The adventure begins when you ascend the impossibly long driveway leading up the hill to Villa Milagro Vineyards.
It gets better as you pass the remnants of a 19th century barn and reach the sprawling white farmhouse with its panoramic view.
Visitors can see four counties—Bucks and Northampton in Pennsylvania and Hunterdon and Warren in New Jersey. The steeple of a church across the Delaware in Riegelsville peeks through the treetops.
And it’s better yet when you meet Villa Milagro’s multi-faceted owners, Stephen and Audrey Gambino.
He is an engineer-inventor and race car driver who built a consulting business and a financial firm and developed a corporate training program.
She, also known as Dr. Audrey Cross, is a lawyer who holds a doctorate in nutrition and public policy, has hosted her own show on America’s Health Network, was a frequent guest on national television talk shows and taught at Columbia University’s School of Medicine.
Together Steve and Audrey jettisoned their careers in midstream for their joint field of dreams, a 104-acre patch of hillside in New Jersey.
The site, rising 300 feet above the tiny village of Finesville and the spot where the Delaware and Musconetcong rivers meet, is a fundamental and vital part of their business.
They bought the property in 2003, bottled their first wine in 2005 and two years later opened to the public. “We looked at 300 places before we found this,” Audrey said, “and we’ve preserved it so it will never become a housing development. We are privileged to be its caretakers for this brief moment in time.”
Watching the sun set over the hills is enchanting for those who attend wine tastings held outdoors when the weather is fair, she said. Visitors also overlook the neat rows of vines that cover 10 acres of hillside.
This remarkable little vineyard produces about 1,500 cases of Old World-style wines a year. The vineyard grows eight varieties of vinifera, or Old World grapes.
Villa Milagro, which means House of Miracles in Spanish, pays homage to Audrey’s early years in California. A farmer’s daughter—one of her grandmothers was Mexican—she is fluent in Spanish. Happy to escape the farm as a young woman, she is equally happy to have left behind her urban lifestyle and returned to farm life.
While Steve puts his genius to work on the farming and mechanical aspects of the winery and acres of rotational crops, blending the wines is Audrey’s specialty—and passion—and she is the one who makes sure the wines are rich and packed with layers of flavor. All the Villa Milagro wines have Spanish names.
Audrey also is an expert in the pairing of wines with certain foods. She has served as nutrition policy advisor to the California State Senate, the U.S. Senate and the Carter administration, and has written a number of academic papers and cookbooks.
She and her husband employ four seasonal documented Mexican workers who dine with them at the farm table daily and work March through November before rejoining their families for the winter.
In addition to wine tastings, private and corporate events and weddings, Villa Milagro hosts a number of special events. The next one will feature holiday appetizers.
Visitors can taste the holiday wines, Feliz Navidad, Gracias and Mi Carino, and sample recipes from the vineyard’s own appetizer cookbook for $15. It’s planned for Nov. 20 and 21, from noon to 5 p.m.
Villa Milagro has planned a Feliz Navidad celebration featuring holiday wines on Thanksgiving weekend, Nov. 26 to 28. Audrey said it will offer “a bit of Early California with luminaries lighting the indoor cantina and outdoor pergola. Traditional Mexican Christmas music will set the mood as visitors snack on bunuelos, traditional Mexican Christmas cookies, and sample holiday wines.
The celebration is part of the Garden State Wine Growers statewide Holiday Wine Trail. Audrey serves as legal consultant to the association.
The winery is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. for wine sales. Tastings are offered only on Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wine also may be purchased online.