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Grape Beginnings Brings DIY Wine Making to Eatontown

Frank D'Aponte of Fair Haven moved his hands-on winery from Freehold to Eatontown this spring.

Say you're a wine lover, but dreams of tending your own vineyard are still a lottery win away. Take heart, there's still a way you can craft your own vintage.

Grape Beginnings is a hands-on winery that has been helping wine connoisseurs and casual sippers take their wine from grape to glass for 10 years, first in their Freehold location, and now in their new home on Industrial Way East in Eatontown. 

Owner Frank D'Aponte of Fair Haven said opening the business was just a natural progression from his family's hobby of making wine in the basement. For his own drinking, D'Aponte said he favors Cabernet.

But seeing as how there are 25 different varieties of wines at Grape Beginnings, he said, "I'm an equal opportunity drinker."

Making wine is a long process. From selecting and crushing grapes, barrelling and then bottling wine is about nine to 10 months, broken down into four, one- to two-hour sessions.

If that sounds like too much of a commitment, next month the winery will offer a two hour winemaking session for $120 for two people. The package includes a tour, tasting and a chance to bottle and take home three bottles of wine.

This weekend Grape Beginnings will begin bottling wine from Californian and Italian grapes of last fall. South American wines, including varieties such as Malbec and Sauvigan Blanc, are made in the spring.

In each season Grape Beginnings offers a wide selection of varieties — Brunello, Chianti, Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, to name a few. The winery has its own signature blends of wine to choose from or customers can create their own variety and even design their own label.

Costs range from $345 for 30 bottles to $2,495 for the whole barrel — 240 bottles of wine — which D'Aponte said comes out to about $10 a bottle. Customers can share the experience, the wine and the cost with friends. 

D'Aponte has apprenticed as a wine maker in California and said he loves to expand customers' knowledge of wine and different varietals such as Zinfandel and Barolo, but that he keeps it simple.

"It's something you put your love into," he said, adding that the draw for people is the social aspect, friends working together to create a wine. 

To keep the socializing going the winery offers ladies' and guys' nights out. D'Aponte partners with Cortez Cigars in Shrewsbury to host a cigar night every other month and also hosts private and corporate events.

The winery also features beer making with 100 craft beer recipes on file. Just recently he said a customer brought in a recipe from and cloned a favorite beer.

D'Aponte said he moved his company from Freehold to Eatontown this spring to make more room for wine making. Right now he has 150 barrels in the warehouse space with capacity for 400. The extra room also affords him the opportunity to expand his other offerings, which now includes tastings and bottling sessions for balsamic vinegar and olive oil, and a large cafe seating area next to the barrels of wine will be used for cooking demonstrations. There also is a wine tasting room with a bar area in addition to the barrel room.

The move to the new location, just off Route 35 and close to the Parkway, D'Aponte said, also brings Grape Beginnings closer to his client base, more than 40 percent of whom have been with him since he opened a decade ago. 

But how is it that he is able to retain 75 percent of the customers who make wine here, especially in a down economy?

Perhaps it has something to do with handing a friend a gift-wrapped bottle of Sangiovese you crafted yourself or walking into a restaurant with your own personal Vino da Travola.

"There's something about having your own name on a wine," D'Aponte said.

You can get a sampling of Grape Beginnings at its open house wine tasting from 7 to 9 p.m. Aug. 17.

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