Manny Licitra grew up in the Bronx, in a family that made wine in its basement. Or in his grandfather’s basement, or his uncle’s. Lots of families made wine at home then. “Everybody’s basement smelled like a winery,” Licitra recalls.
That kind of smell and mess won’t work now that so many basements being used as media rooms, home offices and more. So Licitra,who has lived in Verona for 18 years, makes his homemade wine elsewhere–at a wine-making club that has a full range of professional crushing, mixing and bottling equipment.
OK, OK, I can hear the questions. What does wine making have to do with the Preserve It series? Simple: It’s a way of preserving the grape harvest and, done right, it can preserve it for a very long time. A museum in Germany has a bottle that is believed to have been made by the Romans in 325 A.D. One other bit of necessary information: Licitra is my brother-in-law and I have been drinking his wines for the last four years. They are quite lovely for a do-it-yourself project.
There are several of these public wineries around New Jersey, including A Little Taste Of Purple in Fairfield, which Licitra uses. Their goal is to make wine-making easy, fun and goof-proof, and they are finding a responsive market. Purple’s owner, Vince DiLorenzo, says his business produced 65 barrels of wine in 2001, its first year of operation. Last year, it did 235 barrels.
Old-school home vintners might grab a case of this grape and a case of another at the market, and hope for the best. But at Purple, you start by tasting some 25 different finished wines. When you find one you like and make your down payment, Purple orders the exact grapes for that blend and helps you to replicate it.
Making wine will require three trips to Purple and a few hours spent each time. To make those trips easier, it and many of its competitors have turned wine making into something that the whole family can enjoy. The kids can help dump grapes into the vats, put on labels and do many other tasks–except, of course, sample. Family wine makers get time to talk and be together away from all the other demands of daily life in Verona. “Everybody has a lot of fun,” says Licitra.
The wines Licitra makes cost him about $10 a bottle. The catch is that he has to make wine by the barrel, which is about 240 bottles. With various additional expenses, the total cost of one wine-making session is about $2,500. Many families ease that cost by splitting a barrel with friends. (Purple is offering a $100 discount now for new wine makers, and you can get the coupon here.) For Licitra, the wine making is a business expense, since he gives bottles of his wine as gifts to the customers of his Italian specialty food store in Millburn, Mia Famiglia.
Wine making is definitely not about instant gratification: The wine you start making this fall won’t be ready to take home until next summer. If you want to learn more, A Little Taste of Purple is having a free wine tasting this weekend, on Saturday and Sunday from 2 to 6 p.m. Say Manny sent you.