By Angeline Boyer, Assistant Director of Media Relations, Saint Peter’s University
“Water divides nations and wine unites them.”
This is a mantra that Anthony Verdoni (Saint Peter’s University ’64) has heard many times throughout his career in the wine industry, and a statement he values as he recognizes the power that food and wine have in bringing people together. Verdoni, who is known as “The Wine Professor” among friends in the trade, has immense passion for his work; however it was not his first career choice.
Verdoni graduated from Saint Peter’s University (then College) in 1964 with a Bachelor’s degree in classical civilization. It wasn’t long before he returned (in 1967) to serve as a member of the faculty in the classical languages and literature department for 20 years. He took great pleasure in teaching Latin and Greek at Saint Peter’s but unfortunately, as the years passed, the popularity of his field began to decline.
Some may believe there is not much you can do with a degree in classical civilization beyond teaching Latin. But this was not to be the case for Verdoni. For his second career, he used his knowledge of antiquity and familiarity with Italy to help establish himself as an Italian wine merchant and expert.
Verdoni began serving as a part-time wine steward at a local restaurant in 1971, while still teaching at Saint Peter’s. After retiring from the University, he decided to pursue this part-time interest as a full-time career and went on to purchase a wine store. He later became a wine buyer for two department store chains, and eventually became a sales manager for some of the nation’s largest wine distributors.
Through his work in the New Jersey wine industry, Verdoni became good friends with Victor Rallo, a wine critic and New Jersey restaurateur. Verdoni would give wine tastings in Rallo’s restaurants and the two would frequently travel to Italy to acquire recipes and try Italian wines. One of the tastings happened to draw the attention of a television producer, who came across some of the footage that Verdoni and Rallo shot on one of their trips, and thought the pair would be a great duo for a television program. And that is how the Emmy-nominated television series, “Eat! Drink! Italy! With Vic Rallo,” was born. The program premiered in 2013 and aired for three seasons on PBS in most major markets throughout the country. Verdoni has also co-authored a book with Rallo titled, 21 Wines.
Verdoni’s Jesuit, liberal arts education not only provided him with the background necessary to succeed in the wine industry, but it also gave him a deeper appreciation for how the wines are produced. He recently led a class, titled Wine and Spirituality, in which he discussed the movement to make wine as naturally as possible. During the class, Verdoni discussed a winery he found in Sardinia that maximizes this practice. The winery is run by Stefano Casadei, a friend whom Verdoni met at a conference on organic and biodynamic farming. Casadei uses only natural farming techniques such as plows drawn by cattle and geese to prune the vines. Verdoni has a respect for this technique as the process is being done in connection with the will of God.
A Jesuit education is also a common connection among Verdoni’s colleagues and friends, and he appreciates how local wines and foods can bring them together. He explains, “While they are not all Jesuit educated, many of them are and many have studied classical languages. There is always a feeling of community even when you are tasting the wines of your competitors.”
Today, Verdoni gives about 100 wine tastings per year, and maintains a strong connection to Saint Peter’s. How strong? At his 50th reunion in 2014, he delighted his friends and former classmates with, you guessed it: their very own wine tasting. Cheers!