Growing up in an Italian family, I was always fascinated by my relatives that made their own wine. My grandfather dabbled in it for a while and the musty wine smell that came from his basement is one of those things that always stuck with me (just like the smell of my great grandmother frying up eggplant in her apartment). A few years back, Mrs. Notafoodie and I decided that the mature thing to do as we were beginning to start a family was to move out of our Manhattan one-bedroom and buy a house in Queens. When I saw the old basement in the house we ended up buying, the first thing I thought of was “this would make a cool wine cellar”. Then the opportunity to buy some used wine-making equipment came up and I really didn’t have to think twice before shelling out a few hundred dollars on a crusher, a press, and some giant containers (I later found out what a bargain I got, as the equipment would have retailed for over $1000).
The first year I decided to just dip my toe in the water. I went with one of my co-conspirators ,who is also a food nut, to the Brooklyn Terminal Market to buy a case of grapes. I had no clue what the hell I was doing, so I chose the grapes that I recognized- Cabernet Sauvignon. Armed with the internet and the scribbled down notes from the family friend I bought the equipment from, we began our first production. We were so happy. Crushed grapes, when left alone, actually fermented and gave off an alcoholic stench (not unlike my grandfather’s basement). The massive press actually worked and what came out sure looked like wine. We bottled the stuff and aged it for a few months before trying it. All I can say about that first batch is- it didn’t make us blind. It was not very good, but it was drinkable.
I sort of equate that first batch to one of the first times I played golf (a sport that I suck at, but really love to play). There comes a shot in your first few rounds of golf that is so good, it has no business whatsoever being in your game. You can be slicing all day and generally stinking up the course, but for some odd reason, you hit the ball perfectly on that one shot. That’s the “come back” shot. The shot that makes you realize that somewhere inside you there might be an actual golfer. It makes you want to come back and try again. My first batch of wine was my “comeback shot”. Somewhere underneath all of the musty harshness, I could taste notes of an actual glass of wine.
Queensborough Cellars (my totally unoriginal idea for the name) is now in the process of aging it’s fourth vintage. The third vintage consisted of a “mixed black”, which is the American version of Chianti, and a barbera. It was bottled over the summer and I’m happy to say that it is the best wine we have made yet (and to this day it still has not induced blindness- a marketing slogan that I think needs to go on the label next year). The barbera is light and fruity and the “wanna be Chianti” is pretty OK too. I’d put both bottles up against a $8-$12 store bought bottle. My father and brother have also joined in on the process and it’s become sort of a family project. Plus, I have the added bonus of my basement smelling like granpa’s.