Closed landfill plans to produce red wine

February 23, 2008 7:03:30 AM PST
Lush Tuscan vineyards and the urban landscape of Staten Island may not seem to go together, but that's about to change.

With a little help from its Italian sister city, the borough often associated with its former landfill is preparing to open the only large-scale, educational vineyard in New York City. And its creators are looking forward to producing their very own nectar of the gods - the Super Staten Island Red.

"Despite what people think, Staten Island can be a good place to produce excellent wine," said Piergiorgio Castellani Jr., a Tuscan winemaker whose vineyards inspired the venture. "It's like planting a vineyard in the center of the world."

The vineyard was the brainchild of several Staten Island businessmen with an appreciation for red wine. They traveled to Crespina, Italy, in November to glean ideas from Castellani's vineyards.

They consulted with viticulture experts from Cornell University and the University of Pisa to select a blend of grapes that would grow in the Staten Island Botanical Garden.

They settled on cabernet sauvignon, merlot and sangiovese varieties, which they hope to plant in spring 2009.

The 2-acre vineyard is part of an effort to lure tourists off the famed Staten Island ferry and onto the much-maligned island. The borough president's office has committed $2 million to the project.

"It's an educational vineyard," said Henry Salmon, who is spearheading the nonprofit venture, which will explore winemaking from the vine to the bottle. "We expect to bring adults and children to show how grapes are grown and how wine is made."

Even though more than a third of its residents are of Italian descent, Staten Island bears little resemblance to the rolling hills of Tuscany. The island, located off the southern tip of Manhattan, is the least populated of the city's five boroughs.

It will take about four years before the soil is prepared for the vines and grapes can be transformed into wine.

But organizers believe it's worth the wait.

"What's more important than making good wine is the didactic component of this project," Castellani said. "There are a lot of people interested in understanding how wine is made."