Santa Fe Grape Distributors have long history of assisting local winemakers
October 5, 2018

Coglianese in earlier days discussing the art or winemaking with Santa Fe Grape Distributors founder Paul Alleruzzo.

By Marie Balice-Ward

Residents who enjoy making their own wine can count on Santa Fe Grape Distributors to help. The company, at 3500 S. Racine Ave., offers grapes and grape juice during the distribution season that runs from Monday, Sept. 10, through Monday, Oct. 15.

The late Paul Alleruzzo founded Santa Fe Grape. His son-in-law, Dennis Karas, now owns the company, and Mario Coglianese, who retired as a general foreman for the City of Chicago after 35 years of service, runs the business side serving as manager and handling sales. Five other staff members come on board during the grape and grape juice season.

Since the 1980s, Coglianese has helped innumerable homemade wine hobbyists by providing grapes, grape juice, wine presses, plastic pails, grinders, barrels, jugs, corks, and other equipment and devices essential to making fine homemade wine.

On Sept. 10, 20,000 cases of grapes and 5,000 oversized containers of grape juice for winemaking will arrive at Santa Fe Grape Distributors from Napa Valley, CA. The company sells grapes from $35 to $40 per case, and it measures and sells the juice accordingly.

Photo by Christopher Valentino
Mario Coglianese (at left), taking a break between helping customers at Santa Fe Grape Distributors along with Rich Karas Jr. (middle), and business partner Rich Karas Sr. Not pictured is business partner Dennis Karas.

The homemade wine making season lasts from early September through mid-October because “that’s when the grapes are at their sweetest,” explained Coglianese. At that time, people from throughout Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin flock to Santa Fe Grape Distributors, “the largest in the Midwest.”

Cleanliness is key to making a good wine, he said. Makers must clean all equipment thoroughly, including barrels, which they must disassemble each year for maximum cleanliness.

Coglianese noted homemade wine is not meant for aging. “It has a one-year lifespan,” he said.

Santa Fe Wine Distributors became involved with Napa Valley growers through a friendship that evolved many years ago between Alleruzzo and the Gallo and Mondavi families of Napa.

“There’s no middle man at Santa Fe Grape Distributors,” said Coglianese. “Our grapes come directly from the Napa Valley area of California by trucks.” Vineyards that supply grapes and grape juice are located in Lodi, Fresno, Delano, Sonoma, Modesto, Kingsburg, and Bakersfield, CA.

In the past, grapes came via the Santa Fe Railroad, hence the name Santa Fe Grape Distributors. The company originally was located near the rail yard at Ashland Avenue and Princeton Street. It then relocated to the Chicago Produce Terminal at 27th Street and Ashland Avenue, later moving to its current location.

“Santa Fe Grape Distributors is great,” said Michael Biasiello, a Park Ridge dentist. “I have been purchasing grapes there for 15 years and my father did before me. The staff there is very helpful. They let us go up into the refrigerated cars that are marked by type of grape and taste the grapes then they put them into our vehicle.”

Santa Fe Grape Distributors offers more than 15 types of grapes and more than 20 types of grape juice. The juice primarily comes from Regina of California. Cabernet sauvignon, merlot, zinfandel, pinot grigio, chardonnay, riesling, muscato, and rose are some of the choices.

Coglianese explained that grape juice for winemaking is gaining in popularity.  Currently, the ratio of fresh grapes to grape juice purchases hovers at 75% to 25%. “Grape juice does make it easier to make homemade wine,” Coglianese explained.

The grape juice sold by Santa Fe Grape Distributors contains no added sugar, water, or yeast, Coglianese added.

To reach the company, call (773) 376-7505 or fax (773) 376-7684.

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How to make wine at home

Dissolve sugar in filtered water and add to crushed grapes (called must) or grape juice. Pour one pack of yeast into two to three ounces of water heated to between 104 and 109 degrees F. Do not stir and let sit for 15 minutes only. Then stir to suspend yeast and add to must. Note that you can use bread yeast, but your wine might taste like cider. Wine yeast is recommended. It takes three to four months to be ready to serve. Recipes also are available online by typing “homemade wine recipes” into a search engine.