I cannot help but think of Danny Meyer’s story every time I enter one of his restaurants in New York City. Danny is a living legend who redefined American service in restaurants by hiring enthusiastic people with a strong work ethic that made every customer feel at home. He has built an empire based on the idea of hiring the right people and retaining them by treating them well. His philosophy was simple –if your employees are happy then they will give their customers a great experience.
It is interesting to note that Danny was hesitant to become an entrepreneur, due to his life being shaped by one memory with his father. When Danny was 14 years old, his father tearfully told the family that his travel business was not going to make it and that they would have to file for bankruptcy. He attributed the bankruptcy to the over-expansion of the business, and hence, why it took Danny 10 years to open his second restaurant proceeding Union Square Cafe.
As I sat in the balcony area at Marta, one of the many successful Danny Meyer restaurants, for a winemaker lunch with Tuscany producer Castello di Gabbiano, I started to think how amazing it was that Danny could overcome such an early traumatic experience. It was fitting that the winemaker, Federico Cerelli, would end up talking about his father and their opposing opinions as to what makes a great Tuscan wine.
Castello di Gabbiano
Castello di Gabbiano’s Tuscan winemaking traditions can be tracked back some 3,000 years. Its estate was constructed in 1124 and is situated in the prestigious Chianti Classico winegrowing district. One can just imagine all of the various generations and families this winemaking estate went through during its almost 900 years of existence. The challenges, the disagreements; the practices they kept, those they got rid of, and those practices they eventually brought back again.
Father and Son
Federico Cerelli grew up in a small town right outside of Florence, in Tuscany. He first experienced winemaking in a very modest way, by his grandfather making wine at home as a hobby. Through excelling in his studies at University and studying under some well-established great winemakers, Federico was able to make wine that his grandfather could have never dreamt of. As he talked about his style of wine, approachable and elegant, he started to laugh a little to himself. Then he said that although this is his ideal style of wine, his father was not a fan. His father believes wine should be big and rough, so he doesn’t taste Federico’s wines… which is remarkable to me because they are very nice wines indeed.
It was interesting to learn that Danny Meyer had remarked that his father made a mistake by not surrounding himself with talented people – a strong philosophy of how Danny runs his restaurants. And even though Federico has his grandfather and father to thank for introducing him to wine, through study and practice, he has developed his own taste, his own vision of the ideal qualities of a wine.
Respect While Evolving
It is a complex relationship we have with our parents. It is natural to idolize them, as they are usually our first heroes, and it is sometimes difficult to see that they aren’t as perfect as we thought they might have been. But if we are to continue evolving, then there is nothing wrong with recognizing that there may be a better way, or at least a different way, more suited to the next generation. Taking another road doesn’t mean we do not respect what came before us; if anything, if it wasn’t for the work of our forefathers and foremothers, we would never have the opportunities we have today.
Everyday Drinking Wine (less than $15)
2015 Castello di Gabbiano, Promessa, Pinot Grigio, Delle Venezie IGT, Tuscany, Italy ($10): 92% Pinot Grigio and 8% Chardonnay. A richer bodied Pinot Grigio with peach cobbler flavors and hints of lemon zest and white flowers. A fun wine at an amazing value.
Special Occasion Wine (from $15 to $50)
2015 Castello di Gabbiano, Dark Knight, Toscana IGT, Tuscany, Italy ($17): 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot and 20% Sangiovese. The Dark Knight is a great chance for Federico to play with a significant amount of international varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Stewed plums with espresso and a hint of vanilla, with the Sangiovese adding bright violets and a refreshing acidity. Previously, Federico worked with Tignanello, one of the top “super tuscan” wines, and so, I could really taste his expertise with making a super tuscan blend in this Dark Knight IGT – yet it is made to be drunk on release and over delivers for the price.
2013 Castello di Gabbiano, Chianti Classico Riserva, Chianti Classico DOCG, Tuscany, Italy ($25): 95% Sangiovese and 5% Merlot. I was so happy that I tasted this wine before I looked at the grape varieties. I actually assumed it was 100% Sangiovese (or at least only a small amount of other local varieties) because it was impressive. But lo and behold, there was 5% Merlot. In the past, I would have never agree to adding Merlot to a Chianti Classico Riserva, yet I cannot deny that this wine was an outstanding example for the price and my opinion was confirmed by my colleagues at the table – long time Italian wine experts – who were blown away as well. Exhilarating aromas of cherry blossom, wild berries and baking spice with deeper notes on the finish of tobacco leaf and earth. Solid structure with good flesh on the body and lots of stuffing although it still dances on the palate with grace.
Fantasy Wine (over $50)
2013 Marchesi Antinori, Tignanello, Toscana IGT, Tuscany, Italy ($90): 80% Sangiovese, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Cabernet Franc from the single vineyard called Tignanello. Federico is no longer associated with this winery as he is completely devoted to Castello di Gabbiano, but working with this wine in the past helped to sharpen his skills. This 2013 Tignanello shows how a powerful wine can be elegant and graceful with its stunning harmony between rich fruit flavors (black cherries), intense energy, complex aromatics (smoke and licorice) and integrated tannins that will make this wine approachable in another year, but note it will continue to improve for at least 15 years or more.