Hidden in a back parking lot, tucked behind a Lowe’s, is a small, white-brick warehouse. Inside, Joseph Cipri moves swiftly between two stainless steel tables. His all black outfit contrasts against his silver curls that fall onto his suit jacket. On one table is a grouping of dark green wine bottles, filled with the beverage and corked. On the other is a metal rack with a small heating unit positioned at the top. Cipri picks up one bottle from the first table, places a purple, plastic cover over the opening, hiding the cork, and walks over to the heating unit, laying the bottle on a rack. He slides the bottle into the compartment with hot, orange metal coils for a few seconds, melting the plastic just enough to make it snug.
Cipri is not a professional winemaker or sommelier. He does not work at this winery, or any winery. In fact, he is paying to make the wine. Cipri is finishing up the final steps in the 11-month winemaking process at WineUDesign, where customers have the chance to be hands-on with wine that they get to take home.
“My parents are Italian immigrants from Puglia, and I’ve been making wine since the age of two,” says Cipri. “About four years ago, I came to WineUDesign with a couple buddies and I’ve been making wine here ever since.”
Located in Hicksville, WineUDesign is the brainchild of owner Vincenzo Saulle, who opened the business 10 years ago to continue a tradition he grew up with—winemaking.
“It’s just something I learned as a child with my father and with my uncles, and the winemaking tradition was more the impetus than how to make wine,” Saulle says.
After opening his doors, Saulle found that many families in the area grew up making wine with their parents, too.
“There are many people in my generation whose fathers, grandfathers died off and they still had this connection of making wine,” he says. “This is a place where now they can come and do that. We’re big on the tradition of winemaking and it just so happens we also make very good wine.”
Keeping the family tradition of winemaking alive can be hard to do at home, but bringing that to WineUDesign uncomplicates it, says Sam Ruggeri, who has made about six barrels there.
“We thought [Saulle’s] unique process of making wine was a lot easier than us trying to make it in the garage like we used to,” he says.
The draw is to continue a family tradition, but also a way to get together with friends and family, Cipri says.
“It’s so easy to go to a liquor store, a wine store and purchase a wine,” he says. “It’s not so easy to get together four times a year and produce a barrel of wine that you can be proud of with friends and family.”
“It’s the fruit of our labor—or the juice of our labor,” he continues. “Where are you going for four evenings [a year] with 10 friends and having a blast, walking away with two cases of wine, for $345 an individual?”
The process is broken down into four visits: crushing the grapes, pressing the grapes, tasting the wine halfway through the aging process, and finally bottling, corking and taking the wine home.
“The first two steps are very close together. They are about a week apart,” Saulle says. “We crush the grapes, getting rid of the stems. And a week later, after its turned into wine, we press the wine and get it into our barrel.”
About five months later comes the fun part—a wine sampling of your barrel to make sure its tasting right.
“And then after that 11 months is up, they come, bottle their wine and take it home for their own personal enjoyment,” Saulle says. “They get to put their own private labels on it which is for me the capstone of the whole experience. Because if you are going to share this with friends and family, you might as well have an awesome label on it too.”
Each group normally consists of 10 people, each going home with 24 bottles of wine, or two cases.
“[People] can’t believe how relatively inexpensive it is,” Capri says. “You walk away with two cases of wine, $14 a bottle. You come together with nine of your best friends. And we have four great evenings together.”
And Capri’s words of wisdom for someone just starting the process?
“My only advice is there’s no need to wash off your feet,” he says. “Its not part of the process. You come, you have a great time with friends and family, if not you’ll come and meet friends for life.”