Picking grapes in the Italian vineyards with his family to use for winemaking is a cherished memory for Antonio Toscano.
Today he recreates the traditional home winemaking experience with others at Wineworx, a business he owns with Tony Raco.
“Winemaking,” Toscano says, “is a very social event.”
Toscano had been making wine at his home for years. When people began seeking out his expertise, he decided to start the business.
Toscano and Raco—both former educators at Rochester Institute of Technology—started the Henrietta business in 2013. They are working on their third vintage.
Raco, 74, of Webster, and Toscano, 68, of Rochester, bring 75 years of winemaking know-how to the business. Like Toscano, Raco made wine at home with his family. He recalls crushing grapes with his feet as a boy.
The business has grown largely through word of mouth. A number of Wineworx customers live in Monroe County, but the business also draws people from Syracuse and New York City. RIT graduates who have moved as far away as the West Coast also have returned to make wine.
Customers experience the process from vine to wine, Raco explains, starting with a trip to Pendleton Family Farms in Rushville, Ontario County, where participants pick the grapes they will use in the process. The grapes are crushed and pressed into juice on the same day.
The event at the farm brings people closer, Toscano notes; the group has lunch together and samples wines and cheeses during the day.
After that, the winemaker customers take the juice through the stages of production over nine months; the finished product is their own bottled wines. The experience costs $230, and participants end up with at least 24 bottles of wine.
After the one-day farm visit, the rest of the process is done at Wineworx’ 300-square-foot facility on Mushroom Boulevard. Raco and Toscano are the sole employees. A co-op student provides some graphic design work. They are looking for others to help with marketing efforts and may even need to find more space because interest in the winemaking process is growing.
Wineworx also offers winemaking experiences using California and Chilean grapes. The fresh juice is shipped to the business, and customers produce the same amount of wine as the New York grape experience at a price of $130.
Raco and Toscano recently received accolades for their winemaking efforts with two medals at the 2015 New York State Fair Amateur Wine Competition. Their Cabernet Franc earned a silver medal, and a Riesling earned a bronze. One of Wineworx’ customers also received a bronze medal for her submission.
Giving customers access to fresh grape juice and the chance to make the wine from start to finish are the reasons for Wineworx’ success, Raco says.
“People can consider themselves true home winemakers after the experience,” he says.
Small Business is a biweekly feature focusing on entrepreneurs. Send suggestions for future Small Business stories to Associate Editor Smriti Jacob at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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