Imagine you are driving along a back road in Italy when you see a hand-lettered sign that says “Wine Tasting” (in Italian, of course). On a whim, you decide to follow the charmingly amateurish signs until you come to a dirt road off the country road. Daringly, you turn onto it, ascend a hill past rows of grape vines, and at the top you see a large house. Is this it, you wonder. Park and enter, and you will be greeted by two older gentlemen who seem quite at home in the kitchen/family room of the house, and who will soon make you feel equally at home.
Oh, wait, this isn’t Italy, it’s Calverton! You’re just off Exit 71 of the LIE, and you’ve followed the signs to The Hidden Vineyard. You’ve been greeted by Pete DiBernardi and George Mancuso, and the house is actually where Pete lives. But the feeling of being in Italy continues as they serve you wine directly from the oak casks and tell you their life stories. Friends since their boyhoods in Brooklyn, they both became widowers rather suddenly within a short time of each other. Pete had been building the house with his wife, and abruptly did not know what to do with it. Both loved to make wine in the style of their forebears—from Sicily and Sardinia—and so, somehow, they found themselves in the wine business.
They will tell you proudly that they use no sulfites or other additives in their wines, nor do they filter them. You get to drink each glass directly from the barrels, kept refrigerated at 55˚, and if you decide to buy a bottle they will fill the bottle from the tap, seal it, and make up a label just for you—with any message on it you like.
Though it was a warm sunny November day, we stayed inside, but they were eager to tell us that in the summer they do tastings outside, and are happy to have people bring their own picnics and buy a couple of bottles. They’ve done quite a few parties, too, and point out their karaoke machine (happily not in use at the moment!).
They make six wines, all for $25 per bottle, and a tasting is $5 for three wines or $5 per glass. Note that they do not accept any credit cards. Cash only! We opt to share two tastings, first the whites, and then the reds. The pour is fairly generous.
1) Pinot Grigio
None of the wines seem to have vintages, though George assures us that they never serve a wine until they like it. All the wines, he says, spend at least a year in the barrels in the cellar of the house, which is also where they do their wine-making. This smells and tastes a bit like wildflower honey, though it is dry. I definitely taste the oak.
Tasty and toasty, we decide about this wine. We smell the typical vanilla aroma of oaked chardonnays, with a bit of a cat pee smell. Pretty good. By the way, if you want to try their wines you’ll have to come to the tasting room, as they don’t produce enough to sell to stores or restaurants.
You can tell that this is not filtered, as it is a bit cloudy. I think I smell wood shavings, but my husband thinks vegetables, maybe broccoli. This is not a sweet Riesling, and again I taste the oak. We get a fresh glass with each taste, which is a nice touch.
4) Cabernet Sauvignon
I like this wine the best so far, and in fact George does too, as he has poured himself a glass in order to join us. We smell the typical cherry/berry aroma of a Cab Sauv, and taste some pleasant fruit. This is a good wine for everyday, to go with pasta, etc. Like all the wines so far, it is not complex but perfectly pleasant.
5) Cabernet Franc
Nice deep ruby color for this wine, but the smell is a bit unpleasant, an almost chemical aroma. I’m not fond of the taste either, though it is somewhat grape-y, with a touch of sweetness at the end. No depth.
This also has a dark color, but happily tastes better than the last one. This is a nice everyday Merlot, light and refreshing, and would be fine with a roast chicken picnic dinner.
We buy one Cabernet Sauvignon and one Merlot, and watch with interest as our bottles are filled from the taps, corked and sealed and labeled by the lovely young woman—a friend of the family, she says—who does “everything” that George and Pete don’t do. In the midst of our tasting another couple came in who had actually been there before, though Pete was proud to take credit for all visitors as a result of the signs he painted by hand. They do no other advertising.
Reasons to visit: You are tired of the cookie-cutter aspect of other wineries, and want to go somewhere a bit different; you enjoy chatting with owners/winemakers; you feel that Calverton is far enough and don’t feel like venturing further onto the North Fork; you want to buy a couple of bottles as a gift with personalized labels on them; the Cabernet Sauvignon and the Merlot. But remember—cash only!