Charlie Arturaola, a man who doesn’t need any presentation.
More than 30 years spent in the world of wine in the same way as he talks about wine: with passion and a lot of love.
Having a look at his website charliewines is the best way to understand his philosphy.
We have had the great pleasure to have a word with him, a well-rounded talk about wine, from his childhood up to his current life and experiences.
So, here we are. Enjoy the interview, it’s a beautiful journey through Charlie’s wine life! 😉
Il Nomade Divino: I would like to open this interview starting from the dawn of your career, when the perfume of wine and barrels of your neighbours filled the air that you were breathing. Which were the sensations that the little Charlie was living? Was he already aware that this would be his life and his own world?
Charlie Arturaola: GREAT QUESTION! NOT AT ALL! I had no idea that the smell of an old barrel was going to stick with me for my whole life! It took at least 18 years to find my way into wine service. When I was 24 years old I got my first job as a wine waiter traveling from NYC to Madeira. The word sommelier came into fashion much later.
Il Nomade Divino: Studying your history and your career, I realized that yours is one of that case where the expression “citizen of the world (of wine)” fits perfectly. You have been worked in the major world wine producers countries, knowing vignerons, winemakers, sommeliers, restaurant owners, gaining an enormous background. How important is for you to know the persons and the places that are behind a bottle of wine?
Charlie Arturaola: Indeed, “a citizen of the wine world” or an immigrant of the grape’ as my mother in law Anne used to call me. I have learned from many top professionals in different languages, a big plus! Also who and what is behind the labels and vineyards is the key. The wine Families are very important, history of their regions, their passion, their pedigree plus their commitment to make wine, learn about the soil where their grapes come from. With patience, and doing more research, you begin to put the puzzle together. In order to “package it” and have a better understanding of the area that you are interested in and then you must communicate it.
There is no doubt that having a gastronomy background helped me a lot. I have been lucky to work with several types and styles of cuisine. From Japanese cuisine to a Mexican Chef, from a pasta maker to a master griller, maybe a Dim Sum kitchen, or a fine Italian Chef or Spanish Chef roasting a suckling baby pig or lamb shoulders. They were all great occasions to compare notes with colleagues, winery owners or winemakers on my endless food and wines pairings. In 32 years as a wine professional, I am still “registering” and learning the art of food and wine!
Il Nomade Divino: You have been honored with the 2012 International Wine and Spirits Competition Communicator of the Year Award, as proof of your great communicator skills. In the wine modern history, communication has changed a lot, up to the current social networks. Which are, in your opinion, the three golden rules to be a good wine communicator?
Charlie Arturaola: I was so thrilled when THE IWSC in the UK, the oldest wine competition in the world, recognized my career for the ability to connect with audiences in many languages for more than 30 years. It was a great Honor to receive such a distinguished international award. I will never forget, not only the Gala night, but the number of luminaries that were there that night from around the world, Warren Winiarski, Neal McGuigan, Maurizio González Byass, Marco Caprai, Frances Horder to name a few.
My Golden rules are the following:
FIRST. I have mentioned “to package a story”, to build the concept of what you want to communicate, “make it digestible” to the person who is just coming to the industry, or knows the basics of wine. Do not be too geeky. Sipping a glass of wine has to be fun! And you don’t need a PHD! I fully respect the Masters of Sommeliers or Masters of Wine Diploma. A small segment of the industry needs them! BUT there is an ocean of wine consumers that also need @charlieswines!!
SECOND. Languages skills! In today’s world is a must! You need at least two! Or learn the basics of the winemaking process. I am very lucky to be able to speak and write in four languages. My mother made me study English and French as a child. Italian and Portuguese came as a teenager. Learning a language and being able to speak with a winemaker in the vines at 8 am in the morning or to go to harvest with a bunch of vineyard workers is a great experience. And I realized a long time ago that the wine books are quickly outdated. You better learn directly from the vineyard you are interested in!
THIRD. Never stop learning about wine. The wine laws are always changing and data is always changing, you must update your repertoire. There is always more to learn. When I learned about the wines of Italy Sant’Antimo in Tuscany was not a DOC, and a long time ago Chateauneuf Du Pape was made with strictly 13 grapes; things change. When I took my first Spanish wine classes, there were only 39 denominations of Origin. Now there are over 70!! So believe in what you are communicating, build up a case and study to your audience!! And Good LUCK!
Il Nomade Divino: Wine is one of those rare products that can embrace harmoniously past, present and future. If we think about its almost thousand-year-old history, we remain surprised in front of some winemakers that are now using terracotta amphoras in wine ageing, with incredible good results. According to your experience, how do you see the future of wine and which changes are nearly upon us?
Charlie Arturaola: I am all for evolution! The future is very bright! Look what happens today. In a sense The OLD WORLD and The NEW WORLD OF WINE are sharing technologies and secrets. There are not big differences betwen wines made in Chile or Bordeaux from the vinification standpoint. Thanks to the flying winemakers, consultants, we have more than 20 years of this phenomenon! Remember, not long ago winemakers used big cement containers for aging not oak. Or a mix of cement and oak barrel aging. Using a mix of French, American, and Slavonian barrels to age wine was also news!
And we are rediscovering history, winemakers are using the amphoræ or the EGG, and other “new” old ideas in the vinification process. After all, the basics of making wine were given to us by the Etruscans more than 2,000 years ago. Now we have drones to measure climate changes in and around the vines, helicopters that help mitigate the frost at night or the hail or microoxigenation machines, all of these techniques are welcome elements. New vines are re-planted in the soils that are better suited to their needs. I always say to winemakers, “You can be make BIO or organic wines, if you respect and understand the vineyards”. With the cumulation of wine making knowledge, everything is possible! EUREKA!!
Il Nomade Divino: Finally, a question about your two movies, EL CAMINO DEL VINO and THE DUEL OF WINE, where you play yourself losing your fine and famous “palate” and the various adventures you live to regain the “lost sense”. How would you live this loss in the real life? Is the “palate” a natural gift or something that can be built during the time and with the experience?
Charlie Arturaola: First if I ever loose my palate it would be catastrophic! So don’t even go there…maybe I’ll change careers and become a bocce player! But let me just say that was not easy to play those roles in my last two films. I have a great director, Nico Carreras, who strives to make the scene perfect. Your palate, your nose are naturals gift, but is up to you to learn the techniques and rules before sitting to taste many bottles of wine. It is possible to build your palate to make it more accurate. You can target the profile or the style of a grape, identifying what you can of acidity, alcohol, tannins, fruit etc!
Life is full of emotions, aromas and flavors, and it is up to your olfactory ability to apply them when you are looking for the right tasting note, that can bring back an emotion, or a smell and that can bring back your childhood, a school classroom, a garden full of roses or in my case, hiding away in old barrel. The famous chef and father of American cuisine, James Beard, wrote in his book Delights and Prejudices: “Taste memory, the ability to recall a taste sensation, is a God-given talent, akin to perfect pitch, which makes your life richer if you possess it…”. I met a professor in Denmark at a film Festival who lost his palate, his ability to taste and smell. The problem lasted 20 years; he told how difficult it was for him to re-build his palate. So the good news is that you can get your palate back. Let’s not think about losing our palates. After all, what fun would the world be without wine. Viva el Vino!
Yes Charlie, Viva el Vino!
Thanks for sharing with us your experience, living a “wine-life” like yours is the dream for any wine lover!
See you soon Charlie! 😉