Off the beaten path, tucked away on a quiet lane between Main Street and Sound Avenue in Jamesport is the “love child” of Sal and Maryanne Diliberto. When you arrive at the simple farmhouse and cross the threshold to the tasting room, close your eyes. When you open them you will be transported to the middle of a little Italian piazza, complete with Venice waterways, the lilting sound of Italian opera and clay-tiled roofs in the distance. A piano with Christmas sheet music is parked against one wall and the pizza ovens are just outside the window on the covered porch.
A Queens attorney specializing in immigration, Sal started making wine in the early 1980s. “I read an article about a guy who sold equipment and I went to meet him. I bought the equipment, then bought my grapes at the Brooklyn Terminal Market,” he says. “They came from California!”
But after a number of visits to the North Fork, Sal realized the value of local produce. “I really got to like the area,” he says. “I bought some land with an old barn on it and in 1998 we planted the first acre.” He then purchased the adjoining acreage and farmhouse for his daughter, Dena, a music teacher in the Riverhead schools, and got serious about production.
“We had too much for ourselves—I used to give it all away,” he says. “I once went to my brother’s home and he offered me a bottle of my own ’88. I had none left. That’s when I decided to go professional.”
Although his tasting room was not yet a reality, he submitted three wines to the New York Wine and Food Competition under the Diliberto Winery label and received a call from the New York Times wine critic Harold Goldberg. “I’d like to talk to you about your wines,” Goldberg said. Diliberto’s 2005 Merlot was deemed the best in New York State, even though he was not yet selling it. Goldberg told him he needed to get ready because when the Times piece came out, people would want to purchase it. “That Saturday morning,” Sal says, “we were having breakfast and people showed up to buy.” They opened the tasting room in 2007.
There are no children allowed, including infants in strollers. “It’s quiet and peaceful, a place to taste wine and listen to music with no distractions,” says Sal, a big supporter of opera. Diliberto hosted an event for the Long Island Opera in August, and there are plans for two opera events next summer. Most Sundays during the winter, the winery offers “Dinner with Grandma,” a cooking demonstration, followed by a simple meal with paired wines, piano music, and more opera.
“People come because they know we cater to adults.” There is a small service bar, but a lot of tables. “It’s a different experience,” he says. “The staff does pourings at the table.” And guests can order a homemade pizza. Sal prepares the dough on Friday to serve on Saturday. “Our signature item is the pizza with fresh sliced tomato, a little mozzarella, parmesan and basil, with a thin crust.” And Maryanne sells jars of her house-made marinara sauce ‘to go.’
As secretary of the Long Island Wine Council, Sal recently traveled to Albany with the group for Governor Cuomo’s Beer and Wine Commission. “We need more people in government supporting this,” he says. “It yields sales tax and creates jobs.”
He is now farming five acres and has taken on the management of another four acres of fruit. Diliberto produces about 700 cases a year and Sal likes it that way. “I try to stay below a thousand,” he says. “I do all the winemaking and tractor work,” and all crushing is done on premises. He has one field hand. “We don’t sell anywhere but here. It’s a one-man operation. I like it that way. It’s very controllable. We enjoy having a wine club, and having people come here. If you start getting too big, you start losing control.”
Sal and Maryanne Diliberto believe in feeding not just the stomach but the soul. “Abondanza!” says Sal. “La vite bela!” The good life.
Diliberto Winery, 260 Manor Lane, Jamesport.