You're a successful designer with a piece (a sideways rocking chair) in the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum and your own design firm, and you've published a book on style and decorating. So the logical next step is immerse yourself in the irrational, highly-emotional world of wine retailing, and open a wine shop in New York's South Street Seaport, where Wall Street bankers come in on their lunch breaks looking for $300 bottles. Right?
For Marco Pasanella, author of the memoir "Uncorked: My Journey Through the Crazy World of Wine," the plan seemed logical, at first. It was only later that Pasanella, who admits he knew nothing about the business when he started out, realized what he'd gotten himself into. Fortunately, living above his shop, Pasanella and Sons, meant he always had a drink at hand.
Jennie Yabroff: Have you always been crazy about wine?
Marco Pasanella: I'd loved wine, but not in an over-the-top kind of way. I didn't have a wine cellar, but I drank wine every day. I read a lot about it. You could ask me arcane questions about what grapes were in a Brunello, but I didn't know anything about the business. I certainly didn't know how to run a store.
Jennie Yabroff: So why wine?
Marco Pasanella:I was in design, and that's about making your daily life better. That's how I rationalized wine: it's not curing cancer, but it's making daily life that little bit better. The book is a story of a midlife crisis kind of deal, or a midlife malaise, but hopeful in the end, despite my making every single mistake over and over again. The process of making wine is so irrational, there are a lot easier ways to make a living, so most of the people are doing it for some kind of passion.
Jennie Yabroff: And why write the book?
Marco Pasanella: I wrote an editorial for New York Times about crazy New York liquor laws, a lot of which are rooted in prohibition. Because of that, an agent called me and said I think you've got a book in you. I wrote a proposal, and my agent especially liked all the parts I felt most embarrassed and vulnerable about, which had been changing a perfectly good life for something I didn't know enough about and putting my family in financial jeopardy. It was a lot to bite off. Even a few years later, we were still suffering, and I was like, 'oh my god, maybe this was ridiculous.'
Jennie Yabroff: You must have gone through a lot of bottles while writing.
Marco Pasanella: I kept an Excel spreadsheet. At certain point, I said to my wife, 'we are drinking a lot of wine, we've really got to cut down.' You tend to go high on the hog a bit. Plus, we have this tasting room in the back of the store, there was always stuff going on. It can get a little bit taxing sometimes to have a good time every night, even if you just have to limp upstairs. I was asking myself, are three bottles, two people, in one night too much? That seems like bad math. The funny thing is, I am a super cheap date. Two glasses and I feel it. So I've started cutting back, and now I probably drink less than before we opened the store.
Jennie Yabroff: What's your advice for someone who's intimidated about buying wine?
Marco Pasanella: Let's start by talking about what you're having for dinner. Ninety percent of wine is consumed within an hour of buying. You know what kind of food you like, so that gives you a way in. You make lots of decisions in your life, this is not one of the harder ones.
Jennie Yabroff: What's the best way to make a wine store employee hate you?
Marco Pasanella: The "expert" bugs me the most. Because of our proximity to Wall Street, a whole bunch of "experts" come up at lunch time, insisting on the $300 bottle that was on the cover of Wine Spectator. There's a lot of posturing. They are the hardest customers to deal with because they think they know better. The person who wants to explore, or who wants help, that's the best.
Jennie Yabroff: You do a lot of tastings in your store. Do people get drunk?
Marco Pasanella: There have been a few private tastings where we're like, 'did you really just throw up in the corner?' We once had a tasting for people who could bring their dogs. We did all wines with dogs on the bottle, and we had treats for all the dogs. We have one column in the store, and these really well-behaved dogs all peed on the column, one after the other. Like 60 of them. That was far more upsetting than the projectile vomiter.