By Kim Lux
Another winery is making its way to the heart of downtown North East and is set to open on Saturday, Sept. 21.
North East resident Joe Cancilla will open North Star Winery & Market, located at 15 W. Main St., the site of his current business, Grape Country Market.
“Grape Country Market will go away and it will be rebranded as North Star Winery & Market,” Cancilla said. “The market will still be here. Its place in North East started seven years ago this month.”
Cancilla said he chose the name North Star as a way to incorporate North East and his professional journey.
“I wanted to incorporate North East somehow, but without using the lake,” he said. “So, I took the North, which led to North Star. The star came from Macy’s, my previous employer’s, emblem. This whole thing kind of came into fruition as I was working there, so it felt right.”
It was his passion for wine, Cancilla said, that drove him to start his own winery.
“I’ve always had a fascination with wine and my dream was always between a restaurant and a winery,” he explained. “By going oversees to Italy and sampling all kinds of wines, I kind of fell further in love with wine and it ignited my passion for opening a winery.
“I’ve also lived across the street from vineyards for basically my whole life,” Cancilla added.
North Star Winery will feature a variety of wines, and Cancilla said there should be something to please all tastes.
“The nice thing about my wine is that it’s basically all hand-crafted,” he said. “It’s been five-gallon carboys to 40-gallon carboys, not 500-gallon tanks. I’ve touched all 800 gallons of wine in five-gallon batches to taste it and test it.
“I will have reds, whites, sweets and dry wines,” Cancilla added. “Overall, we’ll have 12 kinds of wines, and 13 flavors, all together including a blend.”
Cancilla added he is proud to bring yet another winery to North East and is eager to be a part of Lake Erie Wine Country’s popular Wine Trail.
“We’ll be the 24th winery on the Lake Erie Wine Trail,” he said. “I’m glad to add another winery to the downtown area. So hopefully, with having us and Yori Wine Cellars, Skunk & Goat Tavern and all the other great businesses downtown, people will look at the wine maps and come spend some time here.”
The transformation of Grape Country Market into North Star Winery is just one phase of Cancilla’s business plan.
“I’ve been working toward this since 2015,” he said. “I started just by trying to find a piece of property. A couple of things fell through and then this opened up and it was a great footprint to start everything at.
“I’ve always had a few phases in mind,” Cancilla added. “Phase 1 was to buy the market and establish a retail presence, Phase 2 is opening the winery and Phase 3 will come when I outgrow this space and hopefully in a few years, expand to somewhere with more land and property. Ideally, I would keep this small tasting room and gift shop right here in downtown North East.”
Cancilla noted it’s been about a year since he and his business partner, Lisa Stuczynski, purchased Grape Country Market.
“We’re coming up on our first year of having the market, and the community has been so supportive,” he said. “Owning a business in theory and owning a business in reality have been two totally different things. It’s been a whirlwind. I feel like no college education can prepare you for it until you’re actually in it.”
Cancilla said he wouldn’t have been able to start the winery without the support of his family, friends and the local community.
“I’ve been supported from everyone here,” he said. “Whether it’s just advice or information, everyone has been really helpful.
“I’d like to thank my parents, sister, grandma and Aunt Virginia,” he added. “Also, thanks to my Winemaker Bert Richnafsky and also Ben Feucht, Albert Richnafsky, Brandon Boyd, Justin Gordon Beck and my business partner, Lisa.”
The grand opening of North Star Winery & Market will be on Saturday, Sept. 21. The festivities will kick off with a ribbon cutting ceremony at 11 a.m.
Cancilla’s winery is also opening its doors just in time for the 38th annual Wine Fest, held Sept. 27 through Sept. 29. Cancilla said he hopes to be a part of Wine Fest in the future.
“I only have about 800 gallons of wine, which will give me nearly 2,200 bottles,” he said. “I wanted to in Wine Fest but with this limited quantity it didn’t work out. I’m hoping a lot of people still come by and check us out.”