In 2006, Ollie M. Tomasello III and his father and business partner, Ollie M. Tomasello Jr., produced the first vintage from their small, 10-acre Plagido’s Winery in Hammonton.
Within three years, Plagido’s cranberry wine had won the Governor’s Cup for best fruit wine in the New Jersey Wine Competition.
Shortly after receiving that recognition in 2009, Ollie M. Tomasello Jr. died at age 66, but his son continued with the winery.
Tomasello, 43, and his team of seven employees have not only managed to survive, but to thrive. Plagido’s earned Winery of the Year honors at the annual New Jersey Wine Competition earlier this year.
It takes a great team to make a good wine, Tomasello said. “From the vineyard to the wine making, everybody plays a part.”
“There are a lot of great wines in New Jersey,” he said. “We happen to be one of them.”
The Plagido’s team includes: Tomasello’s mother, Concetta Tomasello; Tomasello’s girlfriend, Candice Boblett, 43, both of Hammonton; and fellow maker Mike Sammons, 36, of Mays Landing.
“They have made wine that is true to the growing area,” said Tom Cosentino, executive director of the Garden State Wine Growers Association. “Ollie has taken over the winery and has done a good job. ... He’s a very good ambassador for the industry.”
In the same competition, other southern New Jersey wineries were honored.
The Governor’s Cup for best grape wine went to Hawk Haven Vineyard of Rio Grande for its 2012 Cabernet Franc, which also won best vinifera wine. DiMatteo Vineyards of Hammonton won the Governor’s Cup for fruit wine for its non-vintage blueberry wine.
Even though Tomasello is the fourth generation of his family to farm the same land, he and his father were the first to use it to grow commercially wine grapes. There also is a Tomasello Winery in Hammonton, but the two families are not related.
“When my father and I built my house next door in 1997, my father asked me, ‘What are you going to do with the property behind your house?’
“I said, ‘I don’t know.’ He said, ‘Why don’t we plant grapes?,’ So that’s when planting our own grapes and making our own wine came into play.”
Earlier generations of the Tomasello family made wine just for the family on the same land.
Someone outside of the family tasted the wine and told Tomasello and his father that their product was pretty good and they ought to open up their own winery.
Some sons could never work with their fathers, but Tomasello said he and his father always had the same goals in mind.
“He always taught me to be the best you could be. I think we both had the same ambition, which was to open this business up and make it the best we could make it,” Tomasello said.
Plagido’s produces 10,000 gallons annually, which isn’t a great deal, but they offer a variety of wines, including dry reds and whites, fruit wines and sweet and semi-sweet red and whites.
Earlier this month when Tomasello was in the process of bottling his wines, he started work at 8 a.m. He and six other employees were bottling, labeling and corking various wines from the stainless steel tanks until 6 p.m. each day.
He said the most important thing in the winemaking is the beginning of the process.
“It starts in the field with the fruit, a healthy plant and a healthy vine. Great fruit is what you need to make any wine,” he said.
Tomasello starts pruning in January, and plants start to bloom in May.
“Every seven days, I spray. While I’m spraying, I’m actually observing what the plants are doing, what they are not doing, their colors, everything,” he said.
From harvest to bottling, it takes nine months for sweet wines and two to three years for dry wines, he said.
Tomasello said he feels the most satisfaction at the end of the process when people are tasting and buying his wine.
“The most fun being a winemaker is sitting on his deck after a hard’s day work and looking at what he has created,” Tomasello said. “The least fun is when it is January, and it is 20 degrees outside, and you are pruning grapes, pruning the plants, cutting them back.”
When Tomasello started the winery with his father, neither of them knew anything about winemaking. Ten years ago, they bottled their first wines for sales. Now, they have been named Winery of the Year for the state.
“I think he would be very proud,” Tomasello said.
When: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily
Where: 570 N. 1st Road, Hammonton
More info: Call 609-567-4633 or visit plagidoswinery.com