The Art of Homemade Wine

2017/11/01 - Written by Stephanie Grella
The Art of Homemade Wine
The Art of Homemade Wine
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Among the countless culinary traditions that have originated in Italy, the art of winemaking is undoubtedly one of the most cherished. As many Italians immigrated to Canada throughout the 20th century, they brought with them the values of hard work, persistence and an appreciation for tradition – ingredients that culminate in making a fine homemade bottle of wine. 

Charlie Argento’s father and uncles impressed the importance of winemaking upon him from a young age. The Vaughan resident who grew up with Sicilian immigrant parents has kept up with his family’s tradition for the past 15 years. “There was no dinner without wine at the table. It’s a tradition that we, as this generation, wanted to continue,” says Argento, 54. 

 

“There was no dinner without wine at the table.

It’s a tradition that we, as this generation, wanted to continue”

 

Learning how to create the perfect recipe took experimenting, according to Argento. He and his father were creative in each step of the process in order to take it from berry to juice in about three weeks – a process that Argento doesn’t take lightly.“I make it because I know the product that I make is a product of Mother Earth. I don’t add any additives or preservatives,” Argento says. “At the end, I have a product that I know is as organic as it can possibly be.”

Specializing in Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz, Argento usually starts around the second week of September. First, he buys the grapes and gets them de-stemmed. After placing them into 205-litre containers, he lets them ferment for one week until they reach a healthy purple colour. 

The second week consists of pressing the juice out of the berries, then putting the juice back into the containers to let it ferment another week. By the third week, Argento puts the juice into 54-litre glass containers and lets it sit until Christmas, when he siphons the wine into pails to remove any sediment and then pours it back into the glass containers. 

He gives the wine a full year to settle and clarify on its own, then he bottles it all into 1.5-litre bottles. In the past 15 years, Argento has saved one bottle from each year he’s made his wine. “The idea is to always drink homemade wine the year after. It needs time,” says Argento, who doesn’t add any chemicals throughout the process. “I wanted a natural product; that’s very important to me.”

Similar to Argento, Antonio Giordano has continued the tradition of making homemade wine since he arrived in Toronto from Reggio Calabria in 1963. Giordano learned the craft from his father, who taught him at a young age.

Although he has experimented with other red wines throughout the last 50 years, Giordano specializes in Merlot. He starts the process in mid-September and produces about three gallons. Even though Giordano inherited the hobby from his father, he says his children are not interested in making it themselves. “They drink it but they don’t make it,” laughs the North York resident. “And me, I only drink the wine I make.”

To Argento, making homemade wine is a long-running tradition that he believes the younger generations should embrace.“It’s been happening for centuries and the process has pretty much stayed the same. It’s something that should be continued by the new generation,” Argento says. “It’s definitely work. This generation is used to having things done instantaneously, while I’ve waited two years to open up a bottle of wine. You need to be patient and savour the entire process. At the end of it, when you crack open that bottle of wine, it’s worth it.” 

That’s a philosophy at the core of Wine Kitz, a Toronto family-run business that helps both novice and more experienced winemakers by offering a large selection of wine kits, winemaking additives, supplies and equipment. 

The company, which is in its 14th year, is owned and operated by three siblings – Luca, Salvatore and Esther Ciciarelli – who learned about the art of winemaking as children.“We made wine with our dad and we learned about the process starting with the grapes – from the crushing and pressing,” says Esther Ciciarelli, whose paternal roots are based in Cosenza, Calabria. “Making wine is a tradition in our family that began with our great grandfather. We’re fourth generation winemakers.” 

And that history and experience is what Wine Kitz customers have come to rely on to help them create that perfect bottle of vino. The company offers clients a wide selection of varietals from throughout the world. When it comes to whites, Pinot Grigio has been the top pick for the past five years, says Ciciarelli, with Riesling also being a popular choice. As for reds, Nebbiolo from Italy is the most sought-after, along with Pinot Noir from New Zealand and Australia’s Cabernet Sauvignon. After clients select their varietal, it takes four to eight weeks for the company to process the wine. Clients are then called in for the finishing touch: to bottle their wines on-site and customize their labels. 

Ciciarelli says customers include longtime aficionados as well as a younger clientele that are becoming interested in the hobby or making wine for special occasions like weddings, birthdays, anniversaries or holiday gift-giving. “It adds that personal touch,” says Ciciarelli. “It’s something they take pride in creating.” And for those like Argento and Giordano, who make their own wine at home from scratch, Wine Kitz can lend a helping hand. “We assist with any type of wine-making,” Ciciarelli says. “We also help those clients who are making their wine from grapes themselves. We encourage home winemakers in continuing that great tradition.”

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