For this week’s edition of “5 Questions with…” we sit down (virtually) with Antoinette Di Ciaccio, wine club manager at Sheldrake Point Vineyards and someone I’ve enjoyed tasting with on a couple different occasions.
What was the first bottle of wine you remember drinking — and where did you have it and who were you with?
Since you ask about my first bottle, I won’t expand too much on my early experiences with glasses of wine except to say that my parents, both born and wed in Italy before immigrating to the U.S. in the 195-s, enjoyed wine with dinner every night. Their wine of choice was usually Gallo jug wine and there was no taboo whatsoever about my sampling it! And so I did, often, but it didn’t leave much of an impression.
The first bottle of wine WORTH remembering was in 1992. I was visiting Napa and Sonoma wineries but it was during a meal with my future husband that I was “awakened.”
Ironically, it wasn’t the local wines that caused the ‘aha’ moment — it was a brilliant Chianti Reserva! We were dining at an excellent Italian restaurant in the heart of Sonoma when we selected the Tuscan rabbit entrée. We went with our waiter’s recommendation. It was not only excellent wine — it was a stunning pairing. It woke me up to wine and the beauty it can bring to a meal.
When did you know that you wanted to be in the wine industry?
I moved to the southern Finger Lakes region in 1993 but was already enamored with the thought of working at a local winery since I began visiting in 1991. I did not act on that desire, however, until early 2007 when I was hired to pour part-time at Hermann J. Wiemer’s tasting room. At the time, I was working a full-time job of which I was growing quite weary. This exposure to the industry was all that I needed! And what a great winery to begin with!
Within the year I was hired by Damiani Wine Cellars as their tasting room manager. I have never looked back.
What do you wish were different about the New York wine community and industry?
The Finger Lakes wine community is an extremely passionate, collaborative, and resourceful crew. We gather together regularly, in all sorts of different circles, to share ideas and thoughts. This regional attitude towards one another’s success equals our success will, and has, taken us far. What I look forward to changing or improving is the experience for visitors and our customers. As far as I can see, most visitors to the region are generally given the same option to taste at the bar and, on occasion, engage in more “advanced” experiences through a once a year event.
I would like to see more options for visitors to experience our wines. There are visitors of all levels of interest but increasingly there are the savvy visitors who are eager to learn more and experience more about the region, the wine, and the winery. I do see some great ideas happening more often, such as chocolate or cheese with wine pairings, for example, but incorporating these with more behind-the-scenes experiences, hands-on or otherwise, and the opportunity to mingle with the senior staff would be more in line with what I am thinking. don’t have specific plans or have all the answers as to how to pull this off with most of us having limited resources but we can get creative.
It comes down to making the experience memorable and providing a personal connection to those that are genuinely interested. As a Wine Club manager, I make every effort to connect our members to Sheldrake Point and the people that produce the wine they taste.
When you’re not drinking your own wines, what are you drinking?
There are many Finger Lakes wines I enjoy regularly. I have my favorites but I’m trying to avoid developing a Finger Lakes-only palate.
This year I have made it a point to purchase a case of various wines from a particular region and explore wines that way. For example, my recent visit to Portugal was preceded by many bottles of Portuguese wines. It is a fun way to learn. I only wish I could do it this way every year — explore the region’s wines for months, reading about it all the while, before actually visiting!
But there is life beyond wine too. Tea is my other growing interest. I have always enjoyed tea and favor it over coffee. It’s a beverage I hope to learn more about. Like wine, it has a long, rich history and it can be a beverage for quiet contemplation.
If you could only pick one grape/wine/producer to live out your days with on a deserted island, what would it be?
This question is such a challenge to answer. Variety, for me, is the spice of life and so I hope my stay on the island is brief if one wine is all I can have! If the island is tropical, I say make it sparkling! On the other hand, I also love albarino and riesling with my favorite food — shellfish. Oh, and then there is viognier! If the temperature is cool, I hope to warm up with a syrah blend or a tempranillo, preferably a Rioja Reserva.
In any case, you can bet I will be sending smoke signals!