Castronovo's gut-busting radio program, The Paul and Young Ron Morning Show, may have brought you much-needed solace while sandwiched between bumpers on I-95 and white-knuckling your steering wheel. But don't let the comedic on-air persona fool you -- Castronovo is a respected foodie and wine aficionado, one who is serious about bringing South Florida some fantastic and affordable vino.
Clean Plate Charlie caught up with Paul Castronovo over email. Here's our Q&A:
New Times: You are launching a new wine label, Castronovo Vineyards Montepulciano d'Abruzzo. On your website, it reads that your appreciation for wine came from your love of food and fine dining. What inspired you to launch your own label?
Paul Castronovo: It's an amazing and true story. I always thought about being in the restaurant business; it would have made sense. I've been on the air forever, so my name is popular. I love to cook, my mom is an amazing cook, I love to travel and eat at great restaurants. Even when I was a child, I found a fascination with the entire experience. I just never really knew when or how it was going to happen, because my radio career and family take up the majority of my time. Then while in Italy, while sitting at a wine bar, I met a guy, a great Italian man who spoke fluent English. I tell him that I am learning about Italian wines, but most of my experience was with California grapes. My luck, he's a wine exporter. He turns me on to everything; we become fast friends. We visit a winery in Abruzzo, and the family loves us. I'm eating olives and cheeses while sipping wines with this wonderful Italian family, the Galassos. We spent a couple of days eating and drinking; it was out of the movies. Then I'm on a flight home and meet and sit next to another guy, Bruce Hunter, who is president of Shaw-Ross wines -- an importer of Italian wines. We drink the entire flight home and become fast friends. It turns out that these two guys know each other and do business together. It's as if it was meant to be. The next thing you know, conversations are had, the people at the San Lorenzo, who think of me like a son, said, "These vineyards are yours!" All of a sudden, the wine is ready and we put a deal together and we're pretty excited about it!
How would you describe Montepulciano d'Abruzzo?
That was a question that I asked when I first tasted it. It wasn't like anything that I had tasted before. I'm a Cabernet guy and love a BIG red wine, while my wife loves a more subtle pinot flavor. Funny thing is, we both love and enjoy this wine. I asked my partner Bruce to describe it, and he put it perfectly: It's as structured as a Cabernet, as elegant as a Merlot, and as gentle as a pinot noir.
What makes this varietal of red wine special?
You know when we were in the Abruzzo region and tasting all their wines, this was different than anything I had tasted. You rarely see it on a menu in the States, yet in Italy, it's hugely popular. What I really love about the 2007 Castronovo is how well it works with different foods. I had a friend, Oliver Saucy, the chef at Cafe Maxx, come to the house for a tasting a couple of weeks ago with some key industry people, and he made a variety of dishes that not only complemented the wine but he also cooked with it! He made grilled lamb chops, he made tortellini stuffed with braised short ribs, and he made a spicy Italian shrimp and pasta dish, and the wine worked perfectly with all three dishes. That's hard to find in any wine, but the folks at our tasting were blown away.
Celebrities have been known to branch out from their line of work and attach their name to a product. How do you think your celebrity status with the radio show will impact the popularity/reputation of the wine?
I think that if I had created the "Paul and Young Ron" wine, it would have been considered a novelty. That's the last thing I wanted. I want to create a legacy, something my children can be proud of. It's no secret, if you listen to my show at all, that we've befriended the wine and food crowd. I've been a part of the South Beach Wine and Food festival for years. We do an annual "Iron Chef Competition" on our show (which I win yearly! Ha!), and we raise millions of pounds of food each year through our annual food drive and with Taste of the Nation. I also think that once you taste the wine and realize that not only is it delicious but it's priced right that it will take off.
With the vineyard located in Italy, what level of involvement do you hope to have with the winemakers?
The San Lorenzo winery is a family-run winery in Abruzzo, four generations of the Galassos are involved, yet wine has been grown on this property since the Romans ruled the land. The last thing I am going to do is mess with the process. They know what they are doing. They grow the grapes, all fermentation; aging and bottling are done on the property. How am I involved? Taste! I know what I like. I'll go back soon and taste some of their whites, perhaps another varietal of red, maybe a reserve and pick the next wine that will fall under the Castronovo umbrella.
When can we expect the new label to reach South Florida? Will you have any special events to celebrate the launch?
The date of arrival is October 29, arriving in the Port of Miami on a container ship (just like my grandparents!). We actually thought it would be here sooner, but when you're dealing with international shipping and trademarks and all the other things that go along with importing, you must be patient. We actually shipped some cases over via air freight last month, and WOW, let's just say, "We're gonna go ahead and wait for the first boat shipment -- much more cost-effective." Once the wine is in the restaurants and stores, at that point, we'll have the official launch party, along with a series of tastings and wine dinners across South Florida.
Where will South Floridians be able to find the wine?
Southern Wine and Spirits, the industry's 800-pound gorilla, is handling distribution, so the wine will be readily available. First at restaurants like Joe's Stone Crab, all Anthony's Coal Fired Pizza locations, Cafe Maxx, Anthony's Runway 84, Michy's, Chef Allen's, China Grill, Taste Gastropub, Sicilian Oven, just to name a few. Shooters Waterfront Cafe has made us their house wine, and that's pretty cool, considering how much I drank there over the years. Plus you'll be able to find it at your favorite wine shops and liquor stores as well. We have about 50 or 60 places lined up; we just have to get the wine here!
Will it be offered in any wine shops or local restaurants, and what type of price range?
Regarding price, this is the best part. At our tasting, we had some serious wine people at the house -- restaurant owners, food and beverage managers, hoteliers, etc. We showed off the wine -- the bottle is beautiful and looks like a $50 bottle of wine, very classy. After the tasting, we raised our glasses for a toast, then told them the price: $15 retail. They went nuts. That's a great price point. There are lots of $50 and $60 bottles of wine sitting on shelves. I know my audience, and I want them to be able to go out on a weeknight, get a nice, quality bottle of Italian wine, and not feel like they are getting shafted. At that price, restaurants can sell it by the glass and still see a profit, and you can go to your liquor store and feel good about buying a quality wine at a great price.
Do you have any tips for us on how to best pair your wine with food?
If you're at a pizza joint and want a great glass of wine to go with pizza, Castronovo works. If you're grilling a steak and aren't sure what wine to serve that everybody will like, Castronovo works. It's Sunday and you just made a pot of spaghetti and meatballs -- this wine works. I'm a big fan of grilled salmon. This is the kind of wine that works with a hearty fish as well.
Is there anything else you want us to know?
I'm very proud of this product and look forward to sitting down and sharing a bottle with as many people as possible! And do me a favor: If you want the wine in your restaurant or you want your restaurant to carry it, reach out to me at castronovovineyards.com