Suffern’s Liquorland Hosts Autism Awareness Fundraiser and Wine Tasting

BY DIANA BIERMAN

From left to right: Christie Godowski, Liz Fortugno, Raj's father, Raj Ranjith, Marcello Russodivito, Cesar Baeza, Liz's son James
From left to right: Christie Godowski, Liz Fortugno, Raj’s father, Raj Ranjith, Marcello Russodivito, Cesar Baeza, Liz’s son James

Hundreds of people swirled, sniffed and sampled wines and spirits at a summer wine tasting at Liquorland in Suffern on June 8. Ten percent of all purchases that day went to the greater Hudson Valley branch of the Autism Speaks Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to raising awareness about autism.

“Our goal is to educate the general public about autism and encourage people to learn more,” said Christie Godowski, executive director of Autism Speaks.

While children participated in fun activities just outside the store, adults of legal drinking age made their rounds among the more than 100 wines and spirits offered for tasting. Available for munching were hors d’oeuvres to complement the wines—including caponata, a sweet and sour eggplant recipe, made by Marcello Russodivito, owner of Marcello’s of Suffern, who put on three live cooking demonstrations.

Marcello Russodivito, owner of Marcello's of Suffern, who put on live cooking demonstrations to help raise money for autism research
Marcello Russodivito, owner of Marcello’s of Suffern, who put on live cooking demonstrations to help raise money for autism research

“If there’s ever an opportunity to help children with autism and find more research, then I’m there,” said Marcello. “More people need to be aware and more people need to help.”

Another special guest at the event was Cesar Baeza, the winemaster for Brotherhood Winery in Washingtonville, NY. Not only is the Tappan resident passionate about raising awareness of autism, wine is also near and dear to his heart. Baeza’s career dates back to his college days where he studied agriculture and specialized in wines—and he’s still selling and making wine to this day. “I’ve never worked a day in my life because I’m doing what I love,” he said. “It’s a lifestyle—not a job.”

Cesar Baeza, winemaster at Brotherhood Winery, Diana Bierman, reporter at RCT, and her father, Mark Bierman
Cesar Baeza, winemaster at Brotherhood Winery; Diana Bierman, reporter at RCT; and her father, Mark Bierman

“The people treat me well—I eat a little too well,” he laughed, explaining how he loves pairing wine with food. His words of wisdom: “There’s a wine for every food and a wine for every mood.”

Dagan LaCorte, Mayor of Suffern, also made an appearance at the event. “I’m more than happy to support a great local business and a great cause,” he said, adding how he has ties to the fundraiser because his wife, a speech therapist, works with autistic children.

Donna Imparato, from Giannella’s Bakery in Paterson, NJ, which donated some of the food, was thrilled to be part of such a cause and had her 13-year-old grandchild, who can’t speak because of autism, on her mind. “It’s so important to educate people about autism—many people don’t know much about it,” she stressed. “You can’t push those kids to the side.”

Cesar Baeza and his wife, Annette
Cesar Baeza and his wife, Annette

“This is a nice way for people to be able to sample regions and variety of grapes—and have proceeds go to a good cause, too,” said Christine Wolferman, employee of Citibank of Suffern, the event’s sponsor of the children’s activities.

The event was organized by Liz Fortugno, the district manager at Brotherhood Winery, in honor of her 19-year-old son, James, who’s on the autistic spectrum. Raj Ranjith, the owner of Liquorland, also worked to make sure everything went smoothly

For more information on Autism Speaks, visit www.autismspeaks.org. For more information about Brotherhood Winery, visit www.brotherhood-winery.com.