A Vineyard For Little Silver?

February 3, 2012

LITTLE SILVER — Richard DeBlasi loves his wine. And now the Seven Bridges Road resident is hoping to convince the governing body to allow him to make wine on his property.

“I think I can make very good wine,” he said this week, “and I just want to see if I can make a go of it.”

DeBlasi has been growing grapes on his approximately 15-acre 640 Seven Bridges Rd. property for the last 10 years and hopes to expand his operation to include a commercial winery, bottling his wine and selling it.

“I would think the people of the town deserve to see a nice vineyard, a winery, without traveling to Napa,” he said.

John Giunco, DeBlasi’s lawyer, and DeBlasi have asked the Little Silver Borough Council to consider an ordinance to change the zoning in the area of DeBlasi’s property to permit this operation.

As Giunco explained it, according to the state’s Farm Winery Act, someone who is producing three or more acres of grapes is entitled to operate a winery.

DeBlasi’s property has, along with his home and vineyard, a barn and garage area. DeBlasi wants to produce his wine on site and have a tasting room for visitors and customers.

“What my client wants to do is to run a reasonable and sensible business there, that isn’t going to disturb the neighbors,” Giunco argued.

Speaking from Las Vegas, Nevada, this week, DeBlasi said he has long had an interest in making wine. “It’s in my blood,” in his Sicilian heritage he said, with his family growing grapes and olives for years.  “I’ve been doing it since I was a kid.”
He learned from his father, who, since DeBlasi was a boy, tried to encourage his son to take an interest in farming and working with the soil. At the time DeBlasi said he had little interest but since then he has grown to appreciate the life.

“Riding on the tractor,” he now says, “that’s’ what I think Heaven would be.”

People can buy wine anywhere, of course. But DeBlasi said the attraction would be for people to come to his location, visit, taste and then purchase. “”People want to hear a story. They want to hear how it grows,” he said.

Most wineries in New Jersey are located in the southern part of the state,s. But “My winery would be accessible to people,” from this area.

He has grown grapes over the years that were used to produce pinot noir and cabernet sauvignon. Weather determines what type of wine is made. Grapes grown in wetter soils, like that close to the water, like his, make for a better pinot noir.

Producing wine is “really labor intensive,” he said, with each bottle needing about two-and-a-half pounds of grapes.

Unfortunately, he admitted, New Jersey wines tend to not be held in particularly high esteem among oenophilists.

New Jersey wines aren’t as heavy as those made in California, and probably compare to some European vintages. “I don’t think we get a fair shake,” he contended.

This use of the property, he offered, is a good one as it preserves open space and offers what he said would be a pleasant experience for visitors. “I’d like to give it a try,” he said. “I’d like to have tours. Come in for a couple of hours, a little sampling. Hopefully that will give them a nice experience.”

The borough council has yet to offer an opinion since Giunco appeared before them in November. Any zoning change would require an ordinance that would give people an opportunity to speak on the proposal. “We know it’ll take some reasonable debate,” Giunco acknowledged. But, “We would put together restrictions that would let him operate successfully and still make the town feel comfortable.”

“Wine is a relaxing agent,” and has health benefits, DeBlasi offered.

DeBlasi also has property located in the Locust section of Middletown and said he may look to establish a similar operation there in the future.

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