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Everything I needed to know about wine and how to make it, I’m still learning

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My friend and I sat quietly in the classroom at the acclaimed Wine School of Philadelphia recently, trying to absorb everything our instructor, school founder Keith Wallace, was saying.

Good wine is a product of “chemistry and statistics,” he said, noting that it takes a vineyard 20 years to produce a good wine.

Good wine is not simply a product of soil and climate, according to Wallace. Equally important are the required warm air, cool nights and sunshine. He said those variables can make or break a grape harvest.

Leaving aside matters of taste, a huge factor that makes a wine “good” is its complexity, the class learned.

Complexity is determined by the presence of “three to seven distinct flavors and aromas” that are detected upon a proper swirl of your glass, allowing vapors to emerge. 

Wallace pointed out that understanding wine involves many disciplines, and includes not just chemistry but also agriculture, history, climate, mathematics, etc. 

In a 2022 interview on “Why? The Podcast,” Wallace describes the reward of teaching wine and winemaking. He said, and I’m paraphrasing, when something has a language of its own, and individuals learn that language, they are more apt to not only remember what they’re learning but also intrigued to learn more. 

I got to thinking about it taking 20 years to produce a good wine. Then I remember something else Wallace told the class: To mass produce wine, a vineyard must be situated near a port for its distribution. Case in point: the wine industry in Napa, Sonoma County, Calif., only began flourishing in the mid-1800s just around the same time as its shipping. 

Meanwhile, in New Jersey …

Gino Pinto, an immigrant from Cilento, Italy, joined his U.S. relatives in the produce business in Hammonton, N.J., upon his arrival in 1962. By 1968, Pinto branched off and started a business importing grapes from California. He had studied agriculture in Italy, so he understood the language of wine and the demand for good grapes by local winemakers. 

The South Jersey climate and landscape, notwithstanding its burgeoning winemaking scene today, could never produce the kind of grapes that California could.

“My in-laws would tell their customers to meet them at the train in the middle of the night when the supply of grapes was scheduled to arrive from California because there was no large-scale refrigeration at that time,” Nick Cappelli, owner of Fruit of the Vine produce in Glen Mills, Pa., and son-in-law of the late Gino Pinto, said. “They would sell 36-pound boxes of grapes directly to their customers as they unloaded them from the train.” 

In the early 2000s, Cappelli happened to be in Hammonton to purchase a food truck for his family business. From the road, he took note of the Gino School of Wine on the grounds of the Gino Pinto Co. Winemaking had always been a passion Cappelli wanted to pursue. And just like that, he enrolled. 

There, Cappelli met the school’s founder and expert winemaker, Michael Pinto (Gino’s son) who has since taken over the Pinto company. Michael established the wine school creating a modern facility to instruct students on the art and science of winemaking using fresh grapes. (Incidentally, five years after meeting Michael Pinto, Capelli married his sister, Maria.)

In 2008, Cappelli transitioned from his food truck business to becoming a grape and grape juice distributor, at the suggestion of his father-in-law. A no-brainer! On balance, Capelli had large-scale refrigeration at his former food truck plant, and the Gino Pinto company had grown into a well-established, well-respected purveyor of grapes and grape juice from vineyards worldwide. And so, another marriage was made in wine heaven.

To launch his new distributorship, Cappelli took a grassroots marketing approach. “I placed ads in church bulletins, put posters in Italian-American clubs, attended every Italian event I could, and more … to spread the word,” he shared. Those words traveled rather quickly and the new business was off and running. 

In particular, Fruit of the Vine’s Montepulciano grape juice is a best seller as it attracts local winemakers from Delaware County and Philadelphia of Abruzzese descent. “[Pressed] grape juice makes up 95 percent of our business, and there is a large population of Italian Americans with Abruzzese ancestry in the area,” Cappelli noted. “We also carry several other grape varieties including Sangiovese, Brunello, Nebbiolo, and more.” 

Fruit of the Vine is currently the second-largest distributor of grapes and grape juice for winemaking in Pennsylvania.

It seems if you just follow the grapes, you can feel the chemistry; the moments when winemaking’s art and science, passion, and intrigue marry … and keep making babies.

Note: In 2017, the Gino School of Wine was acquired by Kennedy Wine Cellars in Hammonton, N.J., and is now called Kennedy Cellars: The School of Wine.

Natalie Pantaleo is a marketing communications
consultant, brand strategist, and consummate storyteller based in the Greater Philadelphia metro area. In addition to being a published features writer, Natalie is the author of “Lying Down with Dogs,” a novella globally released by The Awakened Press in September 2022. 

Natalie Pantaleo

Natalie Pantaleo, a resident of Haverford Township, Pa., is a marketing communications consultant, brand strategist, and consummate storyteller. In addition to being a published features writer, Natalie is the author of “Lying Down with Dogs,” a novella globally released by The Awakened Press in September 2022.

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