1. Tell us a little bit about yourself. What is your background and your current role? I have worked in the hospitality and beverage industry my entire life. My family has always been in it. They immigrated from Puglia in Southern Italy, and they were butchers. My grandfather and his brother owned D'Errico's Markets, and one is still open in Worcester, Massachusetts, where I am from. I unofficially started in the hospitality industry at the age of ten or eleven, pouring drafts in a pub's service bar. My father managed it in addition to being a firefighter. I thought it was the best thing in the world! I worked as a shelf stocker, dishwasher, line cook, bar-back, and valet driver in high school. When I turned eighteen, my cousin Tommy got me a job as a bartender with him, and I was hooked. I worked in hotels, bars, pubs, restaurants, and nightclubs throughout my twenties. I worked my way up to be the general manager and liquor license holder of a nightclub in Worcester and ran that until I moved to Vegas in 2003. I started at the Nine Fine Irishman inside the New York-New York Hotel and Casino and worked my way up to be a beverage manager on the casino floor. In 2005, I opened Bartolotta Ristorante di Mare inside Wynn Las Vegas as a mixologist. That is where I began my sommelier studies and started testing with the Court of Master Sommeliers. Before that, I was mostly studying mixology and spirits. I moved over to Sinatra at Encore Las Vegas in 2009 as a sommelier and became wine manager in a little over a year. While running the wine program at Sinatra, I also worked during the day for a small importer called South Italy Imports as the Nevada State Sales Manager. In 2017, I was recruited by Lia Tolaini Banville to work for her import company as a division manager, and that is my current role. I am the Western Division Manager for Banville Wine Merchants, and I manage 9 states in my territory. I am currently studying for the advanced exam for the Court of Master Sommeliers and continuing my education online through Harvard University.
2. Why did you choose this industry and what do you love about it?
I feel like the industry chose me. I was either going to be cooking in the kitchen or working the front. My family background was always cooking, eating, drinking, and sitting around the table with my family and friends. It's all we did. I grew up in a house where we all lived together and cooked together: my parents, brother, cousins, grandmother, and uncles. I would cook with my mother and grandmother, and we would always have wine with every meal. When I was little, my grandfather would pour me an almost full glass of orange soda and top it off with a little bit of his wine. As I got older, the ratio changed, and I was drinking great wines with them when I was in high school. My passions for all things food and beverage have been my life's journey, and I have loved every part of it. It is how my family lived, worked, how I made many friends, and how I met my wife.
3. What do you love about it?
The thing I love the most about the industry is the family and cultural connections. Every product we consume comes from a place, a family, and has a history. When I open a bottle of wine, I think about so much more than just the wine. I think about the people who worked the vineyards, made the barrels, the bottles, the corks, worked the cellars, and designed the labels. I think about how it was all made. When I experience a wine, I think about the sunshine, the weather from that year, the soil, and everything that provided a life for the vines. I think about the different types of animals that live in the area. It's all a part of it for me, and I feel like I connect with the people and the place when experiencing a wine. The people I get to share the wine with are every bit as important, in contributing to my love and enjoyment of wine. I love the connection with culture in that. For me, drinking wine is visiting people, places, and history.
4. What challenges have you experienced in your profession in 2020?
2020 was a nightmare. COVID-19 took family members and friends from us and caused a lot of heartbreak personally. Professionally, we all witnessed years of business success disintegrate. We had to start over and begin to rebuild. We are still building, and this is not yet over. Our industry will take years to return once the pandemic has finished. We are giving support and continuing to be a strong partner in the industry. We represent many families and are working tirelessly to ensure their businesses can continue. We are responsible for their success and survival. At the same time, we are trying to give support to the people that represent us in the market. Our biggest challenge is supporting everyone, the producers, the distributors, their teams, restaurants, wine shops, and all the other businesses. In most cases, they are all fighting to save their life savings and work. We are in uncharted territory here, and every day is a new challenge. We need to remain open to reinvention. I am so very grateful and lucky to have such a great company like Banville, who kept our entire team employed throughout COVID. Banville has been a blessing to us.
5. What are some of your favorite and comforting wine/wine region/pairing?
That is such a hard question to answer. It changes so much. Over the years, I have had favorites, but now I feel like it all depends on what food I eat. Food plays a huge part in wine selection for me. It has so much to do with the seasons and the regions. I love them all, but there is a special place in my heart for Sardegna, the Veneto, Alto Adige, Tuscany, the Rhone, and Puglia. Some of my favorite wines are Terlano Vorberg/Nova Domus, Pala Cannonau Riserva, Chateau de Beaucastel Chateauneuf-Du-Pape, and any vintage Champagne. All-time top wines I love are 1997 Masseto, 2009 Dal Forno Romano Amarone, 2006 Philliponnat Clos des Goisses, 1990 Salon, 2003 Chateau Haut-Brion, 2002 Domaine Drouhin Marquis de Laguiche, 1989 Chateau d’Yquem, 1990 & 2000 Chateau Cheval Blanc, 1982 Chateau Petrus, 1990 DRC La Tache and DRC La Romanee-Conti.
6. Any advice for aspiring industry candidates?
Find yourself some good industry leaders and form relationships with them. Do not judge too much and have an open mind. Always try to connect with the places you are learning about, not just the wine; but also the people, food, land, and culture. My door is always open to anyone aspiring to live in the world of food, wine, and hospitality.
7. Please share an anecdotal moment that you will never forget!
My anecdotal moment happened over the course of several years. Being part of the Wynn Las Vegas wine team was truly a special experience. All of the top wines I have experienced are because of my time spent there. We opened and tasted amazing, rare wines for the most incredible people in the world. Large format first growths, extremely old vintages, and once in lifetime wines were weekly events. I do not have any other way to explain it. It was a sommelier’s dream. One moment that stands out is a management meeting we once had. We had these monthly Wynn wine manager meetings, and one year our December meeting was one of the most unforgettable wine days in my life. We walked into our board room to find five bottles of wine wrapped for a blind tasting, each with its own glass. Four wines were together, and one was off to the side. We were given very little information, only to taste the four that were together first, then wait to blind the last. After blinding, we all agreed three might be the same wine; one was completely different, and when we got to it, the last one was badly corked. Before the reveal, our corporate wine director said these bottles were a holiday gift from Mr. Wynn. He unwrapped them to find that the four bottles were all 1982 Chateau Petrus, and the last one was 1948 Chateau Cheval Blanc. The Cheval Blanc was, unfortunately, the corked wine. One of the Petrus bottles was a counterfeit identified weeks earlier, and the last three were just stunning. Mr. Wynn wanted us to see the difference and enjoy the rest. We spent the remainder of our meeting drinking 1982 Chateau Petrus and toasting to our successful year. What a day! Thank you, Mr. Wynn!
8. Is there anything else you would like to share or mention?
When I say that my door is always open to those aspiring to work in the industry, I mean it. The best way to reach me is at Drew@banvillewine.com.
Drew: "I feel like the Industry chose me. My passions for all things food and beverage have been my life's journey."