Love natural wine, restaurants, and all things southern Italy? Then you have to meet our sommelier, restaurateur, and wine educator friend, Joe Campanale. A native New Yorker, Joe first became interested in food, wine, and hospitality during his time at New York University; just over a decade later, Joe has numerous sommelier gigs, restaurant openings, educator titles, and even a handful of winemaking projects under his belt. Get to know our always on the move, wine-slinging friend, below!
Get to know Joe better through his interview, here!
Name/Company/Position: Joe Campanale, Partner & Wine Director, Fausto
Where are you from: Queens, NY
Where do you currently live: Brooklyn, NY
What originally drew you into pursuing wine as your career at such a young age?
My sophomore year at NYU, I studied abroad in Florence, which is centrally located to the vineyards of Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino, and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. While I was there, I took a wine class and visited a handful of wineries. Sometimes my friends and I would even rent an Alfa Romeo and drive the 45 minutes to Chianti Classico.
As a kid who grew up in Queens, seeing the vineyards and meeting the winemakers who work the land first-hand was really fascinating. When I got back from studying abroad, I knew I wanted to pursue a career in wine. My first stop was Italian Wine Merchants, where I sold wine and worked events as a bartender and sommelier throughout my junior year. It was an amazing place to work, plus there were a bunch of exciting young, wine industry folks who wanted to learn as much as possible about Italian wines and provide a high level of hospitality, even in a retail setting.
How did restaurants follow?
I was working for Vinifera Imports selling wine and getting my Masters Degree in Food Studies at NYU, when my former boss from Italian Wine Merchants let me know that Babbo was looking for a sommelier. I had never worked in the FOH at a restaurant before, but I knew that I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to at least go in for an interview. I was especially excited about the opportunity because the position reported directly to David Lynch who had written “Vino Italiano,” a book that I had read and re-read so many times over. I was lucky that David saw something in me and took a chance on a kid without any front-of-house restaurant experience and I got the job!
Later, that same former boss, August Cardona, reached out to me again to see if I might want to join up with him and open a restaurant nearby in the West Village. That restaurant was dell’anima, which opened in 2007. Together we opened two additional restaurants (L’Artusi and L’Apicio), a wine bar (Anfora) and a summer pop-up called Alta Linea at The High Line Hotel. I left that group in 2016 and opened Fausto the following year.
What was your inspiration for Fausto?
We were first and foremost inspired by our surroundings. Fausto is located at the intersection of Park Slope and Prospect Heights - blocks away from the stunning architecture of Grand Army Plaza and the bustling Saturday farmers market. We love that people take such pride in supporting local businesses here and knowing their neighbors. Separately, Erin and I have done a lot of traveling around Italy and from a design perspective, we were both inspired by the post WWII optimism of 1950s - 1960s Rome. It was exciting to work with Home Studios to make our design inspiration a reality. Home takes the design process as seriously as we take hospitality. It really felt like we were working with peers to bring our vision to life.
What made you decide to open a restaurant in Brooklyn?
I live around the corner from Fausto and have always enjoyed building a deeper relationship with my neighborhood by operating a business closeby to where I live. I am a serial neighborhood restaurant guy. I got my start as co-founder of the Epicurean Group; a group of restaurants in NYC’s West Village (where I lived at the time) which included neighborhood restaurants dell’anima, L’Artusi and Anfora. After moving to Brooklyn, and eating at a lot great dining options in the area, I felt like I could contribute something to the dining scene here.
Is there a particular focus to Fausto's wine list?
Fausto’s (mostly Italian) wine list focuses on wines that are made by hand, grown organically and fermented with ambient yeasts. Ultimately, I want every wine served at Fausto to be one that I would be happy to drink myself, which means that in addition to evaluating flavor, quality and winemaking practices, I try to price all our wines affordably and offer a range of price points. I’m always looking for wines that represent themselves as clean and beautiful. To me, the best wines are those that represent the terroirs in which they come from. With our Italian wines, I favor grapes that are indigenous to Italy and wines that are made in a more traditional style - so no new oak or excessive alcohol.
Tell us a bit about Annona, your winemaking project.
I make a small amount of wine in Italy under the label Annona with two winemakers; Bruno de Conciliis in Campania and Stefano Papetti Ceroni in Abruzzo. All the vines are grown organically from indigenous grapes and we harvest by hand and ferment with ambient yeasts.
In Abruzzo, we make a Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo which is a structured rose along with a distinctive and terroir-specific Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. In Campania, we blend Fiano and Falanghina to showcase the savory, salty side of the Fiano and complement the fruit and floral notes of the Falanghina.
We also make an Aglianico that is 100% whole cluster, fermented and aged only in used oak barrels. Using 100% stem inclusion (aka "whole cluster") adds a new dimension not often seen in Aglianico. It encourages the wine’s complexity and floral notes. It smoothes out the tannins and ultimately creates a softer, more aromatic wine than you normally see from the Aglianico grape.
What pushed you to Abruzzo?
I have been a fan of Emidio Pepe for many years so when Chiara Pepe came to New York close to ten years ago, we instantly became friends. When I got around to visiting her and her amazing family in Abruzzo, I fell in love with the region.The people are incredibly warm, there are very few tourists and the food is outstanding. Selfishly, I wanted to find a way to spend more time there! But more seriously, I felt that there was so much untapped potential in Abruzzo that I wanted to help realize.
What is a wine that changed your life and why?
2001 Podere Le Boncie Chianti Classico. There was a tiny wine shop I loved to go to in Florence when I was studying abroad there. I called the owner “il professore” because I couldn’t leave without a 30 minute lecture but I loved it and went by every week. One of the first times I went there I was so excited to share with him that I had a fancy bottle of Chianti the night before. When I told him about it, he put his head in his hands and shook his head as if to say “have I taught you nothing!?” He insisted I take a bottle of the Podere Le Boncie Chianti Classico and told me that THIS was a real wine, grown organically and made by hand. As soon as I tried the wine, I instantly recognized the difference and from that point forward, I sought out wines made with as few chemicals as possible. Any wine list I’ve ever put together has had Podere Le Boncie on the list.
What is your current go-to region/variety?
Right now, I’m most excited about Alto Piemonte for high-toned red wines that have all of the earthiness of Nebbiolo (my favorite grape) but with a lot less tannin. They also tend to be lower in price and require less aging than the great wines of Barolo and Barbaresco.
I also love Burgundy, but because I don’t like to splurge on the region’s Grand Cru wines, I like to go for lesser known appellations from great producers, like Domaine d'Angerville’s Passetoutgrains or Bourgogne Aligote. I also love coastal and cool-climate California wines like Ceritas, Matthiasson, Arnot Roberts and Sandlands for the way they prove that California can produce food-friendly wines that are expressive and balanced.
What are some of the biggest challenges you've faced in opening a restaurant?
Finding great people poses a challenge. We’re always looking for for the most talented and passionate hospitality professionals but these days, there are so many restaurants to compete with, in NYC and around the country, that there are fewer qualified people to come by. That being said, I'm extremely impressed with our team at Fausto. I'm so pleased that I get to work with a dynamic group of people who care deeply about what they do.
What do you drink when you're not drinking wine?
When I’m watching a game or eating spicy foods, I almost always go for a local craft beer that is lighter in style. I love Threes Brewing Vliet or anything from Suarez Brewery which makes a range of delicious beer up in the Hudson Valley, all moderate in alcohol and not too hoppy. I am a sucker for Reissdorf Kolsch! At the end of a big meal, I’m partial to amaro. I love its bittersweet flavors and very much believe it aids in digestion. At Fausto we have an extensive amaro program including vintage amaro available from the 1950s - 80s in a 1 oz. pour.
What are some of your favorite wine lists in NYC?
The Four Horsemen for their extensive and eclectic list paired with Nick Curtola’s constantly changing menu that is creative, but above all, incredibly delicious. I love drinking at Charlie Bird and Pasquale Jones because the list is really well curated and they focus on some of my favorite regions, Burgundy, Piedmonte and Champagne in particular. I love The Nomad’s list because I’ve been there so many times and have never once had a bad wine. Closer to home in Brooklyn, John Patterson is doing some really fun things with the wine lists at Frankies and Prime Meats. I love how he’s always opening fun wines to share with his guests by the glass and can’t wait to see what he has in store for his new wine bar!
Photo credit Michael Harlan Turkell.