Vino di Santino


At first glance you may think “Ernest Hemingway, what are you doing making wine?” but if you’d take another look you would see that the white bearded man is actually Santino D’Ambrosio. Santino was born in Balsorano, Italy in 1933 and came to the United States through Ellis Island in the year 1959, when he was 26 years old. Santino went to college in Italy for masonry and is now a ‘master’ of marble and tile. To me, Santino has and always will be Nonno (grandfather in Italian), the man who makes his own wine, collects different oddities, and participates in the Hemingway Papa Look-Alike Contest in Key West every year.

Santino made this sign himself, which he takes every year to the competition
hats 1
One of the many rows of Santino’s hat collection found throughout his house

hats 2

hats 3

trophy collection
Santino has always entered his classic cars in shows, but stopped because he ran out of room for all of his trophies

Recently, I visited Nonno and he gave me a tour of his wine making facility (aka his house) which is located in my hometown. The first thing I wanted to know about his wine making, was why? Why does he go through the long process when he could just as easily be like the rest of the 21+ individuals who buy it at their local Wine & Spirits. Well, Nonno brought this homemade wine making process from Italy, where traditions run deep. Though, he did modify the wine process as his family would usually crush the grapes, which was very labor intensive. So, he switched up this part of the process when he came here, and started buying the grape juice instead.

grape juice


wine barrels in house

Step 1: take grape juice and pour into demijohn, have sit for a couple of weeks



Step 2: siphon up wine to put from one demijohn to the next

  • keep hose one inch from bottom to not pick up any sediment, process called ‘racking’
  • each transfer knocks down bubbles present in the wine



Step 3: Tramutato = Transfer, shows date of when to siphon each demijohn



Step 4: an air lock stopper is placed at top of demijohn so gasses from wine come out, and vodka is poured into it to not let air or bugs in




Nonno had two very interesting beverages that he had made that I thought I would share with you all! Both are quite eclectic, and ones that you probably have never heard of and won’t find anywhere else.



1 kilo sour cherry

1 liter red wine

Smash the cherries by hand

Put inside a glass container

Put in sun for 40 days and 40 nights

Filter the liquid until it is clear

pic-nono filter


arugula shot

Put arugula leaves into a pan and cover with grain alcohol

In separate bowl boil water, add sugar, and heat until dissolved

Pour liquid onto arugula leaves

Let sit for a couple of weeks until it reaches a light green color

Filter formula through cheese cloth until clear


These recipes aren’t exact because as with most Italian cooks, there are not exact recipes, just a pinch of this and a dash of that, and every cook makes it different each time. Just like everything that Nonno makes, the most important ingredient is love. He finds the most enjoyment with giving what he makes away to others, and has even showed my dad how to make homemade wine. One of my favorite memories with Nonno and the D’Ambrosio family is at each celebration and get together there has always been homemade spirits from Nonno.

d'ambrosio glass

2 thoughts on “Vino di Santino

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *