Q&A: Charlie Gaeta of Branch Line
This Lynn native’s love for wine was first fostered outside the workplace. While pursuing a career in investment banking in Boston and New York, Gaeta dined—and wined—frequently, becoming more interested in what he was drinking. Ditching the day job, he returned to Lynn for a gig as bartender’s assistant at The Blue Ox, where he rose to the position of beverage director. As current wine director at Branch Line, Gaeta now oversees a hundred-bottle list showcasing the best of Mediterranean France and Italy that was recently named “Best Wine Program” by Boston magazine.
I always wish I had that “epiphany wine moment” that a lot of people in my industry have had. Instead, I kind of had an “epiphany year.” It was a culmination of the whirlwind year after I graduated college. I was able to do some traveling in Europe, then moved between NYC and Boston. During that time, I started to geek out about restaurants and the beverage industry: from chef-driven spots in Cambridge to cocktail meccas and pioneering wine bars in the East Village. I wanted to experience it all. I loved the energy of those places—it was so palpable that I kind of knew I would never be satiated until I at least tried to pull the curtain back and see how all of this happened.
Best wine memory:
I have to preface this by admitting that I have been so fortunate and so humbled to taste incredible wines with incredible people in beautiful places. All the wine, all the travel, all the study, all the relationships built … they all remind me of how damn lucky I am to call this my profession. However, it all pales in comparison to last year’s Super Bowl. If you don’t know, the Pats were down 25 points in the second half. So my father and I left my brother’s SB party out of pure disgust, which was pretty unheard of to do since the three of us have had season tickets for years. My father and I retreated to my parent’s house to reluctantly watch Tom Brady get blown out, albeit in peace … then the comeback started happening. About halfway through the fourth quarter, my father starts opening wine up … and I’m not talking just a bottle or two. Today, I still don’t know what they were but I DO know they weren’t very good by the wine world’s standards! For me, that really proves that it’s not about what the wine is that you’re drinking, it’s the moment you’re drinking it in and the person or people you’re drinking it with.
I’m taking this question outside of the confines of the restaurant and saying Chinese take-out and a tie between Riesling and Champagne. When I first started working the floor selling wine, I was living across from a better-than-average Chinese restaurant. I promise, if you are single, working long nights, and your apartment is across from a spot open late night, you can get really good at the nuances of Alsace, Germany, and Austria via chopsticks.
Our list is a really fun and deep study of Mediterranean France and Italy (with the additions of Burgundy and Champagne because, well, it’s Burgundy and Champagne!). However, when picking wines for our program, I try to achieve a few things: balance, originality, freshness, and an ode to the classics. Always trying to dig deeper into a region, find the newest grower, but also repping the OGs of the appellations we are championing. If we put a bottle of wine on the list for $29 it better be the best bottle under $30, and if we are pulling a bottle from our cellar for $300, then it better be in optimal drinking condition.
Best under $20:
I would be lying if I said anything under $20 that wasn’t Beaujolais. This year, Jean Foillard released a Beaujolais-Village that we pour by the glass right now. I love the fact that you can drink a rock-star producer from Southern Burgundy for under $20. In the same region, Pierre Cotton’s straight Beaujolais is killer as well—he’s a young gun and relatively new to the Boston market. I’ve been waiting for his wines to get here, and they are so good and remind me of why I fell in love with Beaujolais in the first place.
It’s virtually impossible not to be cliché here but I’ll try my best … I always have Rotisserie Chicken on my mind, so popping some really old Loire whites lately has been fun: Joly Savennières, Guiberteau Saumur, Huet Vouvray Demi-Sec, Vatan Sancerre, etc. So good with our Green Circle Rotisserie Chicken.
Wine education motivation:
A fine line between the innate passion for the subject and the desire to teach it to others. I think if you are lucky enough to find what makes you happy and even luckier to turn that into a career, you don’t ever stop pursuing education about that field. Also, I’d be remiss not to say that every day, if I’m feeling tired or lazy or even burnt out, I look to a very close friend of mine, Pete Frates, and that’s all the inspiration I need—to work harder and continue to push myself and, most importantly, make people happy.