After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania in 1988, I spent a year in New York, working in publishing. Basically, like my other well-educated 21 – 25-year-old colleagues, I was a gopher. In an earlier time period I would have been called a secretary but – and this is my theory – since so many young men were doing the same menial tasks we were called assistants. After ten months I had enough so I left the country and worked and traveled in England and Israel.
By the fall of 1990, it was time to become an adult and plan the rest of my life so I moved back to New York and started the graduate school application stage of my life. Wine had become a hobby and fortuitously, I was hired to work the holidays at Astor Wines. That turned into a full-time gig in the new year. All set to start a history program at NYU in the fall, I spent the summer of 1991 on the west coast and that changed everything. Instead of embarking on an academic path, I continued on at Astor for the rest of the year and moved to San Francisco in January 1992.
It was not just the promise of California that made me rethink my career plans. I was lucky enough to work in an environment at Astor that was inspiring, cerebral and fun. The buyer and my mentor, Kevin McKenna, was a maverick and I realized that my intellectual curiosity could be fulfilled through a wine career. I also found that my love for wine was contagious and it was immensely gratifying to share both the juice and knowledge with others.
What did I do with this? I spent a year working at Amelio’s, a formal French restaurant in North Beach. This was an 180-degree turn from Astor and while I knew pretty quickly I was not one to go down the “somm” route, the experience was invaluable and I learned a lot about classic wine regions.
I first encountered wine bars in London and elsewhere in Europe as a student in the 80’s and loved the concept. I thought about doing something similar in San Francisco and in 1994 the stars aligned when I met a like-minded person and we opened Hayes & Vine Wine Bar in Hayes Valley, what was then a rougher and not quite developed neighborhood. H&V was the first wine bar in San Francisco to serve an international selection of wines and our wine list was groundbreaking, setting the stage for many wine bars that came after us.
In 1997, I started teaching, at the suggestion of a friend who was a Master of Wine candidate. Originally, my students were restaurant and wine industry professionals but word got out and by 1998, I officially created “The Grapes of Path,” the first wine school I know of in the Bay Area. While teaching I also became interested in filmmaking and I wrote about wine and film for local and national publications including The San Francisco Examiner, Wine and Spirits Magazine and San Francisco Frontiers.
By 2003, I felt the calling to open another wine bar but this time one with a full kitchen. After two years this idea came fruition when Tadd Cortell (Monarch) and I opened CAV Wine Bar on Market Street. CAV was one of the first venues in San Francisco where natural wines were served. In 2007, we received a glowing three-star review from Michael Bauer of the San Francisco Chronicle praising both the food and wine selection.
A month before CAV opened its doors, I was asked to cover wine for The San Francisco Examiner. For ten years, I wrote a weekly column focused on different regions, grapes and trends. I also wrote about wine events for San Francisco Travel from 2013 – 2015.
However, the continuation of my path as a wine professional has most directly led to The Vinguard. While I’ve always been interested in wine as it relates to the environment, health, economics and social concerns, it has become more of a factor in my thinking and I spend a lot of time researching and writing about these topics.
When not immersed in wine, I still enjoy film and spend far too much time following basketball, baseball and politics, and having staring contests with my cat. He usually wins.
Also, PSB is a nickname. One of the few that I care to share.