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To Life, To Life, L'Chaim

I can't believe it's been 18 years but it has though it seems only like yesterday. Today, February 8th, marks Dad's "Chai" year, 18 years since his passing. It's kind of ironic that I say it's his Chai year since in the Jewish tradition, Chai or 18 means life. However to celebrate his life, and toast to life, I am going to honor his life, and memory by writing and memorializing parts of his life in print.

He'd be very proud to know that a few years ago I was inducted into an amazing organization called Les Dames d'Escoffier. Les Dames is a collection of leading women in the food, restaurant, wine, spirits, beverage and hospitality industries. dedicated to empowering and furthering other women by raising funds for scholarships. These women are true leaders, trailblazers and I am so lucky and honored to be a member. Dad himself was inducted into a few of these types of organizations including the Chaine des Rotisseurs and was actually inducted at the same time as Les Dames d'Escoffier NY's founder Carol Brock -- small world. I guess I was destined to be a Dame! Being a Dame has allowed me to network, befriend and meet some of the most amazing women. I never had a big circle of female friends in the business until now. One of my new friends and I bonded over our dads and how they were both trailblazers in their fields -- my dad in wine and hers in Italian food. We both love to chat about who we knew when we were kids and have so many overlapping connections and experiences that it brings back amazing memories for us both. She just recently lost her dad, and as you all know, mine's been gone for now 18 years.

My dad always said he loved Italian wine before anyone knew what true Italian wine was. He was probably right. At a time back in the late 70's and early 80's when people thought that all Italian wine came in a jug, dad and his cronies knew that there was another world out there where wine came in bottles and not just with a candle stuck in them. I can still remember him dragging me out to Queens to visit -- now hang on, a wine shop, wow what a thrill to a 10 year old kid. A road trip to see bottles of wine is what every kid yearns for right? Basically I had no choice and yes there was almost always a good meal to follow but still folks I could have been watching cartoons at home. We would go to a store called Goldstar which was owned by a man named Lou Iacucci, who really at the time was one of the people who helped put Italian wine on the map. With cases of wine in hand, or rather in the trunk of the car, (dad bought cars by the size of the trunk and how many cases they could hold) we would then go down the street to have a great meal at a local Italian restaurant owned by non other than Grande Dame Lidia Bastianich! Bellies full, trunk full, car almost tipping upwards because it was so loaded with wooden cases, we'd head back across the bridge to Westchester. The house full of wine now, so the next plan was to invite his wine tasting cronies over to taste. The tastings when it came to Italian wine, were usually blind and often led by a wine writer named Sheldon Wasserman, who was one of the first to seriously write about Italian wine. Others who sometimes joined included Italian wine icon, educator and opera aficionado, Philip DiBelardino (Filipo, aka Pippo). When these two larger than life characters - Dad and Filipo would get together, it was something special. They were good friends who truly bonded over beautiful things in life - music (Dad was a musician by education) food and of course Italian wine. Times were different back then, so as I always say, no judgements, and often I got to sit by as they tasted and taste with them. In fact I often say my palate was better then than now.

Dad's love of wine led him to an amazing organization called Les Amis du Vin and he eventually headed one of the most successful chapters. The tastings were offshoots of the magazine and paved the way for so many to learn about wine directly from the experts and winery owners. Often his tastings involved Italian wines, - can you imagine for only $14 you could taste 11 wines in one tasting, led by Mary Mulligan, including 4 vintages of Brunello di Montalcino by Fattoria dei Barbi! And ironically he had a tasting back in 1981 that included the wines of Lamberti, Melini, and Nino Negri.

My parents even took a big group to Italy to visit the vineyards of - Prunotto, Fontanafredda, Cinzano, Pio Cesare, Bertani, Lamberti, Melini, Ruffino and Antinori which if I remember correctly was hosted by Lodovico Antinori and complete with a rock band in the garden! But wait, not done, he then took the group on towards Rome with a stop at Lungarotti, and then a dinner at the Urbani Truffle Estate and finally capped off by a farewell dinner at Villa Banfi. Now flash forward about 10 year to my time at Frederick Wildman, which became the importer for many of these wines including Lungarotti, Lamberti, Melini and Nino Negri. In fact I became the Brand Manager for some of them and even led people on trips like he did, to the wineries! And for those of you who ever took one of my trips, now you see where my organizational skills came from by looking at my parent's itinerary for this trip in 1980! I guess the grape doesn't fall far from the vine -- sorry couldn't help myself.

We keep our memories alive, living, by recounting them and putting them in print, which is why I love to write about my parents and grandparents. They all shaped my life. Dad, it was your passion and love of wine led me to my career path and love of wine. So I raise a glass of fabulous Italian wine to you, maybe even a Barolo which was your favorite and I hope you are doing the same. So I say to you all, Cheers, Saluté and L'Chaim - To Life!

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