It’s chilly, but no one seems to mind. There’s lentil soup in the Crock-Pot (for the vegetarians), as well as some delicious pulled pork and a shared fascination about how one turns grapes into wine.
On a Saturday morning in November, members of the Bella Vita Vine to Wine program were happy to be standing wrapped in scarves and down vests in a cement-floored barn watching Anthony Sannino punch down the cap on a fermenting container of cabernet sauvignon. The small room lined with tanks built to hold the juice that would make one barrel—or 23 cases—of wine smells like, well, a winery, because it is one, but that’s a simplification.
The Sanninos, Lisa and Anthony, bought their vineyard from Harold Watts of Ternhaven Cellars—one of the North Fork’s first wave of vineyard owners—in 2006, 5.25 acres of cabernet and merlot planted in 1989. The idea was to sell the grapes and build a bed-and-breakfast in the middle of the vines. Both goals were accomplished. But the desire to make wine, instilled in Anthony from his family
roots in Ischia, an island off the coast of Naples, kept tugging at them. How to start up their own winemaking business while acknowledging the significant investment in equipment? Vine to Wine was born.
In 2007 the couple promoted the idea that anyone could make wine, proposing that members contribute $4,500 up front for a year of the winemaking experience and the guarantee of going home with the equivalent of one barrel of wine. Enough people signed on, shown nothing but an empty room, and paid in advance, allowing the couple to buy all the equipment they needed. Kind of like a wine CSA.
Today, the Sanninos average about 20 members per vintage, with membership including couples and up to eight individuals. The members start with harvest, on Columbus Day weekend, when there is usually something ripe—whether it be white or red grapes—depending on the growing season. The weekend is like a party. The children come, and pumpkins are all around. Once the grapes are picked, the members come back periodically to watch, and help, as the grapes make their progress to the bottle. There’s crushing and racking and stabilizing and blending and bottling. The members are involved in the decision making, and all go home with the same wine: a little bit of white, a little bit of rosé and a little bit of red, which comes out to about $16 per bottle.
The experience and the wine are enough to keep people coming back. John Arini of Setauket has joined his wife, Terry, for her second year. She was a home winemaker, and now he’s an accomplice, asking questions about fermentation time and winemaker intent. After tasting the mid-fermentation cabernet, Terry says it
was like when you’re baking a cake and eat the dough before you bake it. What’s more elemental than that?