There are a few reasons multiple reviews refer to TerraCello as a “hidden jewel” in the heart of Prince Edward County wine region. TerraCello is a non-commercialized, artisan, farm winery. The vibe is in a laid-back bucolic setting. Outside is a rustic patio, fire pit and outdoor wood oven and kitchen. Inside boasts a wood fireplace, lounge, tasting rooms, barrel room and a second clay pizza oven imported from Naples, Italy.
Anthony Auciello Jr., the founder and co-owner of TerraCello Winery, employs traditional, old-fashioned Italian methods to make certified natural wine and authentic Neapolitan pizza. He is also the youngest self-funded winery owner in Ontario’s history. Tony is the personification of hospitality: charming, warm, generous, and radiating passion and appreciation for his trade.
“People know me for my wine and my pizza, but the real story is about a son paying tribute to his dad who passed away at a young age,” Tony explained. In 2004, Anthony paid a visit to his father’s home town of Anzano Di Puglia, Italy, which the locals referred to as Il Paradiso – The Paradise. The land was in bad shape. War and famine had pushed his uncle and grandfather out of Italy, and they were forced to abandon it. Overgrown bush and dirt mounds stood where plentiful fruit trees should have been. “It was an epiphany,” Tony said. When he returned to Canada, he would create the paradise his family was meant to have.
At the time living in Toronto, Tony and his girlfriend (now wife) Danielle moved to Prince Edward County. “My wife got dragged along for this long, bumpy, crazy ride. She was a city girl. She wanted to stay and be a teacher in Toronto. But I had this gnawing void.” After years of working on the winery, Tony’s health began to deteriorate because of the long hours of work he was putting in. He and Danielle were deep in debt and struggling to get by.
Danielle had never had the chance to meet Tony’s dad, but one night she had a dream about him. She said he was dressed up in a suit, looking handsome and immaculate. (Tony later explained that his father always dressed up, despite having no money or status to merit it). Danielle also said that in the dream that Tony’s father was driving an orange convertible. (Tony explained that his father’s first car in Canada in 1969 was an orange convertible Camaro). Danielle said Tony’s father gave her a hug and, with an arm around her, told her: “Please don’t worry about Anthony – he knows what he’s doing.”
With the $30 they had, Danielle went to Home Hardware and picked up a flag. She put it up at the road. Fifteen minutes later, two women walked in and bought the first bottle of wine they ever sold. “When they bought that wine, I swear to god it felt like they gave me fifty thousand dollars cash. It was like I had won the lottery,” Tony said. This first purchase washed away all the self-doubt that had been building up over the last five years of work. “I never looked back,” he said. “After that first bottle of wine, I said ‘we’re going to kill it. I’m not just going to do good pizza and wine; I’m going to become one of the best in Prince Edward County.’”
They searched for a new property in the County. Where TerraCello now rests, there sits a giant well that separates the patio space from the vineyard. “When the owner showed me the well, I was sold,” Tony said. “The guys [who were here] were old, old school and I could relate because my dad was so old-fashioned.”
For five years, they worked 18 hours a day to restore and build the property into the gorgeous Italian farmhouse-style winery it is today. “Little by little, we built a reputation – one pizza at a time, one bottle of wine at a time. One customer at a time,” Tony said. On July 23, 2013, at 27 years old, Tony became the youngest self-funded winery owner in Ontario.
Strict traditional methods
Tony executes a purist method. He is one of the few agriturismos in the County — the Italian tradition of farm to table. Tony fondly describes himself as “fanatical.” He is not only the owner, founder and financier, he is also the head winemaker and he makes all of the pizza dough, every single day, by hand.
The clay oven that they make most of their pizzas in is from Naples, Italy. Tony explained that making pizzas at scale in front a thousand-degree clay oven is very physically demanding, and not many can handle it. Apparently, it takes ten thousand hours to achieve the status of pizzaiolo. That’s a lot of flaming hot pizza.
COVID-19 has forced Tony to pull back on some expenses — such as, his membership to an official Canadian pizza organization — so that he could continue to spend on top quality ingredients. True to form, Tony gets all of his ingredients from Italy. The flour he uses costs about $50 per bag, and is approved by the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana (The Pizza Association of Naples). The tomatoes he uses are also Italy-approved. Everything, down to the handmade olive oil can from Naples, comes from age-old traditions. “If you ever have a pizza, even a margherita, and it’s got no oil, it’s not classified as a pizza. Period,” Tony warned. Italians are serious about their pizza. And after tasting it prepared in this way, so am I.
To classify as a natural wine, the grapes must be grown without pesticides, the wine must be stabilized naturally, it cannot be filtered and it cannot have any chemical additives. Most wines are processed by heavy filtering – “which is how 94% of the world’s wine is made,” Tony says. “I don’t believe in that.”
Most of the time, natural wines are quite cloudy. By Canadian standards, we are legally allowed to put certain products in the wine to remove the cloudiness, but it goes against natural winemaking. The cloudiness is due to crystals in the wine that need to be precipitated out. In a modern setting, you’d use a tank with a chilling system. But as we know, Tony is a naturalist, so he does it the old-fashioned way. He opens the door in the wintertime and he allows the room to dip to -2 degrees for a week.
The Boca Nera is his signature wine. An unfiltered, three-year in French oak aged, Barolo-style wine. Often called “The King of Wines,” Barolos are produced in the northern Italian region of Piedmont. It is made from the nebbiolo grape and is often described as one of Italy’s greatest wines. Tony’s Boca Nera has notes of caramel, toffee and French vanilla. If you could bottle the feeling of abbiocco, this would be it.
“Wine is like paint by numbers these days,” Tony said. Society wants uniformity and homogenization because they want the wine to taste the same every year. According to an expose on Bloomberg, there are such a thing as wine “fixers.” These are white glove chemists, often employed by billionaires and large corporations, who fix wines that have gone awry to ensure they taste consistent across batches. “I don’t want to over-control the product. I want it to taste different,” Tony said.
All you need is the right environment
Tony doesn’t have Wi-Fi at the winery, and he is unapologetic about it. He wants people to talk to the person next to them. “And they’re liberated,” he says. “After two hours of sitting outside they say, ‘we just had the best time of our life.’ And I didn’t do nothing. I just took them away from the distractions.”
“I didn’t want it to be a commercial, cookie-cutter winery where you go in and you do the formal tasting, and it’s all a premeditated spiel,” said Tony, “I wanted to take TerraCello back to the way my dad and us grew up — very old school, very warm, less transactional.”
Photos courtesy of Sabrina Stavenjord @sabrinastavenjord