Charlie Arturaola Shares his Life and Wine Lessons through “El Camino del Vino”
Aroma and palate – this is what sommeliers and wine experts have been mastering in the wine world. It is the talent and the ability to be able to tell what a good wine is by its flavor and smell that makes a master of this field. Knowing wine beyond words. Famous sommelier, Charlie Arturaola tells the tale of being in the limelight, losing the sense for wine, and regaining the life of sips, toasts, and cheers in the movie El Camino Del Vino. He took some time out of his busy schedule to tell us what inspired him to create this film.
FE: What motivated or inspired you to become a sommelier?
Charlie Arturaola: I love history, since my school days, loved the Roman Empire and their conquered lands. I had read many books about them and visited so many old ruins when traveling in Europe. Maybe my first” ringing bell to wine” my cousin studied Biology, and I was always curious about fermentation, photosynthesis and all that jazz.
I worked for few hours in a long vineyard, but got so many calluses in my hand. I knew about Enology because my father made Ok wine. Growing up in Uruguay, in a house with a long Pergola, enough to make 250 liters of wine every year. The smell of Grapes where there there under my nose every summer. Nostalgia!
Just had a “capital flashback,” I always remember an old man in St. Tropez, France with his long apron and mystical moustache, speaking wine in a bistro. He said, ” in order to speak the wine, you have to know the wine!!“ Probably I just wanted to be a connoisseur as they said. This was in my late teens! I’ve carried that thought until today. And that was my motivation; to show people (at fine restaurants, cruise lines and hotels) through my words, that I have been to and know the viticultural areas; and know the wine to recommend with their meals. Thanks to “La Sommelierie” I was able to see most of the wine regions in the World!
FE: Once you realized your love for wine, what steps did you take to reach your current expertise?
CA: I taste left and right! (and I keep doing it). I spoke with the source, enologist, wine makers, old school, Chefs, (young, older Chefs) sommeliers, connoisseurs, aficionados. A 1997 article in the Wine Spectator said Charlie has one of the top 10 Italian wine list in America. I said me! The guy from the little country in the big win league of top Italians!!! The best wine list still today is in Valentino’s in Malibu; that was what told me to stick in wine biz.
In my early restaurant years I loved to shape menus and wine lists with Chefs in Santo Domingo, DR (on my way to San Juan, where I ended up living for 4 years). I studied, lots! Assisting every wine tasting, working them, tasting in the back stage, attending every grape symposium or festivals, that was available then.
I followed (and still follow) the respected palates of America and around the world !!! Also I went to many international wine Forums, wine schools, Wine Societies. I guess I took what it was good for Charlie’ s palate…. enriching it. My palate was defining which was my favorite wine region, grapes and where my passion was falling into (meaning which grapes I loved the most).
Pairing food and wine helped me lots (I met my incredible wife because of that!). Since my very beginnings, I was devoted to food and wine flavors, (I love to eat) maybe because we grew up in my neighborhood with so much immigration in Montevideo; an area of Italians, Polish, Spaniards, Russian , Slovaks.
FE: What’s the most interesting thing you discovered about wines?
CA: The people behind the wines, the innuendoes, great historical families, (some of them with more than 7 centuries of history) the surroundings, generations and generations telling you what the old wine wisdom brings globally (or to me) through mother nature and the juice of Bacchus. The more I knew, the better I dominated my wine lists. I remember putting together a wine list of 2000 labels for a 1400 room resort one day.
In the other hand, always feel short of learning , how little people know about wine, and always want to be there to tell my wine stories that I have accrued for so many years.
FE: So far, what do you consider to be your biggest achievement in this industry?
CA: I have 4.
First. One of my biggest achievements was to sell American (Napa wines) from Robert Mondavi Winery to Europeans in my old days cruising with Cunard lines in the Mediterranean . But my favorite was wine teaching classrooms to 200 F&B servers, without serving a glass of vino, just teaching the history of every label they served in their wine list outlets (managing almost 7 million dollars beverage program in Palm Beach , FL.)
Second: Marrying my wife Pandora in Northern Portugal’s wine country. To marry my favorite sweet heart in the Port region was unbelievable. To have my father with me and my in-laws, and 60 from all over the world….surrounded with vineyards in an old 1600 house.
Third: Being able to thank my fellow Portuguese sommelier friends after learning from them during my early years as floor sommelier in the cruise lines!
Lastly: Being able to serve wines and to introduce 250 Berlinesse palates To Malbec! The theme grape of the movie” El Camino del Vino “after the premiere, the wines Susana Balbo and Norton Reserva with Argentinaean typical asado, this past winter. (Berlin weather was 30 below).
FE: What does it take to develop a unique palate like yours?
CA: In the last 20 years, I tasted more than 10 thousand wines. But; as we grow older, your taste buds are less alert; your capacity to retain flavors get smaller and smaller. Descriptors start to disappear, and your olfactory changes. It is part of the job to learn (and memorize) grapes profiles and layers of descriptors. When tasting you try to decipher (if you can) what is floor valley fruit, or old vines, French oak vs American oak, or mountain fruit flavors, stainless steel vinification , regions, old world new world, types and styles, ageability and cellaring. Trying to identify some of these is a great guessing game. The taster is not always right. The question will be “what do I like?”
As a sommelier; you are redefining tasting notes almost every time you bring a new sipping wine to your taste buds. I guess I can say: taste, taste and taste until you find what you like. I used to say if you enjoy Sauvignon blanc; try some from Chile, California, Washington and BC, Canada. Then be more specific with the areas, Casablanca, Napa or Sonoma, Columbia or Okanagan Valley. I think I found my wines long time ago. I love to compare notes myself, old vintages of Bordeaux (my favorites). Probably I am inclined more for those (1961;1975;1982-1986-1990 and so vintages) from a region that I am so keen on. Bordeaux wines and their history; some young Cabernets and malbec, and earthy, cherry flavors, tannin driven tempranillos.
FE: What does it take to be a good sommelier?
CA: A good sommelier never stops learning, is always in motion; visiting wineries, speaking to winemakers, learning from consumer palates. Even with that, it is difficult to find a good wine list to work these days. Jobs are scarce. A savvy Sommelier is always reinventing him or herself. I believe that a good Sommelier should never leave the floor; but in America and other countries like Argentina, Chile, New Zealand and Australia, they work at wineries or wine shops. I don’t see any problem with that. They also study and they are forming their palates from another perspective. I have learned wine for so many years, that is why I am an old school wine guy! Maybe I still believe in that old Frenchman with a long apron and moustache.
FE: How do you keep a fresh palate at a wine event?
CA: Easy. Lots of water, eat bread (NOT salty Crackers) in between glasses, and make sure that you rinse the glass first with each upcoming wine (Italians call this avinare)
FE: What made you decide to do this film project?
CA: I think I was in the right time in the right place when we started talking about the idea of a malbec documentary in Mendoza. It was not easy to decide at the end .
FE: What makes this film different from other wine films?
CA: Is a very touching, tender story. It has so many great mini stories, within a big script, coated behind the true wine guy and Mendoza vineyards .
FE: While doing the film, did you ever think of how your life would change if you were in your character’s position?
CA: Never. Life did not change much, now I travel for film festivals as well as wine travels which have been part of my freelance job since 3 years ago.
FE: What does El Camino del Vino mean to your life, has it already affected your professional life?
CA: It means a lot! It is like recognition, like a culmination of serving wine all my life around the world. I am sure some old friends with get to see my name on the screen and see that I am still in wine trade but now in America.
FE: How do you think your film will impact the wine world?
CA: If we get a larger distribution, will help the consumption of wine in general. I don’t have a doubt that Shoreline from LA, will do a great job. The movie shows that wine guys are flesh and bones; like everybody. El Camino Del Vino is beyond a wine trade only movie.
FE: How do you think the non-wine lover will see the film?
CA: The film is a great drama-docu-fiction, made with non-actors. I think they will see it as a fun and exciting look into an industry that has been shrouded in mystery.
FE: What lessons have you learned in the making of this movie?
CA: Filming is great but not for me! Long hours, more than 200 hours to film 97 minutes. One thing I learned is that filmmakers love perfection. I did not like to go to sleep when everybody was waking up for several days. I will always be a wine guy.
FE: What is your favorite grape at the moment?
CA: I have been tasting Bonarda, and Torrontes (a crispy, floral whites) from Argentina, Spanish Ondarribi, tempranillos, bobal and old vine garnatxas. Bonarda is giving me a mouthful of reasons to believe that it might became a grape to look after very soon! Remember that I am responsible (consultant taster) for 12000 cases of wines for the West Canada wine trade working for an importer there.
FE: Any final thoughts?
CA: I’d like to thank The Cactus Cine Group and My incredible wife Pandora love to thank the wineries involved in the film.