The American Dream
There are three of us in the family who started wineries. My cousin, Ang, is the trailblazer who first opened the Washington Winery in Washington, Pennsylvania; My sister, Maria, is the second with the Virginia Beach Winery; Andrew and I are the third with Woodlawn Press Winery in Alexandria, Virginia. My cousin, sister, and I are the product of our great-grandparent’s hardships when they first immigrated to America. They humbly worked their way to a better life for themselves and their kids. We don’t forget their story and proudly share it now as we make wine in honor of their legacy.
Our family story starts with Umberto Evangelista, who came to the U.S. in 1903 at 15 years old. His occupation is literally listed as “peasant” in his Ellis Island entry record, and he only had $10 with him when he arrived. He was born in Capriglia Irpina, Italy but eventually settled in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He married Grazia Magliacane in Italy (date unknown), and his wife joined him in America in 1917 with their son, my grandfather, Joseph Evangelista (birth name Guiseppe). Grazia was 29 and my grandfather was 4 years old when they arrived. I believe Grazia and my grandfather were able to join Umberto because he was naturalized as a U.S. Citizen on November 20, 1916, 13 years after arriving in America.
Umberto died in 1928 at 39 years old. His death certificate says he died of Pulmonary Tuberculosis, leaving Grazia to raise now three kids by herself. Grazia didn’t speak English. Grazia is my dad’s grandmother, and he recalls she never spoke English even decades later during his childhood.
My grandfather, Joseph, was 15 when Umberto, his father, died. My dad says Joseph quit school and started working in the steel mills to help make a living for their family. I was also told Grazia and Joseph made and sold wine to their house tenants. We don’t know how much they were making and selling, but Grazia was arrested in 1936 for selling wine illegally. This moment is where our bootleg beginnings takes root.
The arrest records indicate a man named Conrad Becker prosecuted and testified against Grazia in her trial. I remember as a kid my family teased that Grazia’s competitor turned her in because our family made better wine. We have no idea if this is true, but we like to think Conrad Becker was the snitch in our version of the story. There were two other witnesses that testified but the records primarily focus on Conrad Becker as the primary Constable for the charges.
The records also show a lady named Amelia Nicolussi paid Grazia’s bail in the amount of $2,000, using her place of residence as a surety (Side note: Amelia’s real estate was assessed at a value of $4,000 to give you an idea of how much money was at stake). We don’t know who this angel was or how she knew Grazia, but we’re grateful Grazia was able to be with her three kids during this endeavor.
Before we found the arrest records, the family fable was the judge let Grazia off when he learned she was just trying to earn a living for her family. There’s no record to indicate what happened during the trial, but Grazia did plead guilty and was released on probation for six months. I’m assuming the consequences for selling alcohol without a license were so harsh in 1936 because the Country was coming out of the prohibition culture at that time. Regardless, I think Grazia’s story is a testament to her family’s ability rise above the fray despite the odds. Grazia died in 1955 at 70 years old and lived to see her sons have children, to include my dad and Aunt Norma.
The art of making wine is rooted in family traditions all over the world. Grazia is our matriarch when it comes to wine making, and although Woodlawn Press Winery, the Virginia Beach Winery, and the Washington Winery are fully licensed (unlike Grazia’s wine operation), hopefully she is in delight that her great-grand children are carrying on what she started.