Winemaker Plans Vintage With a Staten Island Flavor

By Nicholas Rizzi on May 14, 2012 6:47am 

Robert Rando, 57, owner of the Staten Island Winery, starting teaching friends how to make wine in his basement. When he realized there was a demand, he opened his Travis winery in 2004.
Robert Rando, 57, owner of the Staten Island Winery, starting teaching friends how to make wine in his basement. When he realized there was a demand, he opened his Travis winery in 2004.
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DNAInfo/Nicholas Rizzi

STATEN ISLAND —  It's a far cry from the the verdant hills of Napa or Tuscany's lush valleys, but a New York vintage is giving off a distinctive Staten Island nose.

The island's own winery is hoping to wow vintners with its creation, made from grapes squeezed just north of Fresh Kills and about to be bottled for sale, its owner hopes.

Robert Rando, 57, opened the Staten Island Winery School of Wine, Travis, in 2004. Now he's applying for a license to sell his bottles to local restaurants and liquor stores, and possibly from his own tasting room.

His label, Pantaleo, is inspired by his Sicilian grandfather Thomas Pantaleo, who made wine in the basement of his home.

"As a child, my grandfather made wine, and I always wanted to," said Rando — whose former jobs include a stint as a ship's captain.

Years later, he started to make barrels of his own wine out of his basement.

"[My] wine, according to what people told me, was good enough that they all wanted to make it," Rando said. "Next thing you know, all my friends were over at my house making wine."

Tucked behind a mini-mall off of Victory Boulevard, Staten Island Winery was set up to help them learn Rando's skills. He is also master winemaker and consultant at the Boston Winery.

"The main objective of this business is to bring back the old Italian tradition of making wine," he said.

"Our grandfathers had wine pressers and they made wine at home. Now they've died, their children got tired of seeing the wine press and got rid of it.

"Hopefully now the grandkids, which would be my generation, are beginning to want to come back to make wine again."

After years of teaching how to make wine, he's now planning to share the finished product. He needs to get a license from the State Liquor Authority before that happens.

But, if he's successful, Staten Island is not about to be transformed by acres of idyllic vineyards. The grapes for the school are shipped in from Chile, with another load coming from the California harvest.

The winery has around 100 barrels of wine currently being made. Each barrel makes about 240 to 288 bottles of wine, Rando said.
The winery has around 100 barrels of wine currently being made. Each barrel makes about 240 to 288 bottles of wine, Rando said.
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DNAInfo/Nicholas Rizzi

But it's just the growing that is done elsewhere. Everything else, from the crushing and de-stemming to the bottling, is done on Staten Island.

In addition to making wine, Rando also hosts an annual pig roast for customers, wine tastings every Saturday, rents the winery for people wanting to host parties like bridal showers and business outings at the winery, and even cooks the customers pasta during class.

"When you're here there's music, there's pasta on the stove," he said. "It's like Thanksgiving."

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