Those hankering for a trip to Italy can surely cure bouts of wanderlust by visiting Diliberto Winery in Jamesport.
It might be the Neopolitan-style thin-crust pizza topped with homemade fresh mozzarella; it could be the mural of a giant piazza covering an entire wall; or perhaps it’s the continuous Italian music filling the space of a tasting room set up like a typical Tuscan terrace.
The place is reminiscent of Italia, and if the tasting room doesn’t take you there, the wine certainly will.
Owner Sal Diliberto started making wine in his garage in Queens, where he was born and raised, much like his relatives in Italy have done for generations. He used California grapes at first until he visited the East End for the first time in 1986. He brought Chardonnay, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes back west and made wine with Long Island-grown grapes.
After his first batch, he never looked back.
“I liked the wines that I made with grapes from here better than grapes from California,” he said, noting that the North Fork’s grapes are softer and lower in sugar, leading to wine lower in alcohol.
“It’s a much easier drinking wine and much more food-friendly,” he said.
He launched a homegrown operation onto a larger scale when he purchased land on Manor Lane in Jamesport and planted grapevines in 1998 and 1999. He and his wife, Maryann, spent weekends in a restored 19th century barn on the property until they had a house built nearby in 2006 and moved to their vineyard full time. Mr. Diliberto, the winemaker, turned a portion of the house into a winery, complete with stainless steel tanks, barrels and a small bottling operation.
Diliberto Winery produces 700 to 800 cases a year and sells bottles exclusively in the Italian-influenced tasting room.
During his tenure as grower and winemaker, Mr. Diliberto has been praised for his red wines — the New York Times said he could be called “Signore Vino Rosso,” or Mr. Red Wine — but he says he enjoys making both red and white, and finds the later to be fun and, at times, more challenging.
When making white wine, he employs fining, a more involved process in which he puts bentonite clay in the tanks to remove particles that may discolor the wine.
The winery’s best-selling wines, however, are indeed Mr. Diliberto’s reds. One popular bottle is a table wine called Cantina, the Italian word for cellar, which many families in Italy have installed underground and use for wine storage.
A blend of Cabernet Franc and Merlot, Cantina ferments in older barrels, which produce less oaky flavors than newer ones. Such fermenting emphasizes the flavors of the grape juice, he said.
He’ll also let the wine age for at least two years in barrels, he said, so the wine “mellows and develops some nice, intense flavors.”
Another favorite among Diliberto guests is Tre, which means three in Italian and is an apropos name for the red blend of three wines: Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.
Mr. Diliberto only makes the blend when the grapes are high quality; the last Tre he made was with grapes from 2007, which is widely seen in the industry as one of Long Island’s most successful growing seasons.
Mr. Diliberto wears the hats of not only vineyard manager and winemaker, but also resident chef. He holds a pasta dinner every Sunday during the winter months in which guests can help make gnocchi and other types of pasta from scratch.
He said, sitting in his tasting room in early January, that he wants his visitors to feel, hear and taste Italy when they’re in his winery, which is influenced — from floor to sky-painted ceiling, from fresh curd to homemade fresh mozzarella and from vine to wine — by family members in Italy.
Just then, he received a text message from relatives in Italy, where he’s expected to soon visit.
“Ti aspettiamo,” he said, and then translated the message. “We’re waiting for you.”