What began as a family tradition many years ago has blossomed into an 85-acre vineyard that offers award-winning wines, events and a restaurant that serves up a truly Italian dining experience.
When Vito Brandonisio moved to the United States from Italy as a 10-year-old, he brought with him fond memories of his grandfather’s vineyard near the village of Acquaviva della Fonti. He also brought winemaking traditions that were perfected at home by his family.
What began as a yearly winemaking tradition with brothers, sons and nephews eventually grew into Acquaviva Winery, 47W614 Illinois Route 38, in Maple Park, a beautifully appointed 85-acre vineyard that produces award-winning wines for all seasons.
The estate, open to the public for tours, tastings, events and gatherings, also features Acquaviva Ristorante, a fine dining experience that offers traditional Italian cuisine paired with wine from the vineyard.
“We use family recipes from Southern Italy, where we’re from,” says Joe Brandonisio, Vito’s son and the general manager of Acquaviva Winery. “The family’s from right on the ‘ankle.’ Some of our cooks are from Napoli, which is on the other side of the country, but the flavors are still from southern Italy.”
With its heavy Mediterranean influences, the menu is well equipped with seafood and pasta dishes. The Zuppa di Mare, considered a signature dish, serves up a medley of mussels, clams, calamari and shrimp in a slightly spicy marinara sauce with linguine. Atlantic salmon and whitefish from Lake Superior are also on the menu, and a variety of pizzas appeal to those looking for something shareable and light. Meat lovers will not be disappointed.
“We have a 10-ounce fillet of certified Angus beef and a New York strip,” says Brandonisio.
When it comes to choosing a drink to accompany the meal, the only real challenge is deciding which award-winning wine offers the best pairing. There are currently 17 wines on hand, including a variety of whites and reds, seasonal wines, sangria and a sparkling bolle.
Sergio Benavides has been Acquaviva’s winemaker since the winery opened in 2010. Originally from Chile, Benavides brings decades of experience to Acquaviva, as well as an unremitting passion for creating refreshing wines and balanced, delicate flavors. For him, the satisfaction of watching someone truly enjoy the fruits of his labor is worth the time and effort he has put into his craft.
“When you just taste the wine and close your eyes and know it’s a pleasure that you don’t need to speak, that’s worth more than anything,” he says.
Both the winery and restaurant offer an ambiance that transports diners to Italy. The pastoral setting, impressive architecture, and marble floors set a backdrop for murals and a domed ceiling hand-painted by renowned artist Andrew Zabela-Zabelin.
“We’re a destination,” says Brandonisio, “and we want our restaurant to reflect that experience.”
While a trip to the winery is always a worthwhile experience, winter is the best time to experience all that Acquaviva has to offer. The dining room doubles as a social events venue, so it’s often closed to the public during warmer months when weddings and other gatherings dominate the calendar.
Reservations are highly recommended.Acquaviva Winery and Ristorante is open Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 8 p.m.