By Paris Wolfe
Dominic Piunno started making wine with his father, grandfather, and uncles when he was just a teen In fact, he still has in his possession — and is restoring — his great-grandfather’s wooden grape press, which is more than a century old.
Originally, Piunno’s family made wine mostly from locally grown grapes. Later, the family members purchased juice from a variety of sources and made Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. The wines aged in the basement and were bottled in gallon-sized glass jugs.
Fast forward a few decades: Piunno, 47, now will be growing grapes and making wine in his own Northeast Ohio winery. In February 2021, Piunno and his wife Shelly (nee DiVincenzo) purchased St. Joseph Vineyard in Madison from its founders, Art and Doreen Pietrzyk.
The Pietrzyks launched St. Joseph in 1997, after cultivating vineyards for a few years. They built a reputation for high-quality Pinot Noir and other varietals. Over time, the Pietrzyks moved from a small operation in Thompson to a 12-acre vineyard, winemaking facilities and tasting room on 61 acres along State Route 307 in Madison.
With their youngest child heading off to college, the Piunnos were searching for the next chapter in their lives when Shelly saw that St. Joseph Vineyard was for sale.
The Piunnos, who live in Highland Heights, have renamed the operation Baci Winery. “Baci” is the Italian word for “kisses.” That fit with the Piunnos’ sense of romance and Italian pride. Both have grandparents from the Molise region of Italy, southwest of Rome.
The winery’s remodeled tasting room reopened in early May. Plans call for welcoming guests on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. A restaurant is in the works.
Dominic Piunno is president of Marketing Communication Resource (MCR), a full-service printing and mailing company based in Willoughby. He will continue in his role at MCR while applying his business vision to the winery. In the vineyard, Piunno says he plans to add 13 acres of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, from which he will produce sparkling wines.
He also has his eye on building a distillery to produce grappa, the spirit traditionally made in Northern Italy from grapes that have been pressed for winemaking.
The vineyards will continue to be managed by Seth Warden, former golf course superintendent at The Youngstown Country Club. Warden joined St. Joseph’s Vineyard in 2020 and learned vineyard management and winemaking under the tutelage of Pietrzyk.
The new winemaking team will include Warden, Piunno and Carmen Cefaratti, a friend of Dominic Piunno’s for more than 30 years.
“We share a deep appreciation for authentic, high-quality Italian food and wine,” Piunno says of Cefaratti.
The winery’s new owners say they plan to pare its wine list a bit.
“The focus will be on continuing the excellence of the estate wines and using purchased grapes for specific purposes,” Piunno says.
Future plans call for offering Italian varietals such as Sangiovese, Barbera, Nebbiolo, Dolcetto and Pinot Grigio. He is also looking to develop a Bordeaux-style blend and an Italian blend. He will be using both estate-grown and purchased grapes to achieve his desired quality.
“We want to offer a unique experience with estate wines and a beautiful property,” he says.
Wines from St. Joseph Vineyard are still for sale and are available by calling 440-307-BACI (2224).
New winery co-owner Shelly Piunno stands with St. Joseph Vineyard casks/barrels in front of Baci Winery.
Baci Winery co-owner Shelly Piunno takes in the views of the Grand River Valley while enjoying a glass of Sauvignon Blanc.