‘Salute!’ to local winemakers

First Posted: 2/20/2014

From vine to wine glass, Vito Balice knows his grapes.

Owner of a local wine supply and wholesale grape distribution business, Dallas resident Balice has made some award-winning wine himself, including a 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon for which he won a gold medal at the prestigious Corrado’s Amateur Wine Making Contest held last month at the Venetian in Garfield, N.J.

Balice, owner of Bal Nut Inc. in Jenkins Township, has been in business for over 15 years and provides the area between Hazleton and Dunmore with grapes, grape juice and wine supplies. He is also a dealer of nuts and olive oil. His headquarters are in the former St. Joseph Church Hall in Jenkins Township.

From wine corks to massive 1,000 liter stainless steel tanks, oak barrels, filter pumps, carboys, crushers, destemers, empty bottles and hydraulic grape presses, Balice sells all supplies anyone needs to make fresh wine, even the yeast and grapes.

“And when people need help, we say, ‘What can we do?’” Balice said.

He buys grapes and grape juice from Chile and California and gets juice from Italy through direct shipment and produce wholesalers.

He said the old timers and the younger generation of winemakers prefer to squeeze their own grapes, but some buy the juice, which has already been squeezed.

On Wednesday afternoon in his shop, Balice had pre-crushed juice from Northern Italy, including Valpolicella, Montepulciano and Nebbiolo, ready for pick up by a customer.

Balice was born in Bari, Southern Italy and moved to the U.S. in 1978. He took business and foreign language classes at Holy Family College in Philadelphia before going into business distributing nuts, primarily walnuts and almonds, and then grapes. He and his wife, Domicella, have one adult child, Vito.

He spent several years in California dealing in nuts, so he is often able to get good quality and good deals on grapes through his contacts.

Balice is also the chairman of the amateur wine-making contest at the Northeast Fair in Pittston Township.

He recently received the price list for the products from Chile and will list those prices to his customers in a few weeks. By the end of March to the middle of April, those grapes will be delivered. In July and August, orders will be taken for the California grapes and Italian juice. Those will be delivered in September into October. He also deals in juices from the New York wine region, including Niagara, Concord, Ives and Foch.

From Napa to NEPA, the grapes are shipped from California in a refrigerated truck and arrive about five days later.

Balice said 2014 will be “a vintage year for the grapes.”

Most of his customers are groups of individuals in a community effort.

“They crush and press them together to enjoy a good glass of wine,” Balice said.

One of Balice’s customers, Lou Terruso, of Old Forge, won a bronze medal last year for a Red Zinfandel and a gold medal this year for a Muscatel. Terruso is helped by his father, Lou Sr. and friend Joe Lenceski.

“We entered two years and we won two years,” Terruso Jr. said.

Terruso Jr., who works as a plumbing and HVAC contractor, plans to work with 4,000 pounds of grapes this year. Old Vine Zinfandel and Muscatel are his two favorites to make.

Terruso Jr. said Balice is much more than just a grape salesman.

“He has a lot of knowledge and he’s happy to help you out with anything you need,” Terruso Jr. said.

Wine taste, Balice said, is personal.

“You mue like something and I may like something else,” he said. “If you offer a Cabernet Sauvignon, which is traditionally a dry wine, to a lady who likes sweet wine, she won’t enjoy the Cabernet Sauvignon. Everyone is different.”

Balice said he’ll even make the wine if the customer requests it.

“We’re a business and we’ll do anything to make the customer happy,” Balice said. “If they want me to take care of everything, I’ll order 20 boxes of grapes and crush them. They pay me for chemicals and expenses and they will enjoy the experience of homemade wine.”

He has a banquet hall upstairs he uses to have wine tastings and amateur wine-making classes.

“We do provide the convenience, if people want to get together here,” he said. “They get together here, they crush their grapes and whoever knows shares the knowledge.”

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