Saturday, July 07, 2012

Hartford Courant Profiles Arrigoni Winery (CT)

The Arrigoni Winery recently opened at the Gifts from the Heart shop in Portland. Four of it's five wines recently won medals in the Big E 2012 wine competition. Drift Wood, one of their two reds, won a silver medal. (Cloe Poisson June 27, 2012)

Portland Man Recalls Grandfather's Wine-Making Skills At Arrigoni Winery
June 29, 2012|By KATHERINE OGDEN, Special to the Courant, The Hartford Courant

PORTLAND — As a young boy, Ed Manner would watch his grandfather, amateur boxing champion John "Jack LaSalle" Gherlone, make wine in Gherlone's garage in Hartford.

Back then Manner was too little to help. But as he got older, Gherlone taught him how to crush and press the grapes, extracting the juice from the skins before putting it into barrels to age.

The lessons were not forgotten. Manner continued to dabble in winemaking through his 20s, though when he grew older he lost time for his hobby as "life got in the way."

Now 46, Manner has returned to winemaking with enthusiasm. Calling it a "hobby gone wild," on May 4 he opened the Arrigoni Winery to complement his family gift shop, Gifts From the Heart, on Route 66.

"At first it was just a drink to share with family and friends," Manner says. "I found I had knack for it. Everyone seems to like my wine."

The winery, named after the iconic Arrigoni Bridge which spans the Connecticut River between Portland and Middletown, is located in the back of the gift shop and overlooks about two acres of vineyards planted about two years ago. Overall, there are about six acres of grapes planted on the 200-acre farm that extends from Route 66 to the Connecticut River.

The vines are still young, Manner says, so they still have about two years to go before they will bear fruit. In the meantime, he uses grapes from Connecticut farms and some from the Finger Lakes region in New York to make four different varieties of wine. He also makes an apple wine from fruit grown by the local Gotta's Farm.

While the roots of Manner's winery may extend back to a garage in Hartford, its operation today is far from it. Manner now has three buildings on the farm that he uses in a scientific process that ensures consistency and stability in the wines he offers. Manner and his daughter, assistant vintner Cassie Manner, 15, monitor sugar and acidity levels to make the best, most consistent wine they can.

"It's not like it was in the garage," Manner says. "(But) it all roots back to the old days."

Manner said he and his grandfather had a close relationship even beyond winemaking. In 1931, Gherlone was the featherweight amateur boxing champion for Connecticut, and long after giving up the gloves himself he would often take his grandson to the fights. Even so, Manner knew his grandfather for his kindness.

"He was a kind and gentle man," Manner says. "He [fought] as a sport. He was the most low-key man you would ever meet."

Gherlone fought in the 1930s under the name "Jackie LaSalle," an alias he used to hide his exploits in the ring from his parents, who wouldn't allow him to box. He borrowed the name LaSalle from a popular General Motors car that sold from 1927 to 1940.

A second-generation Italian immigrant, Gherlone died in 1997 at age 86.

Though he did not live long enough to see it, Manner knows his grandfather would be happy to see his grandson take to oenology in a big way.

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