Each year one thing is certain: October is winemaking month for the Rossillo Family in Whitestone, New York - and they do it with gusto in their own back yard.
The tradition, which started in 1995, was born from a dream to own and operate a vineyard by John Rossillo, who made his first batch of red wine in his garage on 19th Avenue. The idea came to him after a trip to Italy where his Uncle, an Italian winemaker inspired and educated him on the process. Enthused and determined, John convinced family members to help. His venture, part science, part passion and part labor of love, breathed life into an old-time Italian tradition that he introduced to a new generation.
The recipe, fine-tuned through the years by trial and error, is a family secret. The wine, a pleasant, mellow red wine with fruity flavors and a smooth finish, is a blend of 50% Merlot grapes combined with a secret mix of Alicante, Zinfandel and Barbela grapes. The result: one of the best homemade wines I’ve tasted.
The process however, isn’t a secret: It starts with the grapes. Since soil conditions in Whitestone aren’t conducive to growing one’s own vines, the family purchases carefully selected grapes. The first crush, formerly done by a hand-cranked wine press has since been replaced by an automatic press. The juice is separated from the stalks and leaves while seeds and skins are left in to ferment along with yeast. The grapes and bits are then stored in a large plastic vat, outside in the shed. Once fermented, the wine is hand pressed a second time to get every last drop ready for the next step: storing the wine in an oak barrel at around 72 degrees. The family periodically tastes the wine, aptly named “Red 19” until they agree it’s ready to be bottled and labeled - usually around 8 months.
While John Rossillo has not yet fulfilled his dream of owning a vineyard, he certainly has something else to be proud of - instilling respect and an appreciation for Italian culture to another generation -the kids, who are eagerly involved in the corking process.
The years are chronicled with a familiar pose of the Winemakers and their crated grapes. Pictured left to right: Brother in Law, John Zullo, Cousin Phil Rossillo, Best Friend Jay, Cousin Johnny Rossillo and John Rossillo gather with their families annually to make the experience a warm and memorable one.
The day usually ends with another family tradition: a delicious home cooked Italian meal served…where else? In the backyard.
by Nancy S. Mure