Professional Profiles

Amalthea Cellars

Tucked away down a quiet road in Atco lies one of South Jersey’s best-kept secrets. As you travel along the gravel driveway toward Amalthea Cellars, rows and rows of grapevines begin to emerge and provide the backdrop for what is a stunning, out-of-this-world wine experience.

Those first grapevines were planted back in 1976 by Amalthea Cellars founder Lou Caracciolo, who was on a mission to redefine the entire winery industry of South Jersey and the East Coast.

As the winemaker began laying the foundation for the new winery, he says he was dreaming of what might be possible for his old-world style wines. Caracciolo envisioned first-class vintages that would differ from the sweeter varieties usually created on the East Coast.

It turns out he had good reason for dreaming big – in May of 1976, Napa Valley wineries overturned the French at the now famous Judgment of Paris. It was the first time an American wine took top honors over a wine cultivated in a faraway French field. And it was the first time Caracciolo realized his vision was possible.

“When California overturned the fine wines of France, I knew it would be possible for New Jersey to make world-class wine. I was certain,” says Caracciolo, who in 1972 purchased the farm where Amalthea is located. “Now, Amalthea is showing that New Jersey, year after year, is producing wine that is as fine as any in the world.”

Typically, wine made on the East Coast was created using foxy grapes native to New Jersey for millennium. “Sweet Concord and Niagara wines, as made on the East Coast for the last 350 years, can be very pleasant,” says Caracciolo.

But Caracciolo had something else in mind – he envisioned making fine wines that could stand with the best in the world. “No one here on the East Coast could get the kinds of grapes found in places like the Bordeaux region in France to flourish – grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay. In the late 1960s, agricultural tools became available that encouraged the planting of old-world Bordeaux grapes in South Jersey.”

Amalthea Cellars opened to the public in 1982, making it one of the state’s first farm wineries. Since then, the winery has won countless awards from state, national and international wine competitions. Amalthea has also overturned Napa Valley and French wines in nine renowned blind competitions.

Though wineries are a growing part of the South Jersey community, there’s only one place to experience old-world wine, and that’s Amalthea Cellars. “By 2007 and 2008, with the help of wine icon George Taber, the TIME magazine correspondent who was in the room for the Judgment of Paris, things started to heat up,” Caracciolo says. “At the Taber blind tastings in those years, Amalthea Cellars consistently overturned the finest wines from Napa and France. Ironically, Amalthea was beating wines that cost 10 to 20 times more than their price.”

Amalthea Cellars’ wide-spread success can be credited to Caracciolo’s embrace of the old-world winemaking traditions, passed down from his grandfather, who immigrated to the United States from Naples.

“It sounds sort of romantic, but he brought with him the winemaking tradition he had learned as a boy,” Caracciolo says. “I learned from him how wine was made in Rome, because in 1,000 years, nothing has really changed.”

You could also credit the winery’s success to the similarities between New Jersey and Bordeaux, France, Caracciolo suggests. In South Jersey, the way the Delaware River cuts into the land is almost the same as how the Garonne River slices through the Bordeaux region.

“If you turn a map of the Bordeaux upside down,” Caracciolo says, “you can lay it right over one of South Jersey, and it’s nearly a match.”

However, Caracciolo is quick to point out that Amalthea’s winemaking is not a mere imitation of French wines. He cherishes the artistry behind making wine that he absorbed as a consultant at Chateau Margaux in 1986. “The winemaker must follow the form of the wine as it emerges and dances,” he says. “I started to craft my wines this way, and the rest is history.”

Visitors to the Atco winery will find it to be as stunningly beautiful as France or Tuscany. The beautiful vineyards and old-world feel transport visitors to another time and place, evoking feelings from New Jersey’s rich rural history dating back to times when stagecoaches were traveling up and down the White Horse Pike.

Amalthea offers an unusually friendly experience to wine lovers: guests are encouraged to have a picnic and hang out on the gorgeous grounds.

During warmer weather, the winery hosts bonfires and outdoor wine events. Tables with umbrellas on the vineyard-side patio encourage visitors to sip wine, relax and enjoy cheese and noshes from the retail store.

Amalthea Cellars offers a wide selection of wines, producing about 60,000 bottles of wine a year. Visitors will find dry reds like Cabernet Franc and Merlot and dry whites like Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio, plus other varieties like Metis and Villard. It’s the perfect place for a wine enthusiast – but also an excellent starting point for a beginner interested in fine wine, Caracciolo says.

Another special treat is Terreno, the newest addition to the winery’s lineup of premium wines. Rare and very unique, each bottling consists of only 25 cases. The stack of 10 barrels (pictured to the right) – all full of different varietals and vintages – is like a living, flowing fountain of limited-edition wine, says Caracciolo.

“Each time I take from the four bottom barrels, I bottle it, and it’s a once-in-a-lifetime creation that can’t even be copied by me,” Caracciolo says. “People love that idea, and that itself is spectacular.”

What might be even more spectacular, Caracciolo says, is how Amalthea and the entire South Jersey winery community has grown so substantially over the past few years.

“Nobody who drank fine wine took New Jersey seriously,” the winemaker says. “But now people who drink and collect fine wines have a place to call their own.”


Valentine’s Day Wine Trail Weekend

Do something extraordinary this month during Amalthea Cellars’ Valentine’s Day Wine Trail Weekend. Held on February 11 and 12, the two-day event is a delightful celebration of all things wine, whether you’re a novice or wine connoisseur.

Amalthea Cellars will offer 20 different wines across two tastings for $15 per person. The first tasting takes you through three rooms in the winery, where visitors can sample many of Amalthea’s current releases. Afterward, guests will begin a sommelier-led VIP tasting, where library wines, barrel samples, limited releases, future offerings and surprise wines will be available, all in addition to cheese, crackers and artisan chocolates.

Owner Louis Caracciolo encourages anyone who enjoys wine to give the event a try – whether it’s sweet or dry, red or white, you’ll find something you’ll love, he says. Plus, the wine trail weekend is more than just a tasting, thanks to the knowledgeable staff and educated sommeliers. “You get a wine education, too,” Caracciolo says.


Amalthea Cellars

209 Vineyard Road, Atco