Part I: Wine
On November 4th, 1981, Sorrenti, Orchards Inc, now doing business as Sorrenti Family Estate, was incorporated.
Owners Dominic and Mary Sorrenti were not first time entrepreneurs. Prior to opening the winery, the couple had owned and operated a health food store in the Delaware Water Gap called Omega Natural Foods. Back in the late sixties, when the couple met, Dominic had been contemplating starting his own business, after working in his mother’s brick oven pizzeria in Milwaukee for the earlier part of his lifetime, making and delivering pizzas. His mother Lucia had encouraged him to go and live the American dream, and he did, keeping close to his heart the Italian culture of food, wine, and family.
So when the opportunity arose to move to Pennsylvania, encouraged by his sister Betty’s husband, a realtor in the Poconos, it was decided that the couple would start their own enterprise. At the time, Dom had been helping with various jobs taking apart old barns, and was able to use wood from the barn and antiques to create what would be one of the premiere food stores in the area.
Stone Bar Inn owner, Carol Moore, says "Omega was the first and only place in the area that carried the type of products health conscious people were looking for at the time and couldn’t find. Macrobiotic foods, bulk goods, freshly made deli salads, and best of all, Dominic’s homemade whole wheat pizza, a deep dish delight covered in thinly sliced vegetables and sprinkled with sesame seeds on top.”
As it turned out, Dominic’s whole wheat pizza, and the homemade wine fermented in the basement cellar of the health food store ended up being the most popular products on the menu at Omega. So it was decided (by Mary, as Dom would always say) that the couple would attempt to do something, which at the time, was unheard of in the Poconos - which was to grow grapes, and make wine.
In 1981 there were less than 100 wineries in Pennsylvania, and none in the Poconos. At the forefront of the viticulture movement were Clover Hill, Franklin Hill, Big Creek, Vynecrest, and Sorrenti’s (at the time named Cherry Valley Vineyards). When Dominic and Mary bore the fruits of their first harvest they opened a small tasting room in the downstairs of a restored farmhouse in the Cherry Valley. The wine was made in the basement of an old barn. There was a dirt driveway and enough parking for about 10 cars.
Dominic was a storyteller. In fact, this story is told through him, in a way. Often, he would grab customers and pull them aside, asking if they’d like to go in the winery and taste some wine from the barrel. He would siphon the wine directly from the oak barrels into a decanter, all the while talking about his father Francescantonio Sorrenti, who taught him how to make wine in the basement of their home in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The old Italian neighborhood was on the “wrong side of the tracks,” but the neighbors all shared in their love of keeping traditions alive from the old world, such as making wine, baking bread, and curing their own meats.
The business grew, more as a result of hard work and the labor of love, than it did from shrewd business skills or capital investments. The goal was never profit, it was longevity. Dominic’s dream was to create an opportunity for his family to be together, and similar to his mother Lucia, he wanted the success of his family to live on through his business.
Part II: Pizza
I was born after the winery had its humble beginnings, so I grew up comforted by the smell of yeast and fermenting juice. As a young child, I would climb to the tippy top of the wine cases that were stored in the winery and watch my father give tours to customers, waving his big Italian hands around, gesturing at the different pieces of winemaking equipment and oak barrels. Whenever the crowd would look in my direction I would dart behind a box of wine, so I could remain nothing more than a fly on the wall.
When I wasn’t at school, I was at work. I would sit behind the counter in the tasting room while my Mom laughed along with customers, because that was her job, to make people smile. And if she wasn’t funny, the wine usually helped. I liked to sit in the office and type on the old typewriter. I remember one day, I heard some people calling out and I realized no one was in the shop. I told the customers to wait while I searched for my parents, running around the property like a crazed animal. I couldn’t find them. So I had to figure it out on my own, adding up the dollar values of the wine on the calculator and using the tiny key in the drawer of the register to make change. All of a sudden the tasting room was full and I was selling more wine bottles and giving more change. I couldn’t have been more than 9 years old. I was furious with my parents when they came back. But forever after that moment, I always had the ability to figure things out. Maybe that was my parent’s gift to me.
When I was in college, I spent a year abroad in Italy, and channeled my family tree through the medium of food and wine. I ate, I drank, I studied Italian, and I learned how to cook. My father had loved his mother’s cooking and in my life I wanted nothing more than to impress him. I went to Naples and learned how to cook Pizza Napoletana. And when I came back and cooked for my father, he was so excited that he and my mother went and bought a wood fired brick oven. I asked them who in God’s name was going to open a restaurant in the old farmhouse? They said - you are. I was furious, but again, I figured it out. Later on, when I was off seeing the world, my father, brother, sister and mother all tweaked the recipes and through all of us Mamma Lucia’s pizzeria was born. And yes, it was named after my grandmother’s restaurant.
I remember the first day we fired up the pizza oven. My Dad was retired already, but he spent a lot of time hanging around. I called him and told him we were making a pizza and before the pizza was even finished, his car came flying in through the lot and he hopped out of the car and into the restaurant without even closing the door behind him. We ate the pizza with the sound of the car door bell ringing in the background the whole time. It was delicious.
Part III: The Legacy
Sometimes it's not until death happens that you truly appreciate life. Losing my father and my brother, both of whom built the winery through their hard work and dedication, made honoring life so much more important. I never met my grandmother, since she died before I was on this planet, but through my dad’s love for her, I always felt like I knew her. I knew what songs she liked to sing in the kitchen, and that zucchini blossoms stuffed with ricotta were her favorite food. I want the memories of the people who built this business to be carried on through the work that I do, alongside my sister and mother.
I want people to taste memories through the wine and food here, to feel the connection to my family as they walk around the pond my brother built, and to see what love looks like when they look at the labels of wine with our little family painted upon them. Did I mention our staff who have grown with us along the way? They’re our family now, too.
We aren’t any different than any other family. We are nothing more than human beings connected by tiny strands of DNA and emotion. We laugh, we cry, we dream. We hope for the success of our business, because if nothing else it helps to keep our staff and our community connected. We pray for the health, safety, and happiness of our customers because they are the one who keep our memories alive. And if luck brings us another 10 years, or another 40, well, in my opinion, the food and wine will taste that much better, thanks to the memories, and thanks to all of you.