For five years, Gary DiRaffaele, 65, and Dan Gisolfi, 53, only knew each other in passing — literally. They would see each other on the way to and from podiums while picking up awards at regional amateur-winemaking competitions. In 2009, DiRaffaele introduced himself to his competitors at the James Corrado Annual Winemaking Competition, and the friendly “hello” quickly led to the two joining forces.
DiRaffaele, a Yonkers resident and real estate investor, started producing wine in his basement in 2002 as a distraction from his wife’s cancer diagnosis. After she passed away in 2003, he poured his soul into the process and quickly made a name for himself at competitions. In 2008, DiRaffaele won Winemaker of the Year at Corrado and has taken home dozens of awards from competitions across New York State, including Best Rosé plus Amateur Wine Best of Show and Best Fortified Spirit at the New York State Fair in 2017.
“I don’t ever get to make things with my hands. But by the end of this process, I have produced something.”
Gisolfi, a White Plains native who works as a distinguished executive engineer at IBM and now lives in Fishkill, started making wine in 1998. Winemaking, Gisolfi says, ties together his Italian heritage with his natural organizational and analytical skills. Between 1998 and 2011, when he decided to stop competing, Gisolfi won more than
60 awards, including several double gold awards from the American Wine Society.
When the two first met, they were both depending on friends and family to help out during labor-intensive winemaking weekends — in exchange for free bottles. But, neither had a counterpart as obsessive about the process and outcome as they found each other to be.
“When you are the leader, it is kind of lonely,” DiRaffaele says. “Especially when you have passion and no one to share it with.”
Now, the two men collaborate on every aspect of their craft: recipes, timing, weather, bottling, and more. They buy the same grapes from Musto Grape Company in Hartford, CT, and they create the same batches in their own facilities (DiRaffaele’s garage and Gisolfi’s basement). The ability to compare outcomes allows them to learn more about what influences the perfection of their wine. If something is off between “identical” batches, they investigate until they know what happened and how to prevent it next time. The two produce a variety of blends including rosé, Pinot Noir, Pinot Grigio, Petite Sirah, and others.
Both DiRaffaele and Gisolfi say winemaking is all about the creativity. As a software engineer, “I don’t ever get to make things with my hands,” Gisolfi explains. “But by the end of this process, I have produced something.”
aFreelance writer Elizabeth Giegerich is not yet a wine connoisseur, but she considers herself an expert at wine consumption.