Toasting Success in Lower Manhattan

Marco Pasanella decided to switch careers after two decades designing hotels and housewares. But he didn’t harbor a pipe dream: He wanted to run his own wine shop, and he put his dream into action. In 2002, he bought a historic five-story, waterfront building in Lower Manhattan, converted the top floor into a home, and opened a ground-floor shop: Pasanella & Son Vintners.

A decade later, Marco is still living the dream. Pasanella & Son (the “son” by the way is Luca). To chronicle the venture, Marco has now penned “Uncorked,” a hysterically funny memoir detailing his adventure from wine-world neophyte to insider, and the birth and evolution of his wine shop. The book (published by Clarkson Potter, an imprint of The Crown Publishing Group) goes on sale this month.

The Downtown Alliance posed a few questions to Marco about his experiences:

Did you always feel there was a book in you?

No. It’s still hard to believe there was one.

Tell me the most revealing aspect of “Uncorked”?

That you have to be passionate and slightly crazy to be a winemaker—and only slightly less so to be a wine retailer.

When and why did you move to Lower Manhattan?

We bought the building shortly after 9/11, in March of 2002. As a lifelong New Yorker, I wanted to stake out our turf rather than flee. How can you not be seduced by being at the epicenter of the most amazing city, with the Brooklyn Bridge at your shoulder and the harbor at your feet?

You live above the store—do you think this is a new model or an old model of living and working?

An old model resonated with me. I always fantasized about melding living and working. In my dreams, I stood behind a barrel, wearing an apron and with a pencil behind my ear. OK, so I did not do any of those things, but I sure love being able to run upstairs to have a snack with my kid, Luca. Or to check out what’s going on downstairs on a Saturday night.

What is your favorite activity on a day off?

I love to hop on my bike and ride up to Piermont.

How do you keep up on trends, including green, organic and biodynamic wines?

There are over 300 distributors in New York City who always seem to be touting the newest and greenest wines. Also, we have a wine director and staff who are consumed with their vocations. Plus, I taste and read as much as I can.

Why did you change careers—and enter the wine business?

I was humming along in neutral—successful, satisfied to a degree—but bored. I had always loved wine. And once the fish market relocated to the Bronx, we had a big empty space with an even bigger mortgage to pay and not a real wine store within a mile of our house, an area with almost 400,000 potential customers!

What advice would you give to a person considering a dramatic and financially perilous, yet potentially rewarding, career change?

Make sure you have a very understanding spouse.

Who is your favorite food-industry writer and what do you love about his/her writing?

MFK Fisher. I love how she connects food and wine to life.

Any plans to expand beyond the Seaport?

I would love to. Slight wrinkle, in that the New York State Liquor Authority only allows one license per person!

What other kinds of businesses/merchants would you like to see locate at the Seaport?

I would love to see a range of small, independent stores (a fishmonger, a cheese-monger, a baker). As arguably New York City’s oldest neighborhood, the Seaport has such incredible potential. It deserves a whole array of enterprises that underscore its unique and historic place in New York City.

What’s the strangest customer request you ever had?

Someone once asked me what wine I would recommend to fill a bathtub.