A Toast To Tuscany

Palm Beach residents Bob and Gudrun Cuillo bask in a mutual love of wine at their Italian wineries.

Virginia Philip • Master Sommelier at The Breakers in Palm Beach • Virginia Philip Wine Shop & Academy, West Palm Beach • 2012 James Beard Award Nominee
Virginia Philip
• Master Sommelier at The Breakers in Palm Beach
• Virginia Philip Wine Shop & Academy, West Palm Beach
• 2012 James Beard Award Nominee

Bob and Gudrun Cuillo, residents of Palm Beach, are known for their classic style, friendly approachability, and mutual passion for both food and wine. The owners of Amici Market in Palm Beach are also proprietors of wineries Casalvento and Livernano in Radda in Chianti, Italy.

Located in the heart of Tuscany, both wineries demonstrate the beauty of the classic Sangiovese grape, as well as the non-traditional varieties of cabernet sauvignon and merlot. Bob, a former car dealer entrepreneur, is of Italian descent. He grew up in the Bronx, New York. Gudrun is a native of Austria. The pair met in Palm Beach in 1997 and later married in 2002.

I sat down with Bob and Gudrun to discuss the success of the winery and their wines.

 

VP: What came first — the winery or the marriage?
GC: The marriage.
VP: How did each of you become interested in the wine business?
BC: I have been a member of the Chaine des Rotisseurs for over 40 years and was the Bailli of the Chaine des Rotisseurs East Coast/Caribbean for over 20 years. I have been collecting wine for over 40 years and have a passion for wine. As a child of two Italian immigrants, I promised my parents that if I made it from “rags to riches,” I would buy property in Italy. Starting the winery was a way of going back to my roots.
GC: The property in Radda in Chianti was purchased in 1997. It was just a house at first. While in the process of restoring the home, we received a call from an attorney in Florence. He basically told us we had rights to 7.5 hectares (one hectare = 2.47 acres) of our land that had the rights to the appellation of Chianti Classico. Those rights were grandfathered in. He said that he had a buyer who would buy that portion of our land. We immediately said no. We knew at that moment that we were going to make our own wine.
VP: Did either of you have previous winemaking or vineyard experience?
BC: My father and I would make our own wine behind our house in Brooklyn.
GC: I grew up in Austria. We all make our own wine in our cellars! My parents actually owned a brewery south of Styria. My grandparents built wine cellars. It came naturally.
VP: What was the most difficult obstacle to overcome?
GC: The language barrier — trying to learn Italian in six months. We had permits that had to be approved and land to convert into plantable vineyards.
(VP: As a matter of reference, it takes three years, at a minimum, for new vines to produce fruit worth making into wine.)
BC: I wanted to make a wine that was not just good, but the best.
VP: When did you purchase Livernano, and how did that opportunity come up?
GC: Casalvento had never actually made wine before. So nobody knew us. Bob thought we ought to look for an opportunity to purchase an existing winery. By pure luck, a neighboring estate that actually borders Casalvento was for sale. That property was Livernano. We purchased it in 2002. Liverano is a 1,500-year-old borgo (hamlet).
BC: Tuscany only allows you to use or renovate existing buildings. We built a state-of-the-art wine cellar — allowing gravity flow — three stories high. We used only local tradesmen and utilized stones, gravel, and building materials to make the façade of Casalvento.
VP: Was Livernano already producing wines of reputable quality?
GC: Yes. It was a very small winery, only producing 12,000 bottles, but the ratings were high.
VP: When did you feel like you really had a success on your hands?
GC: When we were voted by Wine & Spirits Magazine as one of the “Best 100 Wines” made in the world and “Best Chianti.” Decanter magazine awarded us “Best Winery to Visit” while in Tuscany.
VP: Who creates the labels?
BC: I found an ancient Estruscan coin from 300 BC while walking through the grounds at Casalvento. I had the coin cleaned up. We replicated that coin for the label of Janus, our super Tuscan blend.
GC: I do all of the blending of the wines. While I did not go to formal school or training to do this, I made a point of learning as much as I could. It was my business, and I needed to learn every facet of the job — including wine sales. Whatever God gives us — whether fruit or vegetables — we make something out of it. I am excited that our wines will be labeled as “organic,” beginning with the 2015 vintage. We do all organic farming and have our own vegetable garden, too. We are also growing our own truffles, and make grappa, olive oil, and jams.
BC: And we make our own honey.
GC and BC: Our motto is: “Life is too short to drink bad wine.” We believe in living our lives in this way.
The wines are featured at the American Embassy in Italy, first class service on Lufthansa Airlines, boutique wine shops such as Amici Market in Palm Beach, Virginia Philip Wine Shop & Academy in West Palm Beach, and top restaurants: The Breakers in Palm Beach; Lowes Hotel, Miami Beach; Table 26 and Café Sapori, West Palm Beach; NYY and Sorrisi Restaurant at Seminole Casino, Coconut Creek; Vic & Angelo’s, Delray Beach; and more.
Visit Bob and Gudrun in Tuscany, and share their passion. Or meet them at Fisher Island when they pull up in their yacht, Livernano. Livernano is also available for private cruises.

(Editor’s Note: Virginia Philip and Gudrun Cuillo will be introducing a low calorie wine — Livernano Lo Cal Chardonnay, Rosé and Tuscan Red. The wines will be available in December at Virginia Philip Wine Shop & Academy and Amici Market. They are looking to expand distribution to Miami and Fort Lauderdale.)

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