Vino = Wine
Connoisseur = “a person who is especially competent to pass critical judgments in an art, particularly one of the fine arts, or in matters of taste”
Vino + Connoisseur = Vinosseur
Vinosseur is Joseph Roberto Di Blasi.
Joseph’s father was full of passion. He always knew that he was going to be a doctor. He also knew he would do whatever it took to achieve this. So he packed his bags for the University of Bologna, Italy in August 1961 where it was more affordable to study medicine. His passion took him from that day in August when the Italian language was as foreign to him as his surroundings, on to finish in the top 5% of his graduating class with honors and a firm grasp of the Italian language, albeit with a strong accent.
It was during his 6 years there in Bologna that Joseph’s father met Joseph’s mother. A very active and passionate woman. Growing up in Italy meant that she was always exposed to fresh, home-cooked meals. Her passion for fresh, organic and interesting food emerged when the Di Blasi family first touched down in Hawaii in the early 1970’s. Joseph’s earliest memories were of his mother coming home after “collecting” fresh seaweed from the Pacific Ocean along the coastline of Hawaii and making a wonderful and crunchy salad using this seaweed. He also remembers the soybean burgers that were fed to him. Everything that was served in the Di Blasi house was fresh, never frozen, mostly local and organic as it became more and more available.
By the time Joseph was 7 years old, he had lived in New York, Germany, Italy, Hawaii and finally California, where he remained until July 31st, 2002. It was here in California that Joseph had the fortune of having a father who could provide the means for his mother to share her passion for food through her fresh and creative cooking – a fusion of Italian and Californian (these were Joseph’s earliest memories of “California Cuisine”).
Ironically enough, neither of Joseph’s parents drank. Perhaps one glass with the meal, but not very often.
Joseph got his Bachelor’s degree in International Business in 1994 and immediately began a career as a Financial Consultant. It was at this same time that the marriage of Joseph’s parents came to an end. Shortly after this, Joseph’s mother began a new life with a short-statured yet passionate French wine man named Jacques Leconte. Jacques was Seagram’s division Château & Estates man for Northern California in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s and was considered an expert of the wines of Burgundy & Bordeaux. It was Jacques’ influence and Joseph’s financial means through his financial career that helped awaken his passion for wine. Joseph quickly became known as the guy to call when a restaurant recommendation was needed. The diners at the table with him would always order after him to see what he ordered and they often ordered the same. This often began with a Fois Gras starter and a small glass of Y’Quem! In his spare time, he read about wine and his passion grew.
In June 2002, after a steady decrease in income, Joseph decided to pack his bags and move to Italy. Italy was the place where he spent many summers as a kid, where his passion for food began to grow. He landed in Italy in September of 2002, where he taught English over the next 5 months. Joseph’s memories are vague for the time period between June and September of 2002!
On February 01, 2003, Joseph once again packed his bags and headed for Norway, where his brother had already established himself a year earlier. Although Norway does not produce wine, it provided the perfect, unbiased environment to learn about wine. Norwegians have very traditional palates when it comes to wine and they love acidity, therefore wines from Burgundy, Germany and Austria are popular here.
It was in April of 2003 that Joseph landed his first restaurant job. A fish restuarant that packed the tourists in all summer long. He quickly became the “go-to” guy if there were wine questions. At this time, Joseph’s brother Jonathan was the manager of a wine bar on the other side of town called Altona Vinbar. Altona Vinbar was known to be the best wine bar in Norway (or at least, we knew it was). Jonathan’s experience goes back almost 20 years in the café and restaurant business, having worked at the once extremely trendy Café Marcella in Downtown Los Gatos. He also worked for the famed chef David Kinch at his quaint Sent Soví restaurant in Downtown Saratoga. David Kinch then moved on to establish one of Vinosseur’s favorites restaurants, the 2 Michelin-starred Restaurant Manresa in Joseph’s home town of Los Gatos.
Jonathan owned his own cafe, Café Herman in Leikanger, Norway for two years before moving on. He is respected by many as one of the most outspoken Whisky advocates in Norway, is one of the five most active members on whiskymag.com, and is Maxxium’s Whisky Ambassador for Norway. Check out his blog empty whisky glass. If you haven’t already understood, passion is something that runs with the blood through the veins of the Di Blasi family.
Jonathan gave Joseph a job at Altona Vinbar. At first, this amounted to only about 1 shift per week for Joseph. Within a year and a half, Joseph had proved himself and was offered the manager position and the wine list responsibility. With the help of several other passionate colleagues, the wine list grew to just over 500 titles by the end of 2008, while continuing to maintain a strong focus on small producers and steering away from the larger producers. Joseph influenced the selections from Champagne quite heavily taking the 30 or so titles up to just over 100 by the time he quit in 2008. Most of those 100 titles were small grower/producer champagnes. Other areas of focus on the list were Burgundy, Piemonte and Germany.
In January of 2008, Joseph finally began his formal wine education. He studied in Oslo through the Gastronomic Institute of Stavanger (now the Kulinarisk Akademi). This course was the equivalent of the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) Advanced Level. Joseph finished 2nd in his class on wine theory, and was rated the best blind taster in his class based on his performance on the blind tasting part of the final exam. On this 3-hour portion of the exam, Joseph was given 3 glasses of red wine, 2 glasses of white, and 1 glass of dessert wine to analyze and make conclusions on. Based on these analyses and conclusions, Joseph was rated the top in his class.
In August of 2008, Altona Vinbar was awarded the Wine Specatator Award of Excellence. Shortly after this, Joseph gave notice and ended his 4-year stint at Altona Vinbar in December of 2008. Click here to view the wine list as it was when Joseph left (please note that this wine list was as of December, 2008 and that all prices are in Norwegian Kroner).
Joseph went on to become wine director and sommelier of a small restaurant called Jacob’s Bar & Kjøkken in January 2009. The wine list usually listed around 90 titles and was dynamic. The wine list at Jacob’s was the first in Norway to concentrate on natural wines and subsequently became an important wine program in Norway. Sadly, Jacob’s closed its doors forever in December, 2013. Here’s the wine list as it was when the doors closed.
In February 2014, Joseph began to work with a small, Bergen-based importer named Wergeland Vin. The focus is on small producers working traditionally and without the use of chemicals and additives. He hopes to work closely with them to increase market presence and on portfolio development.
Joseph and two partners have also started working on a new project in Krakow, Poland where he currently resides. This new project, “Naturaliści“, will proudly be the ambassadors for small producers like Frank Cornelissen, Camillo Donati, Carussin, Jean-Pierre Robinot, Pat Desplats, Sebastién Riffault, and more. The new project will include opening a small wine shop and tasting room in Krakow in March, 2014
In Joseph’s opinion, we are living in one of the greatest time periods in the history of wine. A period where the old way of doing things meets the new. In other words, new ways of maximizing the quality of the vineyards and grapes through such viticultural practices as crop (quantity) reduction and biodynamics. And old ways of caring for the grapes once they are hand-picked by practicing a non-interventionist way of fermenting the grapes into wine. Practices like utilizing indigenous yeasts and spontaneous fermentation, no temperature control, extended skin contact for both red and white grapes, no fining or filtering, limited or no sulfur use, no over use of oak, etc. Old wine-making techniques meet “new” viticulture techniques.
Every day my passion grows as my understanding of wine increases. Although it’s very important to understand theory and to remember which grapes grow where, I feel it’s more important to taste wine and understand wine. And with each day and with each sip, I understand more and more what is in the glass. The glass speaks to me and it’s in a language I understand.
And for this, I am Vinosseur