Winery touts social aspect of the business

NEWPORT BEACH — Local boutique winery owner Gus DeFalco's low-cost wines have something in common with the big-dollar bottles produced in California's established wine-making regions: the same grapes.

DeFalco owns Orange Coast Winery, which opened in April. He gets his grapes — about 4,000 pounds per vineyard harvest — from growers in Napa, Sonoma, Amador, Santa Barbara, Paso Robles, Mendocino, Santa Maria, Lodi and other swaths of California's wine country.

His varietals average $12 to $24 per bottle. He said he uses high-grade cork, stainless steel and oak barrels, and other materials similar to those used by recognized winemakers in his process.

"The most difficult part is to get great vine growers to sell their grapes to small boutiques like myself," DeFalco said.

"I've been graced with their grapes, you could say," he added with a laugh.

Some of the vineyards DeFalco buys from for his 2,500-square-foot winery on West 16th Street in Newport Beach are recorded as having produced grapes more than 110 years ago, he said.

DeFalco's enthusiasm for wine dates back to his childhood in Canada.

The Toronto native's affinity for the vine began when his whole family would gather to make several barrels of wine. The family would purchase shipments of California grapes.

DeFalco would take the grapes home from the train station to make the wine by hand in the basement of a relative's home.

"It was always a party," DeFalco said of yearly activity, which brought close to 30 members of his family together. "I just never grew out of it. It is such a fun process."

DeFalco still looks at winemaking as a social occasion. When the grapes arrive at the Newport winery, he invites friends to join "crushing" parties.

While a machine takes care of the de-stemming, wine-making still requires a lot of manual labor, he said.

"The way I look at it, it's like gardening," DeFalco said. "Why grow roses? I want to grow tomatoes. I want to have something that I can invite people over to share in with me."

Orange Coast Winery hosts weekend tastings, parties and has plans for a slew of educational events including pairings classes, cooking with wine and cheese-making courses.

The winery also offers a wine club, but DeFalco plans to cap membership at 200 people to keep the events intimate and fun.

"We're not a bar or a restaurant, we're a winery," DeFalco said. "Being able to do the events and the wine education is what we want to do. It's half the fun of the business."

And whether you're a wine expert or a novice, if you buy $75 bottles or $10 bottles, in the end there's just one key lesson for everyone, DeFalco said.

"The only thing that matters is how the wine tastes to you, because my palate is going to be different than your palate," DeFalco said. "And who cares about price if that's what you like."

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