Q: How did you come to the North Fork?
A: I came to the North fork for the first time in 1986. My wife Maryann had a cousin who rented a house in Nassau Point for July. We stayed over the weekend and I saw the vineyards here at the time, including Peconic Bay.
I had been making wine for a few years in Queens using grapes from California that I bought at the Brooklyn terminal market. I stopped at Peconic Bay and spoke to the owner Ray Blum. I asked him if he would sell me grapes and he said absolutely.
For the next 10 years I came to the North fork each fall and purchased my grapes from Ray. I got to know him and the North fork. In 1991 I bought some land in Jamesport with an old barn. In 1996 and 1997 we renovated the barn into living space and in 1998 we planted our first acre of grapes.
Q: How did you come to be a full time winemaker?
A: I had learned to make wine in Queens but becoming a vineyard manager took a few years of work with professionals to understand the process. Having Cornell Cooperative here in Riverhead was of tremendous assistance in those early days and even today.
We had our first harvest in 2001. We were fortunate to have those wines and our 2002 vintage receive several gold medals in the first major New York State competition that we entered. When our wins were reported in the New York Times it helped us to become known.
Q: Is there any grape or wine that you particularly like? Does Diliberto Winery have a signature varietal or style of wine?
A: I love blended wines on Long Island.
I especially enjoy two wines that we make: Cantina which is 50% Merlot and 50% Cabernet Franc). The second wine is Tre which is 65% Merlot 20% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Cabernet Franc. It is our signature blend and I believe it reflects everything I want to accomplish at my winery.
Q: Your tasting room is very distinctive.
A: Our Tasting Room is designed to feel like a piazza in Italy and it is a great way to stimulate conversations with our guests about all things Italian. The foods that we make available to our guests are classic Italian such as fresh made pizza, cheese and meat platters. Our homemade lupini beans, taralle and olives are somewhat unique to the wineries of the East End and have helped us to establish our “Italian/American” identity.
Q: The Italian theme is reflected in the events you host, like opera nights—you even sing opera—your ‘Cooking with Grandma’ series. Why is it important to you to bring a bit of Italy to the North Fork?
A: My mother was born in Southern Italy and in my youth I was surrounded by warm and wonderful family members who were all born in that region. Their love of family, food, music and wine has always been a part of my life. It is an experience that I want to share with others.
In particular I have always wanted to have my children and now my grandchildren share the same experience I had in my youth.
The Italian Experience Series this year is an extension of this desire. I want each event to reflect the great Italian/American experience that I and so many millions of others can relate to. The classic Italian music and foods are a part of it but so are the speakers who will talk about the books they have written and about the warm family memories they will share.
The latest addition to the “Italian Experience” series is going to be a series of Italian Language lessons on several Wednesday evenings in June, July, August and September. What better way to appreciate the Italian experience than to speak the language!
Q: Assolutamente! How did you become an opera singer?
A: More than 20 years ago I began vocal studies with a wonderful 80-year old operatic bass. I studied with him for almost three years until he passed away. He inspired me to develop my voice and to use it to keep alive the joy of not only opera but the songs of Italy and classic Broadway.
It brings me great joy and satisfaction to sing for an audience and have them tell me by their reaction if they have enjoyed my performance. There are some wonderful young singers on the North Fork and I especially enjoy singing with them.
Q: Do you have anything new going on in addition to the Italian Experience series?
A: The latest venture that Maryann and I have undertaken is Diliberto Wine Tours. We are taking groups of people for food and wine tours of southern Italy. We stay in the town where my mother was born and travel to each of the five provinces of the Campania region.
We have had a wonderful reaction from all of our guests. We believe that this part of Italy, where most immigrants came from is the true heart and soul of Italy. The warmth of the people, the beauty of the countryside, the simple foods and amazing wines are a startling discovery to many people who have only visited the often overcrowded cities in the North of Italy.