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The Journey

The Journey: How I wound up doing this

Like so many other golden opportunities in life, it was a combination of being at the right place, at the right time, dressed the right way, and with something to bring to the conversation.

In 2014, I was attending VinItaly in Verona and after coming from the trade show, I was sitting outside the Palazzo Barbieri talking on the phone to an associate back in the states. As there are events after the close of the trade show the first two days which are open to participants, I thought that there might be another event this [third] day.

Needless to say, there was and there wasn't.

As it turns out, there was an event that day, but it was a closed event. It was actually an awards banquet for olive oil producers. Now, I was dressed in a custom grey tuxedo jacket, dress shirt with French cuffs [and cufflinks], black denim jeans and cap toe shoes, which is essentially formal in Italy. I made my way into the entrance, where there were other people dressed up, and went to the elevators because my legs were too damned tired to walk up those lovely stairs inside. Got out on the wrong floor, then got out on the right one, checked my bag and proceeded to have drinks and appetizers.

I wound up talking to a few people, including the representative for VinItaly in India. Then, as I was wondering what was going on, the doors to the main room opened up and I realized that it was going to be a reception. I chose to sit at a table not in the front or in the middle, but one off from the back and one off from the left edge of the room.

Soon, a number of people came in and one – Massimiliano -- asked if I was there by myself, and asked if they could join me. As I answered and they started to sit, one of them – Furio -- asked if I could move over so that they could also sit together, but Massimiliano said I was fine where I was at. Over the course of the evening, I realized that I was at a private event and even Furio commented that I probably had no idea what it was and shouldn't be there, but Massi told him to let it go. Funnier still was that the person whom I was renting an apartment through AirBnB was working with the catering staff and sidled up and asked me if I was having a good time; he was surprised to see me there and I was also surprised to see him there.

Little did I know that I was sitting with the people of Agraria Riva del Garda, who makes some of the best EVOO in Italy. As men, we all bonded over great stories of love and wine, and when I also said that I loved Grappa, that piqued Furio's interest. When he asked me what Grappas I drink, and I responded, he then told me to come to their stand tomorrow and that he would have both Grappa and wine for me.

This was the first leg of this journey.

The second leg came from my return to Italy in 2015 (VinItaly again) and them hosting me up for a day and a night in their part of Italy. Massi picked me up from the airport, booked me into a hotel in Rovereto and then took me over to their base of operations in Riva del Garda. There, I and most of the gentleman that I met before had a lunch where we drank their wine and had food prepared by their chef. I fell in love with the broccolini. After lunch, Furio showed me the whole wine producing operation, had me taste more of their wines and asked what I thought of them. I then sat in on an EVOO tasting with a couple women from Germany that Massimo (the boss) ran.

While at their headquarters, I purchased a couple bottles of EVOO and also marveled at the vinegars there. I had never seen vinegar that was aged as well as so expensive and Massi explained that you only have to use like a drop of that in a recipe. I also had my first espresso with the guys and they took pics of me trying it.

Later on that night, Massi took me to dinner at a lovely restaurant and the next morning dropped me off at my AirBnb in Verona. I also attended that year's awards banquet and they introduced me to one of the best EVOO producers in Sicily.

There is a funny aspect of this trip, and it was that on the first leg of my flight [which was from Newark to Frankfurt or Munich] I met an older Italian gent who was making a trip along with several other people -- including two monsignors -- to Naples. He was a little skeptical of my wanting to become an ambassador of Italian wine! Well, we ran into each other on the flight from Germany to Paris and the final leg from Paris to Newark. It was at this point I met the rest of his traveling companions. Our flight from Paris developed problems after we were over the ocean, so we diverted to London and I offered to share some of my EVOO with them over dinner and one of two bottles of some Recioto I brought back.

Well, first he was amazed that I was able to bring my EVOO as all of his they wouldn't let him take (it was in my checked luggage) and before he tried it, he was telling me about he also had his own EVOO [though he admitted it was a blend of stuff from other countries but just bottled in Italy]. When he finally had my EVOO, which came from my peeps up in Garda, he was amazed. This was only outdone by the wine. At that point we became friends, and he, me, and his whole group traveled together the rest of the trip.

For some of the folks in NY who might know him, that man was John "Cha Cha" Charcia. Luckily, I was able to walk in the parade for the Feast of San Gennaro in Little Italy later on that same year.

The third leg took place throughout 2016 and started with Massimiliano and his boss Massimo coming to NYC for the Flos Olei event held at the Yale Club. I asked for them to spend a day and night in Philly and they did so. During this time, I took them to a number of good restaurants in Philly, as well as the Reading Terminal and the Italian market so that they could better understand the EVOO market here. We had lunch at one place, drinks at another and for dinner they came to my house. The night had us having drinks at Tredici and then enjoying jazz at South.

As their event was on Monday in Manhattan, and I had a two day Italian wine event in Manhattan as well, they had an invite for me to attend. After leaving my event that Monday, I went to theirs and at one point rustled up a bunch of attendees to clog their table and taste all of their offerings. My method of doing this definitely made an impact on the two of them.

Back in Italy for VinItaly I would once again reconnect with everyone from their company and witness a little more how serious the business of EVOO is. However, before this, I would also taste some EVOO from Portugal while attending SISAB in Lisbon the month before. This time around, instead of attending the awards banquet, I would have dinner with Massi and his lovely family. I could tell how serious he was about his EVOO by the way that he applied it to each dish.

Later on this year, I would finally read the book “Extra Virginity,” which my ‘brother' Massimiliano had been trying to get me to read since the beginning of the year. Well, this really opened my eyes, and I started looking at the potential for me to start selling EVOO, something Massi wanted me to do all along.

And this is where I am at now.

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