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Wine by design: Making your own vino

In the final stage of the 11-month process

In the final stage of the 11-month process of winemaking at Hicksville's wineUdesign, customers wash and sanitize their bottles, which must dry on a bottle tree before being filled with wine. (Sept. 22, 2011) Photo Credit: Nancy Borowick

Franco Zitoli is busily opening boxes of green wine bottles to be washed, filled and corked. Nearly a year after Zitoli, his family and friends gathered at wineUdesign, a winemaking facility that opened last year in Hicksville, the men have returned "to get rewarded for all of the hard work that we did," he says. The reward? Their own cases of vino.

And the work -- creating no-fuss wine from start (picking out the grapes) to finish (designing bottle labels) at wineUdesign -- is a far cry from harvesting and stomping grapes at his grandfather's vineyard back in Puglia, Italy.

"It's just a fun project, something to do after work," says Zitoli, 61, of Massapequa. "It brings back memories."

That's "fermentertainment," says wineUdesign owners Vincenzo Saulle and Gianni Fabrizi, who say their facility is the only of its kind in Long Island.

"We don't want people just thinking that they're coming in here to just make wine," says Fabrizi. "It's about enjoying yourself, come out with your friends. . . . You're learning something new, that maybe you didn't know before, and at the end you walk away with wine that you made."

How it works

Winemaking takes 11 months start to finish. Patrons can only order grapes twice a year: in October for varieties grown in Northern Hemisphere locales such as California, Italy and France; and in May for grapes harvested from the likes of Chile, Australia and New Zealand in the Southern Hemisphere.

To figure out their preferences, customers begin by sampling from 25 varietals, from merlot to Sauvignon Blanc. Patrons return to the facility a handful of times over several months for hands-on work crushing, pressing, racking and bottling.

Making a full barrel of your own wine costs $2,850. WineUdesign will match up to 20 people who want to make the same variety in a community barrel that can be split up as small as single cases for $200.

Fruits of their labor

With its gray concrete floors, a power-operated lift and loading dock, wineUdesign has all the trappings of an industrial building. But patrons do their work while nibbling on pepperoni, cheese cubes and crackers as jazz standards play in the background. There's even a pizza oven.

"We make a party out of it here. He has a homemade pizza oven and we bring the fixings and make pizza," says Fabrizi's godfather, Bob Cervoni, 58, of Old Westbury, while taking a break from heat-shrinking corks. "It's a really fun experience."

Across the room with resident sommelier Allison Siena, a handful of people begin a new tradition -- tasting their community barrel, which holds a 3-month-old Carmenère (a Chilean varietal).

"Salud!" they cheer, raising small plastic cups.

"I don't know what I was expecting because it's not finished yet, but I was pleasantly surprised," Barbara Guarrasi, 59, of Brooklyn, says later. "They make it fun and entertaining. There's a lot of zest for this whole process."

wineUdesign

156 Engineers Dr., Hicksville

INFO 516-939-9463, wineudesign.com

COST $200 for 12 bottles, $2,850 for 240 bottles.

The next 11-month winemaking series begins the week of Oct. 10.

Steps in wineUdesign's winemaking course:

1. GRAPE CRUSHING

Grapes are put through a machine that destems and crushes them. The material passes through to a fermentation vat and winemakers add yeast.

2. PRESSING

After the mixture ferments for eight to 14 days, customers return to press the wine, transferring the liquid to a wooden oak barrel.

3. RACKING

Wine settles in an oak barrel for about three months. Customers come in to taste the wine's progression after the "good wine" is separated from the sediment.

4. BOTTLING

Wine is ready to be bottled in the 11th month and is filtered again. Winemakers come back to sanitize, dry, fill and cork the bottles.

5. LABELING

Customers select from 40 different designs and choose a name for their wine. Labels are printed to take along with boxes of the wine.

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