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Naperville Homemade Winemaker

Though home brewers of beer are becoming more commonplace, it’s not every day that you hear about someone making their own wine. One local man is doing just that – finding not only a hobby, but also a lifetime friendship.

Mark Kukla’s wine cellar holds 440 bottles; the majority of which he helped fill himself. The Naperville man is an experienced winemaker, a hobby he picked up after meeting a co-worker’s father.

“I went a couple times to his dad’s house and saw them making wine,” says Kukla. “And I was like ‘wow this is really cool’ because at that time there was probably 15 to 20 family members there – there were little kids, it was just a great time, everybody got to press, everybody got to taste the grapes. So I was really intrigued by the whole process.”

That process was a family tradition, carried on by Sol Anfuso, who grew up making wine with his dad in Italy, refining his technique here in the states.

“We make it so that almost as close to what wineries make it. Of course we can’t do it as well as theirs, but we can keep it. I mean I have wine at home since 1994. So we can keep it for a long time and it still tastes good,” shares Anfuso.

In 2001, Mark was invited to join in the process, and he’s been hooked ever since. It all starts with the grapes, which are put through a destemmer.

“Picture like a big wine corkscrew, “ describes Kukla, “and that churns and rips softly the grapes off and spits the stems out one side and the half kind of crushed grapes the other side.”

It’s then moved into a 55-gallon food-grade container, where it’s allowed to ferment. A press pushes the skins down, and the liquid is pumped into either 15 gallon demijohns or large barrels where they wait until it clears, moving it from one container to another, sometimes adding oak chips for flavor.

They check the taste over the next few months, and once happy with the result, they bottle and cork it.

“This year we made like almost 200 gallons, all of us, you know,” says Anfuso. “And it’s okay, the government says you can make 200 gallons per household without paying taxes. But if you sell an ounce you go to jail. So, the government’s gonna come after you.”

That’s why Sol and Mark either drink their product, or just give it away to friends and family.

“To me it’s personal, it’s my time vested, and you know kind of a passion, hobby if you will so I feel good about sharing it,” says Kukla.

And with the cost of making each bottle only about $2.30, it gives him the freedom to try his hand at creating new blends, mixing batches from different years to find new tastes.

“It’s kind of a fun aspect where you’re involved in the family making it, but then also enjoying it, and then experimenting with it,” he says.

A passion passed from one family, to another.

“You know the best thing about it is that it has history from Italy, roots in stories that are unforgettable, and to be able to take that,” says Kukla, “enjoy it for myself but also to preserve it and give it to my children and my grandchildren I think is a great opportunity and experience to share.”

And not only did Mark help make the wine stored in his cellar, he also made the cellar itself, tying in his love of building with his love for wine.


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