Wine is Where the Heart Is

One New York sommelier's story of living, losing, and finding the dream all over again.

It all happened so fast.

I’m living the dream. I’m in New York City and discovering a deep passion for all things wine. I work my way up through the ranks. And then, I’m the sommelier for two of the city’s top restaurants.

Il Buco, recently named one of the eight most influential wine restaurants in New York City history. The other, The Lambs Club, run by celebrity Iron Chef Geoffrey Zakarian. I’m bringing A-list movie stars down to see the cellars, giving tableside lessons on Burgundy and lesser-known regions of Italy to music superstars and pairing wine to a tasting menu for Middle Eastern royalty. All the while tasting the best wine man has ever made.

I have made it. This is my time and place. This is my town.

I then wheel and deal to open a wine store of my own in Brooklyn. The store is written up in The New York Times, among others. I’m turning people on to the joys of Ischia Bianco and Mencia. Then I begin to help some friends transition their French bistro into a wine bar. Life is beyond good, and getting better.

Then Hurricane Sandy hits.

I head to Albany, New York, to spend time with family as the city regroups. I’ll come back in a couple of days max. But I get home and find that my aunt, a second mother to me growing up, has become seriously ill. Then I’m at the hospital with her and she wants to go home, but there’s no one there to take care of her. So I put off my return to the city.

“I’ll come back in a couple weeks, as soon as things get settled with my aunt,” I tell everyone, including myself. The days pass, and the situation gets worse. My aunt has Parkinson’s disease and is developing dementia. It’s obvious I can’t leave her, so I choose to stay. I back out of the wine bar project and begin wholesaling for a friend’s Italian wine company. I hustle wine to stores and restaurants all day. In the evening, I take care of my aunt.

The wines are great, but the only ones that get reordered are the five-dollar Pinot Grigio and Montepulciano. I’m exhausted and missing the world I left behind. I still get the emails and invites to tastings and dinners, seeing former colleagues’ posts on social media, living what was once my life, too. Except now I feel closer to being a used-car salesman than a sommelier.

One rainy afternoon, as I sit in my car calling in another reorder for cheap Pinot Grigio, I realize I’ve lost the wine drive that I rode to the top of New York City. I think I hate the wine world. I start to transition out of wine, devoting myself to caring for my aunt. Life becomes dark and heavy.

But then I meet a beautiful, kind woman, and she becomes my love. She lives in New Paltz, a college town in New York’s Hudson Valley. Her support carries me as I care for my aunt. After my aunt passes away, we take a winter retreat to a resort in the mountains. At dinner, I lose myself in the wine list for hours.

I savor a bottle of Chateau Musar. The Musar transports me back to the most magical tasting I ever attended, with Serge Hochar (RIP Serge), and the light comes back on.

My lady sees it, everyone does. And with her not-so-subtle encouragement, I find myself back in the wine game.

I’m consulting, I’m working on a photography project at a friend’s winery and I’m in discussions to open a wine store again. And I realize that maybe New York City isn’t the only place to be a sommelier and wine pro.

New York's Sommeliers Pour Local

Published on August 28, 2015
Topics: Editorials, New York, Sommeliers



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