EAST MANATEE -- Pioneering Manatee County winemaker Antonio Fiorelli has died at 66 after a long illness.
Mr. Fiorelli opened Rosa Fiorelli Winery & Vineyard at 4250 County Road 675 E. in 1998 on five acres, eventually expanding the business to 10 acres.
In a 2009 Herald interview, Mr. Fiorelli recalled that when he and his wife Rosa bought the property in 1986, it was a "jungle."
As he cleared the land, destined to become Manatee County's first winery, he began planting rows of grapevines. On similar property nearby, neighbors were raising cattle or growing tomatoes and watermelons.
"Fiorelli, who learned the wine-making craft from his family and worked in the business in his native Sicily from the age of 11, had a hunch that his experiment would be a success. He used his own experience and worked with plant scientists from the University of Florida to find varieties that would flourish in Florida," according to the 2009 Herald story.
Eventually, he found that the Muscadine, the white hybrid Blanc du Bois, and the red hybrid the Conquistador worked best in the hot Florida climate.
His son, Salvatore Fiorelli of Bradenton, said Thursday that the business will live on.
"I would like to follow in my father's footsteps and make him proud," Salvatore Fiorelli said.
Mr. Fiorelli died Dec. 23, 2013, on the 39th anniversary of his marriage to Rosa, after whom the family business was named.
He never lost his passion and enthusiasm for wine.
In 2009, as he showed a visitor the winemaking process, his hands were stained purple from the pulp of 4,000 pounds of grapes. "Fiorelli, the artist and craftsman, seemed to glow as he shared his knowledge of wine making," according to the Herald article. Lenora Woodham of Bunker Hill Vineyard & Winery in Duette said Thursday that she was devastated by the news of Mr. Fiorelli's passing.
"We have known Antonio since we planted our first grapes 17 or 18 years ago. He has been over here visiting us, and we've been over there visiting him. I am so saddened," Woodham said.
Mr. Fiorelli was born July 20, 1947, in Palermo, Italy, to the late Salvatore and Rosalia (Salerno) Fiorelli.
He moved to Bradenton 32 years ago from Miami. He was a member of the Grape Growers Association and other wine and grape organizations.
In addition to his wife, Rosa, and his son, Salvatore, Mr. Fiorelli is survived by two daughters; Rosalia Chambers of Bradenton, and Antonella Fiorelli of Tampa; a brother, Salvatore Fiorelli of Italy; two sisters, Francesca Ciappola and Sarafina Porcello, both of Italy; three grandchildren, Michael and Christina Chambers, and Mariaurora Sciortino.
The family will receive friends from 4-8 p.m. Friday at Shannon Funeral Home Town Chapel, 1015 14th St. W., Bradenton. Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated at 10 a.m. on Saturday at Our Lady of Angels Catholic Church, 12908 E. State Road 70, Lakewood Ranch. Condolences for the family may be made online at www.shannonfuneralhomes.com.
In observance of Mr. Fiorelli's passing, the winery will be closing at 2 p,m. Friday and will be closed all day Saturday.
James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee reporter, can be contacted at 941-745-7053 or on Twitter @jajones1.