From the time Antonio Fiorelli planted his first grape vines in 1988 at what would become Rosa Fiorelli Winery, it was a hands-on, family business.
Fiorelli named the business after his wife Rosa and in 1998 opened a retail wine business on the grounds at 4250 County Road 675 E.
When Antonio died at age 66 in 2013, the family struggled to keep the business going.
Two years ago, Erik Hall bought the business, and true to the spirit of Antonio Fiorelli, has taken a very hands-on approach.
On a recent day, Hall was standing in the bucket of a front-end loader driven by neighbor Steve Gainey, making a repair on a parking lot light, about 10 feet in the air.
As customers arrived, Hall called down to them to give him a few minutes while he finished his repair.
“Sorry about the wait, but my light works now,” a grinning Hall said as he joined his customers in his small retail shop and began pouring wine samples.
Hall clearly enjoyed visiting with his customers as he poured samples of the four wine blends that Fiorelli Winery & Vineyard offers.
We were both happily employed. A couple of months later we got a call, asking if we were still interested (in buying Firorelli Winery).
The tastings included Manatee Red, a semi-dry red wine; Classico, a semi-dry white; Arid White, a dry white; and Arid Red, a dry red.
In a few months, he hopes to introduce Breeze, a semi-sweet blush.
All of his wines are blends of California wines and the wines he produces from seven varieties of muscadine grapes grown in his vineyard.
“It was Antonio’s passion, it was his thing,” Hall says of the Sicilian-born founder of the winery.
“Rosa still calls me up every week or so to make sure I’m doing things right,” Hall tells his customers.
Thinking back on his negotiations to buy the business, Hall recalls he came in sick one day, and Rosa said, “No, stop.”
She led him to her house and made him soup, Hall remembers.
Karen and David Travis were in the store shopping for a wine that they could send as a thank you to a host in Italy who had treated them especially nicely.
“I like the red in that it’s not too dry,” Karen Travis said. “We’ll definitely get the Manatee Red.”
Ryan and Diane Crawford also were in the store and asked about the production cycle.
The muscadine vines were bare of fruit or leaves, having gone dormant for the winter.
“We pick in mid-July and are done by the end of September,” Hall said.
Hall’s wife Tara found a listing for the Fiorelli Winery on Craig’s list and brought it to his attention, knowing he started making wine during his college days.
The Halls put their names on a list of potential buyers, perhaps not so sure they would ever have the opportunity to buy the winery.
“We were both happily employed,” he said. “A couple of months later we got a call asking if we were still interested.”
Erik Hall left his job as an aerospace engineer for Honeywell in Clearwater to pursue his passion as a vintner.
“I am extremely happy to make the change,” he said.
The new owners closed the business for about nine months in 2017 to make extensive repairs and renovations, with the idea of not only getting the business back into shape, but also to gear up for increased production.
Hall is assisted in the business by his uncle, Eric Skau. They offer tours on the weekends and the use of the facility for weddings, baby showers, receptions and other special events.
Wine prices range from $19.99 to $23.99. The winery is open 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday and is closed Mondays and Tuesdays.