A la Carte: On the trail of winemaking

Big Cypress Winery is just a hop, skip and a jump from Marco

Big Cypress Marketplace

220 Basik Road, Naples, FL

While microwave ovens and computers are technological marvels that have enhanced modern lifestyles, winemaking, which predates recorded history, has also become techno-savvy and now it has become possible to create wine here in Southwest Florida, that’s arguably a passable proxy for a Chateau Haut-Brion vintage that pleased the palate of Thomas Jefferson, third U.S. president.

Well, maybe that’s a stretch about Haut-Brion, but at the recently opened Big Cypress Winery at Big Cypress Market Place, the juice of the vine is being made into 20 or more vintages aged from two months up to almost two years!

Big Cypress Winery is tucked into a spacious cavern on the southeast corner of the Market Place just off the food court and facing the produce market set up on the patio.

That having been said, we recently had a sparkling conversation with Big Cypress’ resident winemaker Tony LaMantia, who is also Food and Beverage Manager of the Big Cypress Market Place, owned and constructed by Basik Development.

“We opened Oct. 11, 2008, and the Winery is a project of Keith Basik, the son of Market Place owner Larry Basik. My background is hotels and restaurants in my home state of Indiana, Michigan and Florida, most recently at the Naples Grande Beach Resort, which was recently acquired by the Waldorf Astoria Collection, a division of Hilton’s upscale hotels.

“One of the Basik brothers knew I was looking to advance my career and he suggested I look into joining Big Cypress Marketplace. Actually my interest is food and beverage with a knowledgeable background in wine but my education into creating wines began from scratch at the Cape Winery in Cape Coral, that produces wines in facility whose primary business is on premises wine-making for wanna-be vintners. However, our Cypress Winery is focused toward larger quantities in retail for our local residential wine fanciers as well as businesses and restaurants from Fort Myers and Naples down to Everglades City.

“Basically, it comes down to custom labeling and custom winemaking, and now we’re expanding into restaurants. It’s not a new concept because some restaurants offer private label wines from California and other western wineries. What we’re offering is local wines for restaurants and also for businesses. It’s a good thing — a personal connection with a client with their business. It’s reminder and entry into their home — getting your brand into the client’s home. You know, my winery crew and I created an Anthony Kearns’ Commemorative Reserve pinot noir, celebrating the famous Irish tenor’s performance May 1 in our concert hall.”

Winemaker Tony LaMantia gave a general description of the complex art of winemaking and basically how wines are produced at the Cypress Winery.

“We use stainless steel vats, ranging in size from 300 to 1,000 gallons, for all the stages of winemaking,” he said, pointing to a large shiny tank and explaining that he had begun the first stage in making a riesling wine.

“Here the tank is filled with riesling juice and I’ve started the fermentation process and added premier cuvee yeast to enhance fermentation. The yeast ‘eats’ the sugar in the juice and creates alcohol and carbon dioxide.

“After the Riesling juice fermentation is complete I’ll follow up with bentonite, a mineral that binds particles caused by fermentation; the bentonite then settles to the bottom and the clarified juice is filtered. Then, legally the juice can be called wine but it’s nothing you’d want to drink. Then the riesling wine will be transferred to another container — technically called racking — to age in a stainless steel tank.”

LaMantia noted that making wine is really simple but complex.

“It’s an art and yet a science. Like breadmaking, you start with yeast but from there it becomes an entirely unique process. For instance, there are different strains of yeast we can use depend on the grape varietal we’re working with. Also after wine fermentation is complete, depending on the varietal, the wine can be aged between two months to two years.

“We have in process right now a merlot that we do tastings throughout the aging process to determine when I feel that this particular merlot wine is ready to be bottled, and this will be determined by taste, clarity, alcohol and bouquet. However when we want to age the wine to tweak the tannins we will order the juice of the skins in separate containers. My point is that we do specialize in custom wine making: we work with our wine broker and she hunts down the juices that we purchase to make our wine and it can be from vines grown anywhere in the world — French merlot, Italian pinot grigio, or from grapes grown in California, Oregon, Washington, even New Zealand — depending on what we’re working on.”

Sometimes, LaMantia explained, Cypress Winery uses a blend of varietals – and where some California wineries’ blends are called, say a Meritage (a trademarked name for first-class blended wines), one of Cypress Winery’s most popular blends, grenache-shiraz, is called Tipped Canoe.

“Here, especially in the summer, we produce a white and red wine with fruit additives. Some of our best blends are a peach chardonnay, a black raspberry merlot and even a green apple riesling that’s actually one of our best sellers!” LaMantia declared.

“Of course, now that red wines are being touted as being heart-healthy and antioxidants in blueberries and pomegranates being beneficial, now we’ve experimented with a pomegranate-zinfandel blend. We are coming out with a red wine good for your heart with an antioxidant!”

The Big Cypress Winery is located at the Big Cypress Market Place on East Tamiami Trail, at 220 Basik Blvd. Naples, approximately 4.5 miles east of the intersection of Collier Boulevard. Phone: 774-1690,

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