of saving his vines and establishing a vineyard free of the insect that had ravished the vines of Western Europe. Renault’s first attempt at an American vineyard took place in California. To his dismay, phylloxera also destroyed the root systems of his Californian grapes. It was then that Renault learned of a native American grape that grew on the east coast, a grape with a natural resistance to certain pests and disease.
And so, Renault headed for southern New Jersey, where this miracle grape was rumored to thrive. Finding a climate and soil similar to that which he knew in France, Renault decided to settle and establish his own vineyard. In 1864 he purchased land in the Egg Harbor area, and by 1870 he had introduced his New Jersey Champagne. Renault Winery quickly gained notoriety, winning prizes for its wines and becoming the largest distributor of champagne in the United States. This winery’s success even earned Egg Harbor the moniker of “Wine City.”
It was a growth even Prohibition could not hold back. In 1919 John D'Agostino and family bought the winery and continued to operate during the fourteen years of Prohibition under a special government permit. This permit allowed the production of wines for religious and medicinal purposes. Renault Wine Tonic, which had an alcoholic content of 22 percent, became the chief product and was sold in drug stores throughout the nation. A label warned “not to chill the tonic, as it would turn into wine which is illegal.”
When John D'Agostino died in 1948, his sister Maria assumed responsibility for Renault. Having a talent for design, she made a showplace of the old winery by building the current chateau style hospitality house. In 1966 she added the wineglass museum to display her impressive collection of wineglass art, which dated back as far as the thirteenth century. In 1968 Universal Foods, a worldwide food distributor, acquired the winery and operated the facility until 1974 when MCC Presidential, a New Jersey based investment group, assumed ownership.
Today, the winery has thrived and become one of the most popular tourist attractions in New Jersey and a favorite of local residents. Renault Winery offers a gourmet restaurant, catering for banquets and weddings and historic winery tours. In 2001, The Tuscany House was built- a 50-room hotel with old world décor. The Tuscany House is also home to conference facilities and Joseph’s Restaurant, a European style dining room. October 2004 saw the addition of Vineyard Golf, an 18-hole championship golf course.