New Cheyenne company helps customers create their own custom wine

Vintages Winery owner Lino DiFelice pours a sample of wine from a fermenting batch before checking the brix, or sugar levels, of the grapes with cellar rat Mike Burke. Vintage handcrafts wines to match the tastes of individual customers. (Photo by Michael Cummo, Wyoming Tribune Eagle)

CHEYENNE — Maybe you can’t bottle happiness, but you can bottle wine made exactly the way you want it now in Cheyenne.

A new custom winemaking business called Vintages has recently opened at 309 North American Road, Unit 11, where master vintner Lino DiFelice works with customers to make wine that is handcrafted and specifically blended to their taste.

DiFelice has operated Vintages in Fort Collins, Colorado, for the past two decades, but recently decided to move his business to Cheyenne. He noted he has worked with Wyoming customers many times in the past, and he will continue to serve his Colorado customers through his Cheyenne location.

DiFelice explained that his is not a typical winery, where people come in to buy a glass or a bottle of wine. Instead, they get to come in and help make their own.

“I don’t sell a finished bottle of wine,” he said. “I prefer people come in and learn what they like and give feedback.”

The process starts with a one-on-one tasting with DiFelice. He sits down with his customers and guides them through a series of wine tastings, asking them questions about what they think of each sample. He said he asks questions such as how the customers drink their coffee or what kind of beer they like, and he then uses his 37 years of experience to hone in on what they are looking for in their wine.

Based on the response to the tasting, DiFelice continues the tasting by mixing different varietals – or grapes – to come up with a wine that suits the customer’s wants exactly.

“They learn a lot about their own palate,” DiFelice said. He said it is unusual for people to get to participate in a tasting with the winemaker, but he enjoys learning his customers’ tastes.

He then makes a minimum of five gallons of the custom wine blend. Depending on the customer’s preferences, they can be involved throughout the entire winemaking process, if they want to, including starting the fermentation process, pressing the grapes and racking the wine – which is separating the wine from its sediment.

When the wine is ready, clients get to come back and help bottle and cork the wine, and apply a label they have designed themselves. DiFelice said bottling the wine is a fun event, and often people come with friends for the process.

Many of his customers come in to make large batches of wine for events like weddings, or they are business owners who make wine as gifts for their clients.

Repeat buyers can reorder more wine when they need it without repeating the tasting and blending process, as Di Felice keeps a record of what blend they ordered before.

Customers then take home their collection of wine and let it age at home for ideally three to four months. Because the wine is fresh and doesn’t have to be shelf stable for shipping and distribution, it doesn’t include stabilizers like commercial wines do. DiFelice said leaving these stabilizers out may help prevent what is known as a “wine headache,” which he said is actually a histamine response to the stabilizers.

Grapes for the winemaking are shipped frozen as whole grapes or as juice from all over the world. DiFelice said many of the grapes he sources come from California, and he also buys grapes from Italy, France and Germany.

“I often order from the same vineyards,” he said. “Once you get to know a vineyard, you don’t want to give them up.”

DiFelice said his winery’s model makes wine more affordable. Since he doesn’t store and age the wine or distribute it through liquor distribution centers, he cuts out much of the cost associated with a bottle of wine.

“I believe people should be able to drink a really good wine for $10 to $15 a bottle,” he said. “My customers are people who drink wine at home with their meals.”

He learned about winemaking growing up with his Italian immigrant family, who lived in Canada near Niagara Falls.

“I learned around the kitchen table,” he said. He started his business by importing grapes to sell to other Italian families in his community. Sitting down with them in their homes at their kitchen tables, he figured out what kind of wine they liked to make and helped them order the grapes they needed.

“It’s my passion,” he said. “The relationship aspect is the biggest thing. People come in and make wine multiple times a year. It’s cool to provide that for their kitchen tables.”