STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — Ask Rob Rispoli how Staten Islanders kept occupied in the pandemic and, from his perspective, they chillaxed over homemade wine at Vino Divino in Charleston. His family’s instructional classes served as one way to socialize and commune while being mindful of COVID-19 precautions.
“It was a rough year. The winery got through it. People came out and they made wine in the middle of the pandemic!” said Rispoli with a chuckle. In fact he got a kick out of how comfortable guests made themselves while sitting at a few outdoor tables. Guests made their own little parties.
“I finally had to put a two-hour time limit on it,” he said.
When restaurant dining rooms closed again around Thanksgiving, he said, the shutdown was a boon for business.
“People were relaxing and having wine. They were finally coming out of their house,” said Rispoli.
Vino Divino is the only professional wine academy and winery on Staten Island. Over the span of its 19-year history, it has absorbed two other operations. Staten Island Winery merged with Vino Divino in 2019 and then Piazza Brothers in September 2020.
SAMPLING AND SELLING ON S.I.
Indeed, the business has evolved since its inception in 2001. Back then, Rispoli was prohibited from opening a tasting room. But laws governing on-premise consumption at a winery changed fairly recently. Now Vino Divino sells samples of various barrels. Flights of wine can include 1-ounce, 3-ounce and 6-ounce pours with pricing at $3, $5 and $7 respectively. Bottles cost $15 to $20. There are dozens of creations and grape varietals and grape concoctions rotated through the pouring program — Carmenere and Pinot Noir, Malbec and Merlot, blends of Chilean and South African fruit plus American vino made from region-specific, seasonal harvests.
“In September and October we get shipments from Sonoma and Lake counties, Oregon and Washington State. Merlot and Cabernet come from from Horse Heaven Hills in Washington State. These are very limited but they make an unbelievable wine,” said Rispoli.
He added, “We have the Chilean and South African season that started the first week in May.”
To make a barrel of wine, Rispoli encourages friends and a few couples to collaborate in the effort. A full barrel costs $3,000 (a Washington State pinot noir would be $3,800) to yield 240 bottles of wine or 20 cases per barrel.
The tasting room is open Fridays from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Rispoli offers hot pretzels and an antipasto platter for purchase. The latter for $9.99 comes with roasted peppers, caponata, Parmigiana Reggiano plus hot and sweet sopressata. Those dried sausages are house-made as are the fresh mozzarella balls and extra-virgin olive oil.
In the do-it-yourself spirit, there are classes for all of those foods. Occasionally the winery presents cheese and oil-making demos where participants go home with their own product.
“I put different people together at each table and they make friends. They end up making wine together! People wind up talking and connecting. Wine creates a totally different atmosphere and a laid back crowd,” said Rispoli.
Pamela Silvestri is Advance Food Editor. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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