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Acquaviva Winery young but earning praise

The vineyards AcquavivWinery Maple Park. | Rich Hein~Sun-Times

The vineyards at Acquaviva Winery in Maple Park. | Rich Hein~Sun-Times

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Though Acquaviva Winery in west suburban Maple Park is a relative newcomer, local oenophiles have discovered it, and its wines already have scored a shelf full of medals.

The vineyard first took root in 2001 on a half-acre plot that has since expanded to a 40-acre site with 19 varieties of grapes. From them come eight different wines — three varietals and the rest blends, said Acquaviva’s Denise Cimmarrusti, who helped the Brandonisio family establish the operation.

“Our first full crop for processing was harvested in 2007,” Cimmarrusti said. “Last year, we produced 5,000 gallons of wine — most of which sold through our tasting facility and onsite restaurant.”

Only two retail outlets, The Little Traveler in Geneva and Imboden’s Meat Market in DeKalb, stock Acquaviva’s wines, which are marketed at $15.95 to $24.95.

Cimmarrusti said this year the 2011 Brianna, a sweet dessert wine, won the prized Governor’s Cup award for best white table wine. Brianna, which pairs nicely with fresh fruit, offers tropical flavors of grapefruit and pineapple with a citrus finish.

Among other grapes that owner Vito Brandonisio selected because they reminded him of his grandfather’s small vineyard in Bari, Italy, are Chardonel, Prairie Star, Marechal Fosh and Frontenac.

“All the grapes used at the winery are French-American hybrids,” said Cimmarrusti. “Because the species are different, they make a unique wine that’s tailored in the old-world tradition. Three of Acquaviva’s four reds are barrel-aged.”

The winery, which opened to the public in 2010, occupies a 20,000-square-foot facility that houses a tasting room and Italian restaurant on the main floor and processing equipment on the lower level.

Wine tours are by reservation, but guests can view the fermentation area through oversize windows in the dining area. The winery encourages visitors to sample its wares (six one-ounce pours for a modest fee) and discover personal preferences on their own.

Asked about the recent dry spell’s impact on Acquaviva’s grapes, Cimmarrusti said the berry size is “smaller and more concentrated — which is a plus for winemaking.”

The “negative” side of the weather story, she added, is not so much drought-related as it is related to the early spring heat wave that was followed by frost, which harmed some of the grapes that already had broken bud. “We lost that first flush of green which affected the primary buds. Luckily, there was no second freeze. Instead of getting two clusters (of grapes) on each shoot, we got only one.”

—Thomas Witom

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