Terraced into the hillside of Sicily’s eastern coast of Messina is the township of Casalvecchio housing the small village of Mitta where my great-grandfather, Carmelo Colloca made wine from grapes grown in his back yard in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
In 2010, my wife Mindy and I made a pilgrimage to Sicily, and trekked around winding single lane gravel roads to see Mitta for ourselves. When we arrived, neighbors came out of their houses to see what visitors had come. With the help of a guide and translator we were welcomed and the neighbors took the time to show us where my grandparents and great-grandparents lived. The house numbers matched the addresses we had just obtained from the Town Hall. It was incredibly gratifying to see where my grandparents had come from and learn a bit about how they lived.
I pulled my mobile phone out of my pocket and called my Dad, 94 at the time. I told him that I was standing outside of his father’s house and looking at his grandfather’s house to my right, explaining the details of what I saw. My Dad never had the pleasure of visiting Italy, but he beamed with pride as I explained to him what I was seeing with joy and excitement. We shared a laugh and some tears at the same time as he recalled all his father told him about the old country. It was a moment in my life that I will never forget.
Peeking into the abandoned structure of my great-grandfather’s house, Mindy caught a glimpse of the family’s wine press cemented into the basement of their old family home. She gestured me to come and have a look. Weathered and aged, the old grape press still stands in the old Colloca homestead today.
Winemaking is in the Colloca bloodline and Colloca Estate Winery today celebrates the reality of the dream that the New World of America has provided the Colloca family and the vision that we have in sharing our hand-crafted premium wines with you.
Over one-hundred years ago, my grandfather, Sebastiano Colloca set off on a seventeen day journey across the Atlantic from his native Mitta, Sicily in search of a better life for his family in America. Landing at New York’s Ellis Island on May 31, 1906, he marveled at the bounty that the New World offered. He ventured north to the Port City of Oswego on the southern shores of the Great Lake Ontario in upstate New York where other Italian immigrants before him had been successful in finding work.
He returned to Sicily and on August 16, 1909 married Dominica Sommario at Saint Sebastiano’s Catholic Church in Mitta, Sicily. He returned to New York and soon earned enough money to send for his wife, and their two children in Sicily, who joined him shortly thereafter. In 1916, my Dad, Joseph Daniel Colloca was the couple’s first born child in the United States in Oswego, NY.
Sebastiano, or Barney as they called him in America, worked as a mason among the many other trades that he learned to earn a living in the New World.
He purchased a muck farm in the Oswego area harvesting lettuce and onion produce that was trucked downstate to New York City where a higher price could be commanded.
The Colloca family settled on East 10th Street, and along with his Italian neighbors, he organized trucks of grapes sourced from as far away as California to be delivered to Oswego to make his own wine.
The practice of home wine making was not only imported from Italy, but a commonality among many households during the prohibition years. My dad recalled as a child the old press his father had in their basement and the sweet aromas of wine aging among barrels in their cellar.
My father reminisced about his dad making wine in the basement and the good times around the family table where it was enjoyed. The Colloca brand is a tribute to this generational tradition of winemaking and to the legacy it represents - the spirit of discovery, perseverance, work-ethic, love, and joy that the Colloca name represents.
My mom and Dad purchased the house next door my Grandfather’s house on East 10th Street in Oswego and there they began raising their family.
In the baby boom era of the 1940’s (and in good Catholic spirit), Joe and Eris had five children (Anne, Joseph, John, Donald, and Janice) two years apart, followed by a ten year hiatus, that subsequently blossomed a second family, of three more children, four years apart (Julie, Patricia, and I) , eight children in total.
With the family’s growth, we moved to East Third Street in Oswego in the early 1960’s, where the youngest three of us were raised. Oswego was a wonderful place to grow up and establishing our winery in nearby Fair Haven, I think stems somewhat from my wanting to share part of my past with my kids and allow my children to share in the wonderful experiences of a big family and all that the upstate New York area offers.
Being the youngest of eight children gave me the benefit of experience from my seven older siblings. We didn’t have much, but we had all we needed and that was always enough. Looking back, work ethic was instilled in all of us at a very young age having been was raised by an older generation. We were taught that if we wanted something, all we had to do was go out there and earn it. For most of my adult life I’ve worked two jobs, as have many of my siblings. This formed the foundation for my outlook on my career and now our winery.
Most of all, however, I’ve been blessed with an upbringing with love and encouragement from a large family. Togetherness surrounded us on a daily basis and we were taught the importance of family love and respect. My parents worked hard and were as resourceful as one could be. My mom was a seamstress and made her own clothes for her children. My Dad owned a Dry Cleaning business for a while before working as a Tailor. He could fix anything rather than buying new.
Neither one of my parents had the privilege of graduating from high school. In those days, teenagers went to work to help support the family. My parents wanted nothing more than for their children to forge their own path in this world and both pushed us all towards continuing our education as part of that plan.
When I left for Ithaca College to study Exercise Science and play College Football the frequent drives between Oswego and Ithaca for visits home took me through the Finger Lakes region, with its sprawling lakeside vineyards that always caught my eye. There is something about rolling vineyards that call me, I guess. You can read more about those glory days if you’re interested.
But, I have to credit my brother, John, for starting my interest in wine. John left Oswego to work in the motion picture industry after College and while living in New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, DC, he discovered a passion for fine wines of Bordeaux, Burgundy, and California (among many others). When John shared the taste of fine wine me, I quickly forgot about my college staple, beer, in favor of the complexities of wine.
As time went on, John shared his collectible vintage wines with me and contagiously wine became a common topic of conversation and passion for us both.
After Ithaca, I went on to Chiropractic College in Atlanta, Georgia and received my Doctor of Chiropractic degree in 1995. From there, I moved to Phoenix, Arizona where I opened a private practice and also began conducting spinal research into better ways of applying chiropractic treatments. Along the way, I invented an adjusting instrument to provide more efficient chiropractic treatments for patients. I started a medical device manufacturing company in Chandler, Arizona where the devices are produced still today.
We had the good fortune of adoption of our products throughout the chiropractic industry and by the time I turned 40, chiropractic offices in all 50 US states and 50 countries, over 10,000 offices around the world were using our inventions to care for their patients. Our research discoveries were published in prestigious medical and scientific journals, landing me on the lecture circuit around the world.
As a result, from the late 90’s, my travels have taken me throughout the United States and all over the world in training chiropractors and others in the medical community.
These journeys afforded me the opportunity to visit some of the World’s finest wine regions at the same time.
In France, I discovered the famed Rieslings’ and Gewürztraminer’s from Alsace. I was able to visit the grand Chateau’s of Bordeaux, and the caves of Burgundy where Pinor Noir reins. In Spain and Portugal we experienced the drier reds of the Temparnillo grape and fine aged Ports that had spent the past 50 years in barrel. Sangiovese in Tuscany, rich Malbec in Argentina, and the great wines of Chile are all documented by my passport stamps.
Numerous trips to Australia allowed me to be intimately familiar with the Barossa and Eden Valley, where Shiraz and Riesling predominate. I traveled as far as South Africa where the rolling hills and magnificent vistas of the countryside are awe inspiring.
Domestically, I intentionally scheduled chiropractic seminars in wine regions like California’s Napa valley and the Willamette Valley in Oregon, so he could enjoy an extra couple of days visiting their wineries. I even created a course called Spine and Wine®, where we study and enjoy both. Of course, few trips home to Oswego throughout the years didn’t include pilgrimages to the Finger Lakes Region to explore the incredible growth and expansion of New York State’s wine industry.
In 2005, I began the search for a property in Upstate New York to plant a vineyard and start a winery. This venture would allow our family to escape the Arizona heat each summer, and be close to our New York family.
I found a vacant piece of land previously owned by The State University of New York at Oswego that sat upon unobstructed waterfront in the small resort Village of Fair Haven, NY, only 20 minutes from where I grew up in Oswego years earlier. The stretch of open land was surrounded by summer camps on Little Sodus Bay, an inlet on the southern shores of the Great Lake Ontario.
In 2008, I made an initial 12 acre parcel purchase that had 400’ of waterfront and enough acreage to plant our vineyard.
Slowly and strategically, I was able to purchase 5 adjacent parcels one at a time to reassemble the property back together to begin planting our vineyards and establishing our winery operation while preserving the land for the enjoyment of our guests and future generations.
Today, this one of a kind, 100 acre property, boasts 900 feet of pristine shoreline along Little Sodus Bay with views that rival anything that I have experienced anywhere in my travels.
The very first thing we did in development of the property was plant an initial 11 acre vineyard in 2009 that we aptly trademarked as the Lake Effect Vineyard®. Vineyard preparation began with layout and site work spearheaded by my brother, Joe, a retired Civil Engineer.
We aimed to create world-class wines from the outset, so we meticulously planned the vineyard development by planting 100% grafted vinifera grapevines only after installing 7 miles of underground drainage and organic fertilizers after extensive soil testing. Consultants from Cornell University’s Enology program and award winning winemakers were brought in to collaborate on the vineyard plan. You can read more about the uniqueness and establishment of our Vineyard.
I commissioned veteran grape grower and winemaker, Cameron Hosmer from nearby Cayuga Lake to laser plant our vineyard and assist us in our wine making efforts. The result is our current award-winning estate wines.
Being a lover of big bold beautiful red wines I met a conundrum. I was quite confident that we could grow pinot noir in upstate New York, as it is a cool climate grape, but I’m not so sure about other red varietals. New York State’s cool climate, harsh winters, and short growing season are not ideal for growing some of my favorite red varietals. Although my views shared here may not be popular among New York State grape growers and winemakers, I think it’s important to note that there is a reason that they grow Bordeaux varietal grapes (Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec, and Petit Verdot) in Bordeaux and not in Burgundy (or for Germany for that matter!). In Burgundy, they grow pinot noir and chardonnay, not shiraz.
Faced with this dilemma, I wished to find a way to create the red wines that I love. I established a spinal research collaboration in Adelaide, Australia in 2004 and have visited there 1-2 times a year since. One of my Australian collaborators and friend is a spine surgeon whose hobby-passion is his 300-acre farm where he grows 80 acres of vines in Australia’s Eden Valley, adjacent to the famed Barossa Valley. On each visit, once the research was finished, we would retreat to his beautiful vineyard. Along the way, I had the unique opportunity to meet many winemakers and individuals in the wine industry on these trips. This was the hook for me.
I got the idea that to source red varietals maybe I could act as a Négociant (a French term for a wine merchant who assembles the produce of smaller growers and winemakers and sells the result under its own name). Similarly, I was able to organize wines made to my liking together with Australian winemaker, Alex Peel, who was working at Ross Estate in the Barossa Valley at the time.
I love Barossa shiraz, and asked Alex to make it just as he would without influence. We were also able to source some Grenache from 98 year-old vines and again, I asked Alex to work his magic. I wanted to make a Cabernet Sauvignon in the style of one of my favorite wines, Silver Oak. So, I brought some samples for Alex to try and I purchased new American Oak for him to age the wine in and the result was gorgeous. We took the other half of the parcel of cabernet sauvignon fruit that we had and aged it in new French Oak and in addition similarly aged merlot and cabernet franc for nearly 2 years before bottling.
I arranged for all of the dry goods, label and capsule design and the rest of the packaging and had the wines bottled in Australia on our label. Then while the wines were aging in bottle, I completed the Federal and State paperwork to become a wine importer and arranged for two containers of wine to be imported to the USA. In the summer of 2014, this project was realized when the containers were delivered to our Tasting Room in Fair Haven and now we can serve and sell my favorite red varietals alongside our estate wines.
As we hope you’ll come to learn, these wines are very small production hand-crafted wines with attention to detail that shows in the aromas, mouthfeel, and flavors of the wine. We set out to do something special and I’m proud to see this dream come to fruition in being able to share this commitment and vision with you.
If this sounds like a big project, you guessed right. It is. But, perseverance is part of our make-up. It’s in the Colloca genes. Our aim is to create legendary wines of excellence and provide guests with an extraordinary experience when visiting our Estate. Colloca Estate stands today quite simply as a tribute to the Colloca family and its heritage in the Oswego area in fulfillment of the American dream.
I never met my grandfather, Sebastiano. He passed away before I was born. I would have loved to talk with him about his journey from Sicily to Oswego and hear the excitement and pride in his voice when he talked about America and all it afforded him and his family. I was never able to thank him for having the courage to cross oceans for a better life for his family and for being the starting point for this dream of a life that we enjoy. Maybe in some small way, we can thank him with a tribute to this wine that we enjoy today.
Christopher J. Colloca, DC, PhD