By Pat Brown
Pair Chambourcin with chocolates.
Pair Vidal Blanc with a Caprese salad.
Try a rose’ with guacamole and chips.
At Attimo Winery in Riner, an essential pairing would be Rik and Melissa Obiso. Operating their winery is the realization of a life-long dream for the couple, who have been paired for most of their lives.
A winery, Rik Obiso said, “Is a lifestyle business.” From grape to glass, he noted, “wine making is a series of challenges.”
The couple began making wine at their Riner home while Melissa supervised the design and construction of the winery building at 4025 Childress Road. It houses a tasting room, professional kitchen, offices and space for wine production.
Opening their new structure in July, they have hosted special events each month, using the kitchen to create everything from full course meals for their August grand opening to aromatic lentil and sausage soup to appetizers that pair well with their wines.
The winery building is a passive solar structure built of fiber cement panels to Melissa’s green specifications. “We have the ability to add active solar” elements later, said Melissa, who studied architecture at Virginia Tech, while Rik studied biochemistry and microbiology.
From the outside, the structure “mimics a large farmhouse,” said Melissa. Inside, the tasting room resembles a cozy, spacious living room with a touch of bistro.
“We wanted to be sure the tastings are not a rushed process,” Melissa said. “It’s not part of the American culture to relax and sit down.”
They built a bar in the room, but they steer customers toward upholstered furniture when possible. Rik explained they were looking for the atmosphere they have enjoyed in European wineries.
In fact, the winery’s name, “Attimo” means “in the moment” in Italian. “We want people to enjoy the experience,” Melissa said.
Recently Attimo uncorked the eleventh wine type that bears one of their unique labels. They have created four reds, four whites, a rose’ and two dessert wines. Each bottle has a label explaining the wine’s bouquet and name, and each name is associated with some special moment of the couple’s life together.
The Attimoes’ story goes back to New Jersey, where they met in middle school. It continues through their dating days in high school and their years at Virginia Tech. They married in l994 and returned to the New River Valley in 2006.
“We loved the people here,” said Melissa. “It’s a great place to raise children.” Their two sons help out by running the winery dogs through the vineyards. Two border collies “keep out creatures—any that are not supposed to be there,” Melissa explained.
“People here still take farming seriously, and that is missing in so many other parts of the country,” said Melissa, explaining another reason they sought to plant their dream in the NRV.
Before investing in land, they studied the weather, soil, rainfall, elevation.
“It’s almost twice as dry as in Blacksburg,” Rik said of their Riner property, “and it has great drainage. Grape vines don’t like wet feet.” Grapes, he explained, need to grow slowly. With too much rain, the fruit splits or gets stressed and falls off.
Finding farmland near their home enabled them to begin planting 10,000 grape vines as well as raspberry and blackberry vines for dessert wines. They lease additional land near Roanoke and more acreage near Charlottesville.
“We harvest 29 tons of grapes,” Rik said, sounding a little like he is as astounded as he expects his listener to be. “We don’t do anything small.”
Each wine takes months of care and nurturing. Winemaker Rik is assisted by two part-time vintners. The quickest wine to reach bouquet is a white variety, ready in six months. One of their reds requires more than 12 months to age.
The Obisos had some advice–even some warnings–for others interested in opening a winery.
“You need a $1 million,” Rik said. “There is no profit for seven years,” while grape vines mature.
“Be 110 percent sure you’re ready,” said Melissa. “There is an extreme amount of hard work.”
“A lot of people want the dream,” said Rik. “But we are both strong advocates that you have to plan ahead.”
“Unless you have $2 million,” Melissa joked.
While nurturing their dreams, the couple visited many wineries in the U.S. and abroad. “We automatically put on our note-taking hats,” said Melissa. They especially sought advice of winery managers. Melissa experienced wineries in France and, because his work takes him to Europe, Rik has visited wineries in the country of Georgia. They have also visited wineries in Italy, where Rik’s grandfather learned to make wine years ago.
A winery, Rik explained, “is every bit a farm, every bit a chemical experiment, every bit a manufacturing process and every bit a retail venture.”
“You have to be tenacious,” Melissa added. “Not every year is good.”
“But it is so rewarding,” Rik said. “We really love it.”
Rik was adamant about why he and Melissa have been able to reach their goal.
“We are the best team on the planet,” he said, “truly a husband and wife team.”