“Selling wine is about story telling. Everything that happens before you put it in the glass is more interesting than what’s actually in the glass. That’s me,” said David Giuliano, Beverage Director at The Clam, Market Table and The Little Owl. “That’s the way I like to train my staff. And for my very adventurous, interesting and eclectic West Village clientele, they also agree with me.”
As an opera singer turned Beverage Director, David once studied with our Ryan Looper at Boston University, where they both trained and performed as baritones. “We’ve been artists together in many different forms, for well over a decade,” said David. And so, it’s no surprise that they both formed a path through New York’s restaurant industry, to support their endeavors, which eventually landed them both in the world of wine.
“In 2008, I ended up at the Little Owl as a server,” said David. “ I was still singing relatively frequently, but less so with the economy crashing the same year. Work became very hard. I was in my early 30’s and starting to be very reflective about- Is this the business that is going to sustain me, and is it still bringing me joy and passion? Because at the end of the day, I’m a very passion driven person.” After becoming the restaurant’s Maitre d’, then Manager, David began to realize the need for a new career focus, which led him to wine.
Growing up in California in the 1980’s when the state was pumping with wine, David's family knew the importance of wine at the table. From a family that owned delis, David had the food industry, and the wine that supported it, already coursing through his veins. “So that presented itself as an obvious thing that started vibrating with me,” he said.
Soon, he took over the Beverage Program at The Little Owl. “Six months later,” he said, “it became very clear that it was not only a fit for me personally, but also a fit for the business.” Within a year, he also took over the program at Market Table, and within another year, he opened The Clam, creating his first Beverage Program from scratch. Four years later, he’s still running all three programs, and has become partner in the group.
At some point along the way, however, David said, “As I started doing this, I started to realize that I didn’t know anything! I knew a couple of esoteric Italian varietals. There were all these fun stories that I was able to tell, but it was the same as studying for opera, for wine, or any great passion. The more you learn, the less you know!” he added and laughed. Embarking on a frantic quest for knowledge, David grilled his wine reps, accepted every visiting winemaker, and showed no shame when it came to inquiry. “Suddenly, over this six months to a year passing, I had that moment where I was like wow, I’ve learned something! I was able to then take my specific style for that restaurant and at Market Table and start to find my voice.”
In discovering the similarities between finding one’s voice in opera and finding one’s voice in wine, David said he and Ryan have marveled (and laughed) at the uniqueness of these two spheres of knowledge. “The thing that drew me to opera was the love of language,” said David, “the love of travel, of history, of people and places, the things that inspire opera. Of technique and science. Of understanding how the voice works. How do you create structured sound? Suddenly, I started to learn more and more about wine, and I wasn’t having a different conversation! I was talking about people and place and history and legacy and this kind of deep, deep tradition. Very similar to the world of wine, if not identical. A great voice has a balance of high tones and low tones. Structurally it has a certain body weight and a chord to it that always needs to be there in order for it to feel or sound vibrant.
“It’s the same conversation about wine,” he continued. “What are the high toned aspects of this wine? What are the low toned aspects? What is the body and what is its structure? Where is the core located and where does it come from. Suddenly, my understanding of how a wine is balanced, how the flavors are balanced, and the components of tannins with acid and fruit and spice and alcohol, all these things together. And I felt it gave me an advantage of understanding what I’m tasting, and why it’s tasting that way and why it’s great. I had the language. I just needed to make that connection and my understanding flushed out very quickly as a taster.”
Working with three very different wine lists, David walks the line between benchmark classics and more esoteric selections. For the menu at Joey Campanaro’s Little Owl, which is Italian and Mediterranean inspired, David said that a majority of the wines here are from within 50km of the Mediterranean. At Market Table, where Joey and Mike Price work together, the menu skews toward a kind of regional American style. Here, David said, “The wine list is much more global, with representations of everything from Hungry to everything in between, with a focus on Domestic and French. The list changes there a lot more because the focus on seasonality is of the upmost importance to the Chef and myself.” At The Clam, the list is incredibly different.
“Pairing with seafood, particularly the clam, is really interesting. It’s a very umami type of ingredient, so I was able to have a lot of fun, obviously with the great benchmarks, beautiful Chablis, wonderful Burgundies, classic whites that pair well with seafood. All the island whites. But also a section of wines that I like to call off-whites. I have a list of wonderful skin contact whites, varying from two weeks to seven months buried underground in amphora.”
Working with two Chefs who share a great interest in wine, David said that he often received feedback on his lists, as well as text’d photos of what Joey and Mikey are drinking. “They really allow me a great breadth of expression. And they put a lot of trust and faith in me, that I’ve always been grateful for. They’re also very dear friends, and have been since before 2008. So it’s a collaboration that goes way beyond Chef and Beverage Director. It feels very collaborative while being very free.”