Food & Drink

Making wines, winemakers is Bellefonte man’s passion

Tony Degliomini and his wife, Julie, have been eying up the vines in their yard.

Jim Stitzer doesn’t look at his flowering crab apple tree the same way.

And Bruce Teeple’s research for a book on Centre County bootlegging is sidetracking into a full-blown hobby.These are just a few of the many local residents learning to make wine. And amid their successes and failures at the hobby is something else that binds them: They’ve turned to Darrell Furfaro for help.

Teaching the tradeDuring a recent winemaking class, Furfaro, of Bellefonte, credits this paper — a bit tongue in cheek — for turning him into the mentor for thousands of winemakers.

That Oct. 24, 1981, food column — accompanying a rubber-booted young vintner — turned Furfaro from an winemaking apprentice of his grandfather to a source of knowledge for many in the region.

“From the time that first article came out,” Furfaro said, “people knew how to reach me.”

And reach him they have.

Furfaro said hundreds of people have taken his formal winemaking courses, which he has been teaching for 15 years. And the number of people seeking informal advice is countless.

The studentsNovice winemaker Tony Degliomini tried his hand at a batch of Concord wine before taking Furfaro’s class.

Degliomini, who grew up in Philadelphia, said the thought of making wine never crossed his mind until he inherited a thriving grape patch when he and his wife purchased their Pennsylvania Furnace home.

“We have these beautiful grapes on our property every year, and we just let them drop off and die,” Tony Degliomini said.

He sought guidance from Furfaro after his first batch turned out too sweet, and he since started another batch in September. It won’t officially be ready until sometime next year, but he’ll “probably siphon off a bottle for Christmas.”“You definitely enjoy the fruits of your labor. You can sit around at Christmas and just relax” while sipping your creation, he said.

Stitzer, of Spring Mills, looks past the grape when searching for a wine to make.

He’s tried elderberry, peach, rhubarb and other fermentables, and he plans to give crabapples — right from his yard — a try this year.

Stitzer, who works construction, said he’s shared wines with co-workers.

“There’s about three other guys who play around with it,” he said.

Teeple, of Aaronsburg, took Furfaro’s class recently partly as research for his book on local bootlegging and partly for his interest in the hobby.

He said his first go with winemaking 30 years ago — bottles with balloons on top — didn’t turn out so well. But, after the class, he’s willing to give it another shot.

“My wife likes merlot, so we’re going to do that one,” he said.

The classroomIn a back room at Nittany Valley Feed & Hardware in Bellefonte sits a tiny classroom. Most Saturdays and Sundays during the fall harvest, it’s filled with about 10 students.

Furfaro, who manages the hardware store, said his classes parallel the harvest season for grapes and other fruits. Once the fruit is gone, however, there’s still plenty of opportunity to make wine.

Winemaking kits, which include concentrated juices and other ingredients, are available year-round, and many grape growers offer post-harvest-season juices in sterilized bags.

Furfaro teaches classes on these, too, for those seeking a more basic entrance into the hobby. He’s also working on an advanced wine class, which will be taught at his home.

Classes have been good business for Furfaro, too. He says he’s never taught a class where at least one student didn’t become a regular customer.

A toast to successFurfaro tells his students that they have the knowledge to make award-winning wines. In fact, many of them unknowingly have.

In 2006, five of Furfaro’s wines took gold in the American Wine Society’s regional competition and four wines medaled (one gold, two silver and a bronze) at the national level — all wines Furfaro made with the help of students.

He said many of his students have also gone on to do well in competitions. This year, his chapter took 29 of the 58 medals offered to four chapters in the region.

He has his fingers crossed on a few entries for the 2007 nationals in November. He already took two golds, two silvers and two bronzes in regionals.

“I would love to get another (national gold medal), but I know how stiff the competition is,” Furfaro said.

Passing down a passionFurfaro’s passion for promoting the hobby didn’t start with him. In fact, it’s a family tradition.

His grandfather, Joseph Angelo Furfaro Sr., first learned the craft in Italy in the early 1900s before bringing his knowledge to the United States. Even Prohibition did little to curb his hobby.

“My grandfather really did inspire my love for wine at an early young age,” Darrell Furfaro said. He’s quick to carry this tradition on, as well. His 10-year-old son, Dion (named after Dionysus, the Greek god of wine), has been apprenticing under his father for years, although he doesn’t yet get to enjoy the fruits of his labor.

Dion already has taken a liking to the craft and joins his father during some of the classes.

Sometimes Dion assists, too. He’ll stare at the sky with a refractometer pressed to his eye or crank a grape crusher as his father stands beside him teaching the basics of winemaking. It’s a bond between the expert and the apprentice. For the Furfaros, it happens maybe once in a generation.

David Kubarek can be reached at 231-4637.