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Local flavors produced at Lazy Valley Winery

Scott Santaneillo ages his wine in American oak barrels because it allows juice to take on more flavor. Reminder Publications photo by G. Michael Dobbs
By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

SPRINGFIELD Springfield may not have hillsides of grape vines, but it does have its own winery. For the past 24 years, Scott Santaneillo has made wine in his basement, but now he is producing hundreds of bottles in his Lazy Valley Winery, located at the Indian Orchard Mills.

Santaneillo's winery is fully licensed by both the state and federal governments as a commercial winery and he expects to bottle the seven barrels of cabernet sauvignon that are currently aging next summer.

For the artists and businesses that make their home in the mill complex, the Lazy Valley Winery has been welcomed as a complementary addition.

Mill owner Charles Brush said, "I am delighted to have Lazy Valley Winery join our community at the Indian Orchard Mills. Mr. Santaneillo is a true entrepreneur and a perfect complement to our already diverse tenant base."

He comes from a family where winemaking was common. His uncles and cousins bottled their own wine and one of his earliest childhood memories is seeing the wooden wine press in his grandfather's cellar.

And Lazy Valley Winery is very much a family affair. Santaneillo's wife, Denise, their three children, his cousin David Lisowski and his uncle Louis Santaneillo are all helping him.

He recalled that his wife was covered in sugar mist when she was loading grapes into the crusher. Santaneillo quipped the cloud of sugar mist from the grapes made her sweeter.

"You get pretty sticky," he said. The two and half tons of grapes took three days to crush.

Santaneillo doesn't have a formal education in winemaking. The knowledge has he acquired over the years has come from research and trial and error.

"You make a mistake, you can't correct it until next year," he said.

It took years for Santaneillo to perfect his skills and said it wasn't until just seven or eight years ago he perfected his technique.

For Santaneillo, the smallest of details makes all of the difference. He bought two and half tons of grapes specifically from Lodi, Calif., earlier this year. His yeast comes from Europe and he declined with a smile to reveal what type of yeast he uses.

He carefully ensures a sterile environment during the fermentation process as the wrong bacteria can turns gallons and gallons of grape juice into vinegar.

Fermentation can take from four to 14 days depending upon variables such as the amount of sugar in the grape juice, the temperature and the humidity.

Santaneillo ages his wine in American oak barrels he buys from the same cooperage used by the Jack Daniels distillery. He said the American oak has a more open grain than French oak that allows the grape juice to take on more flavor.

He plays close attention to the temperature and humidity in his winery. Evaporation is a problem every wine maker faces and Santaneillo has his barrels covered with wool blankets that help retard evaporation.

Each week Santaneillo checks the level in each barrel and adds a little more juice if necessary.

He has six barrels of cabernet sauvignon and one barrel of merlot that he plans to blend to achieve the taste he wants.

While the wine ages, Santaneillo is busy with the next part of the winemaking process: marketing. Although each barrel will produce 250 bottles of wine, he will not be making enough to interest wholesalers. So, Santaneillo has been visiting local package stores and restaurants to secure a place on their shelves. He already has commitments.

For Santaneillo, making wine is more than just an avocation; it's an art form.

"Wine is alive," he said. "It never is not, even in the bottle."