Can you share a memorable Haverford lesson or experience?
I really enjoyed my experience at Haverford. It was incredibly formative and the opportunity to learn from so many great teachers and coaches provided lessons that I still carry with me today. There are so many memories that I’m fond of, but one particularly unique experience was having some of the same teachers as my father (Marc Abruzzese ’88). It was neat to see Doc Kinney and Mr. Fox pull out my dad’s artwork 20 later and share it with the class! Their encouragement to explore creatively is something I continue to be grateful for. In class, I might have found myself staring at a large painting and calling it "done," and Mr. Fox would come along and say, "Keep going!" It taught me a lot about being uncomfortable in the creative process and truly finding my voice.
I would be remiss if I didn't also mention Coach Jim Barker and his impact on my experience at Haverford. So much about my time on the rowing team translates to life in general, but when I find myself in the 17th hour of a long harvest day, I can recount many lessons of persistence and personal strength that I learned as a Haverford athlete.
Their encouragement to explore creatively is something I continue to be grateful for. In class, I might have found myself staring at a large painting and calling it "done," and Mr. Fox would come along and say, "Keep going!" It taught me a lot about being uncomfortable in the creative process and truly finding my voice.
How and when did you first get interested in working in the winemaking industry?
I come from a big Italian family where homemade food and wine were always a part of our regular gatherings. When I was a kid, I even used to help my grandfather make wine in his yard in South Philadelphia. He would source grapes from farms in New Jersey and Pennsylvania and we would use a hand crank destemmer and basket press right there on the sidewalk. I always loved it, but never considered it a career path until years later, while living in New York City. I was a few years into a career as a book editor when the perfect storm of exposure to the amazing restaurant scene in the city, my family's shared interest, and an Intensive Sommelier program at the International Culinary Center refocused my curiosity in wine as a potential career path.
I remain passionate about my work because it demands so much and gives so much in return. I have been really fortunate to work alongside some amazing winemakers, many of whom remain close friends and mentors. I’m also lucky to have incredibly supportive parents, family, and friends who are all genuinely fascinated in the process. My dad will be joining me this year to help in the cellar during harvest and my wife, Jess Arnold, is a winemaker for a great winery in the Willamette Valley. At the end of each day, we are able to share our experiences and what we have learned as we both continue to grow in the industry.
Something I truly value is that the shared experience of being a Ford seems to have created a bond that we all carry for life. I would advise students to cherish their friendships and encourage and celebrate each other's interests.
Can you talk about what led to the founding of your own label, Pray Tell?
The decision to pursue my own label was largely founded on the idea of building a more personal creative space. Wine can be so subjective, and we are living in a time when there is a wine for every palate, meal pairing, and occasion. Pray Tell serves as an outlet for my wife and I to collaborate, play by our own rules, and keep pushing our curiosity. In fact, that’s where the name comes from – as an expression of earnest curiosity. There are countless challenges when starting your own business – particularly one with so many dimensions. It keeps my “to do” list full as I’m learning an immense amount about every corner of the industry.
It has been somewhat surreal to see our first release, the 2017 Gamay Noir, achieve some high recognition from a prominent wine reviewer earlier this year. While I appreciate the professional notice, the real joy has been getting to share a wine that I made with folks around a table. The goal in all of this has been to never stop learning or growing as we try to make something that we personally enjoy. Along the way, we continue to add to the list of our creative values.
In the last two years, we have diversified the types of grapes and wines that we make as well as aligned ourselves with growers that practice only organic or biodynamic farming. In the cellar, we both make it a point to not subscribe to any hard and fast rule or recipe, but instead rely on taste and intuition to respond to fermentations or wines during the elevage (aging) period. We place a real value on sustainability in farming and authenticity in the wines we make. I hope that sentiment may continue to be shared among our peers in the industry.
What advice do you have for current Haverford students?
Something I truly value is that the shared experience of being a Ford seems to have created a bond that we all carry for life. I just recently reconnected with an old friend when I saw that he was visiting the Willamette Valley for a wine tasting vacation last month!
I find it even more remarkable that my East Coast distributor for Pray Tell is a fellow classmate, Jason Malumed '05. I would advise students to cherish their friendships and encourage and celebrate each other's interests.
Photos taken by Cheryl Juetten.