Refucilo winery on the North Side. Photo by Francesca Dabecco.

After years of amateur winemaking, Dr. Juan Antonio Lora began dreaming of owning his own vineyard. Each time he and his wife Cecillia traveled abroad, they made sure to stay near a winery to look for potential plots to invest in.

“I took my wife to Argentina 10 years ago for our 25th anniversary,” he explains. “Because Argentina means silver, and it was our silver anniversary.”

They stayed at a winery in Mendoza’s Uco Valley, nestled within the Andes Mountains. Juan and Cecillia were stunned by the beauty of the vineyard and knew that this was the place where they would grow their grapes. In 2016, they bought five acres of the managed vineyard, and this past December, they opened their own winery on Western Ave. in Pittsburgh’s North Side, which they call Refucilo.

A sampling of wines at Refucilo Winery. Photo by Francesca Dabecco.

In the cozy space, customers can sip on a glass (or go for a bottle) and enjoy it with a tapas menu designed for pairing with particular wines.

Currently, they have a Malbec 2014, Sauvignon Blanc 2017 and a Chardonnay 2017. A new shipment from Argentina, which will include a Pinot Noir 2017, Torrontés 2019 and a Malbec Rose 2018, should arrive in late March.

To “make the experience special for our customers,” says Cecillia, she researched foods that pair well with each wine. The current menu includes stuffed mushrooms (paired with a Malbec), olive and goat cheese bites with prosciutto (paired with a Chardonnay), dates wrapped in bacon with almonds (paired with a Pinot Noir) and more.

Refucilo’s shareable tapas platters are made with local ingredients, including cheese from Chantal’s Specialty Cheese Shop and charcuterie meats from Parma.

“We didn’t want to have a winery where you buy a bottle and go home,” Juan says. “We wanted this to be an experience: the experience of tasting some good wine with some good food and enjoy it with some good friends and family.”

A message found on the wall at Refucilo. Photo by Francesca Dabecco.

In fact, the name Refucilo, a Spanish word for lightning, has a family connection: It comes from the name of a sailboat that Juan sailed with his uncle when he was a teenager. After those afternoons on the water, they would return to his uncle’s house on the beach and enjoy a barbeque with wine.

“He is the one who introduced me to wine,” Juan says.

And after more than two decades living in Murrysville, Juan and Cecillia are now introducing Pittsburgh to the unique varietal made at their vineyard.

“The good thing about the Uco Valley is that it is a high desert,” Juan explains. “The high altitude causes a wide variation of temperatures, which is perfect for winemaking.”

Vines there grow at an altitude of 3,800 feet, so they soak up lots of sun during the day, and by night the cool temperatures slow down the ripening process and preserve the grapes. Despite being a desert, the Uco Valley remains verdant through a drip irrigation system running from the melting peaks of the Andes Mountains.

“All of the grapes are picked by hand, as well,” Juan says. “This helps to not damage the vines, and the fruit is not hurt. You have intact berries when you start your fermentation.”

All of these elements are important for creating the perfect glass of wine, he says.

“What we’ve learned through our travels is that people who are involved in winemaking are very passionate about what they do,” adds Cecillia. “They do it for the love of it.”

Now, as their new business takes root on the North Side and they make yearly trips to their vineyard in Argentina, so do the Loras.

Francesca Dabecco is a Pittsburgh-based writer who strives to tell stories in the most interesting, innovative and inspiring formats.