It started out being about the wine, but now it’s about the neighborhood, but still about the wine, and about how the wine is part of the neighborhood, which is worthy of a toast made with thousands of glasses of homemade wine.
The Highlandtown Wine Festival began 11 years ago, when Joe DiPasquale, owner of the eponymous and famous Italian market that happens to be celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, was seen delivering grapes to Highlandtown homes by Dan Schiavone.
While Schiavone wondered out loud what was going on, DiPasquale says the answer was pretty obvious.
“The smell was in the air all around,” he remembers.
Long before the homebrewing craze, Highlandtown Italians were making their own wines—reds and whites—and sharing them mostly with family and sometimes friends.
“You guys have to do something to celebrate this!” was Schiavone’s response, DiPasquale recalls.
The first year, the festival was held in a courtyard on the 200 block of S. Dean St.
“We built a fire pit; we roasted meats; we had 50 people—mostly family,” DiPasquale says.
It became a tradition, and the next year, double the people showed up.Wine 10
“Then, the bocce got involved,” says DiPasquale, gesturing his hands to fast-forward the festival to the present, the most recent incarnation of the event, Saturday, May 3, sunny, warm and breezy.
A mixture of old and young, Southeast Baltimore residents and visitors sample wines, catch up with old friends, solidify developing relationships, and take the first steps toward new ones. That’s the flowery description of what’s happening, but also it’s just a lot of fun.
Periodically and invariably, the shattering sound of a “DiPasquale’s 100 anniversario” wine glass hitting the pavement interrupts the festivities. Early on in the festival, the sound is greeted with a short, awkward silence. The second time it happens, a few people say “oooh,” as if they’re bemusedly watching some poor man get in trouble with his wife. Toward the end of the day a breaking glass brings so many whoops and cheers, you’d think that the Orioles had just come from behind with a grand slam.Wine 4
Through it all, pourers like Gina Piscopo and Celeste Corsaro keep glasses filled with wine produced by old-timers like Domenico Parravano,
“We’re not using juice,” says Parravano, who has been making wine since the 1950s. “We’re using smashed grapes of the best quality.”
Brian Sweeney, president of the Highlandtown Community Association, notes that festival visitors are often shocked to learn just how local the wine really is.
“They say, ‘It’s all Maryland wine?’” he says. “I say, ‘No, it’s all Highlandtown wine!’”
The wine, Sweeney adds, is the catalyst for a celebration of the community.
“It’s an opportunity for us to promote the neighborhood to people from outside the neighborhood,” he says. “We want to present Highlandtown in the best possible light, so people will invest in it.”