By:Amy Rosner By:Amy Rosner | September 14, 2021 | Food & Drink
Ever dreamed of making your own wine? Crushing the grapes with your friends? Making a customized label with your favorite saying on it?
California WineWorks, a custom winemaking facility in Northern New Jersey, can make the magic happen!
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Based on the California Harvest cycle, this Jersey-operated winery gets its fruit from Sonoma and Napa.
You get the same quality of Napa Valley wine, without ever having to leave your backyard.
The entire process takes about a year to complete, October for the crush and press, and the following August/September for bottling.
By paring down winemaking to its simplest form and demystifying the process, California WineWorks encourages a life-long interest in making wine and fosters a sense of community amongst winemakers.
Jersey locals and high-profile celebrities are frequent visitors of CaliforniaWineWorks.
“Making wine from scratch creates a community of wine lovers in many ways. Besides creating great wine, the best part about winemaking is the excuse to gather with friends who share a common bond. In our case, we always enjoy great wine while “working”, either from our own wine cellars, including our own labels from previous winemaking years, but also some samples from California WineWorks’ past years,” Frank Vuono, New Jersey Local.
“Always, we share a meal of fine food, including cheeses and great bread that is very much complemented by the wine. Last, but not least, there is actually some work to be done, and having everyone participate as a team toward a common goal is pretty rewarding.”
No matter who you are, or where you come from, there is a place for you at this family-owned establishment.
Winemaking is a social experience by nature, and it’s the perfect opportunity to come together, make memories, create stories, and of course, drink great wine.
“You go through every stage of the winemaking process, from crushing, to bottling, with a big group of people, which makes the experience all the more special. You eat good food, drink good wine, and listen to good music, all with the same people from start to finish,” Phil Simms, former New York Giants, and Superbowl MVP Quarterback.
"One of my favorite parts of making wine is creating your own label. It adds a level of creativity and personalization, which leads to great conversation when you serve the final product to friends."
We had the wonderful opportunity to sit down with Craig and Karla Cicciari, the owners of CaliforniaWineWorks, for an exclusive look into Ramsey’s best-kept secret.
What initially drew you to the wine-making business?
We started out making wine at a wine school in Jersey City. As Chemists and Chemical Engineers, we thought that we could do it better by bringing in the best fruit, using professional-grade equipment, and understanding the fermentation kinetics. We wanted to keep the operation small so that we could take the time with each group to focus on crafting the highest quality wine of their dreams.
How have you created a community of wine lovers and makers through your company?
Fundamentally, wine is a social beverage. It is made socially, it is consumed socially and I am sure talked about socially. Think of the stories you tell about wine. It is usually in the context of where you were or who you’re were with. Wine drives stories.
You mentioned that your business is not just about winemaking, but the experience of creating something with friends and family. Can you elaborate more on the social/bonding aspects of winemaking?
Most of the barrels that are made at our facility are made by groups with someone serving as the Barrel Captain, or main point of contact. These groups: families, work colleagues, neighbors, college roommates, etc. now have a reason to come together a couple of times a year…to make wine together.
Some groups are more serious than others, but across the board, they all come together to work on creating something very unique, that only they share. Outside of our shop, it gives everyone something to think about: What are we making next? How is last year’s wine developing? etc. The process of creating something with others provides a common thread through their lives that many find they lose as kids grow older, families become more scattered.
What are the less tangible takeaways of winemaking? (ie, besides walking away with delicious wine)
In general, it broadens people’s perspectives. Our winemakers start paying more attention to the role that Mother Nature plays in winemaking. They are paying attention to the weather out in Napa and how that is impacting their wines. They drink wine differently. We ask them to pay attention when they open a bottle. Did they like it? Did they not like it? Both are important. Make notes. Just don’t sip it down and move on. Every time they open a bottle or have a glass it is a chance for them to learn about something they may or may not want to do with their next wine.
What is the most rewarding aspect of your job?
I absolutely love when our winemakers talk about opening a bottle of wine that they made, be it with someone who is really turned off by hearing that it is “homemade wine” and then being totally blown away or that they saved a bottle for a special occasion and it was amazing.
If you had to choose one favorite memory from your time in the winemaking industry, what would it be?
My most recent favorite happened during our visit in June to the vineyards where we source most of our grapes. We had the opportunity to meet with all of the wonderful people out in the vineyards who work to give us such fantastic fruit. Everyone we spoke with, the field workers, the lab technicians, vineyard owner; each spoke of a very caring relationship with their colleagues and for grapes that they were growing. It made me proud to be a part of the process.
Photography by: Andrea Cairone, Courtesy CaliforniaWineWorks