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Grape Ideas from Make Wine With Us

Learning the ins and outs of winemaking with John Gizzi

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Making wine is any wine lover’s dream—the perfect blend of tasting and crafting. Luckily for New Jersey oenophiles, Make Wine With Us in Wallington offers both experiences in one location. All it takes to get started is a passion for good wine and a desire to learn.

Make Wine With Us has simplified the winemaking process so that each step is not only manageable, but fun. Novice winemakers start by sampling the varietals available for winemaking, all crafted using grapes from Lodi, California. After picking a varietal, customers are paired with team members who will collaborate on the same varietal. From start to finish, the process takes nine months and yields a minimum of five cases of premium wine for every participant.

In order to make the winemaking journey more fun and convivial, customers are encouraged to bring food to share; many bring snacks, though some have been known to share pasta and desserts with team members. And to complement the food, all customers are regularly encouraged to sample wine from the barrels used for aging.

Owner John Gizzi of Make Wine With Us says guiding the winemaking process is a natural fit for him, and a delight for his customers.

We love showing customers how to make wine without additives, and with a lot of personality,” he says. “We let the customer guide a lot of the process. If they want a fruity wine, they can bottle it after nine months, or leave it in the barrel for another year. It’s entirely up to them.”

Part of Gizzi’s passion for hands-on winemaking comes from his childhood in Jersey City. As part of a quintessential Italian family, Gizzi remembers his parents receiving wine made by family members.

We knew it was a family thing,” he says, adding that handcrafting wine made every bottle more meaningful, and gave his family a deep respect for the tradition of winemaking.

Some 35 years ago—when he was finally old enough—Gizzi got into the winemaking mix with his brother. “It was an incredible experience,” he recalls. “Definitely some of the most enjoyable moments of my young adulthood.”

Immersed in small-time, hobby winemaking, Gizzi produced roughly 250 bottles per year. Most of those were gifted to family and friends, and while it may seem hundreds of bottles is a hefty sum of vino, it went very quickly.

Thirty years later, in 2002, Gizzi stumbled across an opportunity to turn this winemaking passion into a business. With partner Diann Greco, Gizzi purchased a Jersey City wine school and converted it into what is now Make Wine With Us. Gizzi’s son, John Jr., opened a second location shortly thereafter, and in 2009, the two decided to merge into one location on Currie Avenue.

Gizzi designed the current space to be reminiscent of a European winery. “The space screams ‘winery,’” he beams. “People love coming in here.”

From day one, Gizzi and Greco wanted Make Wine With Us to be a “one-stop shop” for winemaking. “We do everything here—except make the grapes,” he says.

As part of that holistic approach, the partners intentionally incorporate a lot of wine education into the winemaking process. Regular lessons on what makes a wine good or bad are woven into demonstrations on each step of winemaking. And while Gizzi can certainly point to winemaking experience from years ago as his own education, he and Greco have supplemented real-life knowledge with studies at the American Wine Society. The two are also actively engaged in judging wine and wine conventions.

The American Wine Society has a convention once a year,” Gizzi explains. “At the conventions, they have a wine contest with a couple thousand entries, so we’ve tasted between six and seven thousand wines. It’s gotten to the point where I can actually smell the alcohol percentage of a particular bottle.”

Of all the wines Gizzi has sampled over the years, his favorite is an Italian wine called Malavasia. “Diann and I fought over it in Italy,” he laughs. “We went to a little restaurant in a town called Oleggio in northern Italy and ordered a bottle. Usually, I would drink three quarters of the bottle and Diann would have a quarter. But as I reached for a second glass, she kept the bottle on her side of the table.”

And what makes a wine like that so great? Gizzi points to the basics: “Great wine starts with great grapes. All of our grapes come from the Lodi region of California. They’re very, very good.”

At 72 years old, Gizzi might appear to be at the end of his winemaking run. But being a wine connoisseur and educator has Gizzi both looking and feeling young. A firm believer in the heart and health benefits of wine, Gizzi laughs when others are surprised by his age. “They always think I look young,” he says.

As evidence of his unabating energy, Gizzi has added another business to Make Wine With Us: First Pressed Olive Oil Company. Featuring dozens of high-end gourmet olive oils and balsamic vinegars, the online retailer is yet another way Gizzi is bringing the flavors of Italy closer to New Jersey.

If you’re interested in making wine, read up on Make Wine With Us at makewinewithus.com. For a detailed inventory of oils and vinegars available from First Press Olive Oil Company, visit firstpressoliveoilco.com And if you’re interested in learning more about the professional world of wine, Make Wine With Us hosts monthly meetings of the Meadlowlands chapter of the American Wine Society that are open to everyone.

By Maryanne Christiano-Mistretta

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