Mike DiBartolo has about 100 gallons of homemade wine in his basement.
For the past two decades, the face of DiBartolo Bakery in Collingswood has been practicing the craft of winemaking "just for fun," he says.
But about 10 years ago, DiBartolo convened a handful of his fellow wine-makers for a night of sharing their homemade drinks, and it turned into a party with 125 guests.
From there began an annual tradition that evolved into the Winemakers Ball, a celebration of wine, cigars and Italian cuisine that DiBartolo's been hosting for the past five years.
The sixth annual event comes around again this Tuesday, October 15, and for $40, guests can sample DiBartolo's batches as well as those of about a dozen other winemakers in an accredited competition.
Judges Louis Caracciolo from Amalthea Cellars in Atco and Jim Hamilton, Esq., an attorney who has his own wine club, DiBartolo said. Winners receive an engraved plaque from All Star Trophies in Collingswood.
DiBartolo won the inaugural event in 2007 with a nebbiolo table wine that he says was born of "love and luck.
"I don’t play with it too much," he said. "I don’t really add anything to it but the yeast and some oak to give it a little flavor on some."
Homemade wine is strong, DiBartolo cautions, but without the sulfites that give you a hangover. Instead of crushing grapes, he uses fresh grape juice as his base.
Di Bartolo said the competition is fun, but the idea that he's in touch with other winemakers is "awesome." He gets a thrill from the satisfaction of creating his own product and form meeting those created by his friends.
"You can go to the store and buy anything you want, but to take the time out of your busy schedule and do something like this, it’s fulfilling," DiBartolo said.
"Everybody’s got so many things they do, it just makes you feel good."
The Winemaker’s Ball begins at 6 p.m. Tuesday, October 15, at Villa Barone restaurant (753 Haddon Avenue, Collingswood).
Admission is $40, payable at the door or at DiBartolo Bakery, and covers all the wine you can drink, a buffet meal, three cigars, and live entertainment from Trio Nova.
Proceeds are donated to the Alighieri-Garibaldi Sons of Italy lodge in Collingswood.
"Everybody there is a wine guy,' DiBartolo said. "Everybody’s into it. If they don’t make [wine], they love drinking it.
For tickets, or to enter homemade wine, call DiBartolo at 609-949-3424.