Competition – Anthony DeSantis


Anthony DeSantis writes, ‘I currently work as a fine wine consultant and sales representative for The Winebow Group, working with some of the best restaurants and wine shops in downtown Boston. I grew up in CT, and met my beautiful wife and best friend Amanda there. In the summer of 2016 we moved to Mass because she had a wonderful job opportunity at the division one, Collage Of The Holy Cross, in Worchester, where she now starting her fourth season as the head woman’s lacrosse coach. We also wanted to be closer to her family because we have a baby girl on the way, due in mid-September (our first). In CT I was employed as a wine and spirits sales representative at Connecticut Distributors Inc., which is part of Charmer Sunbelt and Break Thru Beverage. I began my career in as a distributor in 2008 working for a smaller, fine wine based company, named Slocum And Sons Inc. 

'Prior to getting involved in the wine business directly, I spent many years working in some of the best restaurants in the Northern half of Connecticut. The restaurant business has deep roots in my family. My father was the VP of Sales for City Line Food Distributors and he opened one of the first white table cloth restaurants outside of New Haven in the 1970’s.

'I have passed the WSET levels one and two exams. I am also a registered member of The Court Of Master Sommeliers and have passed the level one, introductory exam. Currently, I am studying for my Certified Sommelier Exam and taking the WSET level three classes in Boston. I plan on continuing my wine and spirit education as long as I can. At the moment, I have my eyes set on the WSET Diploma, but I have a friend who is a full Master Of Wine, and every time I have the pleasure of speaking with him I think how incredible it must be to have that MW after your name. So maybe I have bigger aspirations than I give myself credit for.’

I grew up imbedded in the restaurant business, mostly because of my father, who at the age of twenty-two bought a restaurant and named it “DeSantis”, our last name. But, when I got to be in my late teens and early twenties, I didn’t even have a guess as to what I wanted to do with my life. I had no drive, no ambition and at the time I couldn’t think of reason to why I needed either. When I started waiting tables, it was strictly a way to make money while still being able to sleep until noon. My father and I had a pretty rocky relationship up to this point and when I look back on it now, here’s this kid who didn’t care much about anything, not school, not his future, not even money…at least not enough that I was willing to work hard for it. Being the kind of man my father was, building a life from nothing, how could he ever relate to a kid like me? What did we really have in common? Not to mention, my attitude in general made having a conversation with me about anything, a daunting task to say the least.

Soon after I started working in that first restaurant, we found ourselves spending a lot more time talking. We had something to talk about. I had questions and he had answers. We wanted something from each other, I wanted help learning how to do this new job that I lied my way into and he wanted a better relationship with his son.

After a while, these talks, that started as quick phone calls, turned into visits and then dinners. I would stop by his house on my days off and spend hours sitting at his kitchen counter just listening to his narrations about the years he had his restaurant, how my mother and him met there and that when he proposed to her, she said “only if you sell the restaurant”. My mother had recently passed away, so my father’s recollection of this period in their lives was special to us both. I didn’t know it then, but I was soon going to realize what I wanted to be when I grew up.

One evening, maybe three months in, my dad asked “what’s the wine list look like?”. To which I replied, “I don’t know, I don’t really drink wine”. He gave me this look (my dad was famous for his looks, we called it “getting the eyebrows”) He told me to make a copy of the wine so he could check it out. A few days later I come back, wine list in hand.

He spent a couple of minutes scanning the one hundred different wines we had available by the bottle and the fifteen by the glass. Then he flipped the book upside-down and started to play one of our favorite games, we called it “pretend I’m the guest”. He liked to play this game anytime I asked him for restaurant advise. Even during those rough years, my father knew, the best way for me to digest information was to feed it to me in a way that kept me engaged. He continued with, “Pretend I’m the guest. How is this bottle of Caymus Cabernet?” I said something like “It’s wonderful, it’ll go great with tonight’s special, a French cut veal chop”. My father asked me, “what makes go pair well with the veal?”. I answer “because the veal is on special, and everything pairs well with the specials”. He couldn’t hide the smirk when he said “great answer, but no”.

Full of confusion, I said “What? How is it wrong? The chef told me I need to move more specials.” With his smile getting bigger he tried to break it down for me. “Yes, you always want to move the specials, and yes you always, always do what you can to keep the chef happy, but if someone is asking you about a $125 bottle of wine, what does that tell you?” By this point I have no idea where this dining room reenactment was going. I defeatedly said, “that he trying to impress someone?”. My father slung his eyebrows in the air and laughed as he said, “Probably, but that’s not what I’m talking about. If host is asking about a $125 bottle, that means he’s looking to you for a reason to buy the $200 bottle and you should have that reason ready to go, every time.”

He kept going, “If I’m the guest and I’m asking about the Caymus Napa Cabernet on your list for $125, you should be right there with, ‘the regular Caymus is great but honestly, you can get that anywhere. If you want something a bit more significant, we have five different vintages of Caymus’s top tier “Special Selection” Cabernet available, including the 1997, probably the best vintage from Napa Valley since they stopped crushing the grapes with their feet’ ” It was at this point when I began to learn the difference between a “sales person” and an “order taker”. My mind was racing.

When I got home I started doing some research on the nicer wines we sold and over the next few months, I started to enjoy learning about these different wines and wine regions. It was a bit of an ego boost, I was only twenty and at that time no one knew what a Sommelier was. The more I learned, the more I stood out amongst my co-workers. I kept reading and kept learning and as it sits today, I hold a level one certification from the Court Of Master Sommeliers, a level two certification from the Wine & Spirits Education Trust (WSET), I’m studding for my Certified Sommelier exam and just started the WSET Level 3 certification classes.

Slowly over the next few years I grew a small work ethic. Today, I am a fine wine consultant and sales representative for “The Winebow Group” in Boston. I spend my free time going to wine tastings, and studying for upcoming certification exams. When I’m lucky, I get to spend some time with my incredible wife, Amanda who is currently pregnant with our first child due in September.

From these question and answer sessions, my father and I build a deep bond and friendship that lasted us until he passed away in October of 2014. I treasure these memories, like the first time I realized that I could hold my own in our kitchen conferences, and the times he even asked me questions, that was always a great feeling. He was always proud when I could teach him something about wine that he didn’t know already. My love and passion for all things flavor related was a gift from my father, a gift that I will cart with me for the rest of my life. I hope I’ll be fortunate enough to give my children that same gift. The gift of seeing beauty with your taste buds, and knowing that not all art is painted on a canvas. It can be on a plate, in a garden or even, in a bottle.

In memory of Tony Raymond DeSantis