Go to the head of the class
walk through the door of Roxford School nearly 100 years after it opened, and you’ll find yourself in the midst of an artisanal winery. From its exterior, Casella Winery looks much like historical photographs of the former school, with the exception of oil lanterns hanging on either side of the door and the addition of a walkway that appears to connect to the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. The sound of live music floods the interior, and the chitchat of the wine maker and patrons adds to the ambience. But it’s still easy to visualize the same space in 1918, when children first flooded the doorway of this one-room schoolhouse eager to learn.
Casella Winery charms the visitor with an eclectic array of décor, while offering a view of the countryside that is so breathtaking you may well want to walk behind the winery to breathe in the landscape. It’s easy to relax amid the beauty.
John Casella, owner and wine maker, is bridging the gap between past and present with an interest in the history of Roxford School. He has enlisted help from some of his patrons who attended the school before it was closed in 1944 to create a Roxford School wall. Historical photos of the property and other memorabilia will be prominently displayed for all winery patrons.
Casella purchased the Roxford School in August of 2013, after a residential makeover had transformed it to be nearly ready to move into as a single-family residence. He found the property was well-suited for a winery, and he has further plans to develop it to include numerous gathering areas. He also plans to add more parking and provide weekly entertainment at the property, which is referred to as Roxford Park.
Casella’s involvement in the commercial wine industry may be relatively new, but his history with wine isn’t. His appreciation for wine comes from his upbringing in a Sicilian-American home, where Chianti was the usual house wine kept in the corner of the kitchen by the dining table. Never wasted, sometimes fortified, it became an essential part of the kitchen, complementing olive oil, garlic, cheese and bread.
Casella’s transition from the steel industry to winery owner came after a potentially life-altering medical condition interrupted his 30-year career. Facing the diagnosis of Type 1 diabetes, coinciding with the sale of the family business in 1996, he decided to take his life in a different direction. In 2000, he moved to Charleston, South Carolina, to pursue a healthier and happier lifestyle.
“I got rid of suits and ties and started drinking wine,” Casella said. A few years later, an old flame bought him a wine kit, and thus began the makings of a retirement occupation in the wine industry.
Casella moved back to Ohio and began making wine commercially in 2013 from his home in New Philadelphia, about the same time Roxford School came up for sale. Today, he produces wine in the basement of the old Roxford School. The school’s fire-safe room is used to age, finish and bottle the wines. Using juices from Italy, California and Chile, he creates 5,000 bottles of wine per year, but Casella hopes to increase production to 16,000 per year, over time of course.
There’s still a learning curve for Casella as a wine maker. As he describes it, “I spent 30 years in the steel business, (working) business to business. Now, I’m living life on my own terms and trying to grow in the winery business.”
Casella oversees all aspects of the wine production and even serves patrons. He believes that less is certainly more, especially in wine making. “It is like being a
facilitator that stands by while the juice undergoes a metamorphosis. Time and racking brings out the quality of the wine. Simple methods and no shortcuts make the wine consistently delicious.”
Casella Winery offers 13 wines, including Nonnu’s, named after John’s grandfather. Nonnu’s is an Italian Brunello — a dry red wine with a black cherry and tannic flavor.
Appetizers like artichoke dip, trail mix, cheese and Triscuits are available, as well as complimentary chocolates. Wines are available for local delivery and mail order, but John will agree the best way to taste his creations is to experience Casella Winery at Roxford Park yourself.
Yvonne Ackerman is Manager of Marketing and Member Services at Carroll Electric Cooperative in Carrollton.