It’s no wonder that sommelier Eduardo Porto Carreiro has such eclectic tastes. He was born in Rio de Janeiro and raised in both Vienna and Maryland. At Cornell University, he majored in Applied Economics and Business Management, but a summer internship at a boutique management consulting firm convinced him that wearing a suit every day might not be such a good idea after all. He followed his passion for performance to Los Angeles, where he briefly pursued an acting career before wine took over. He started by lugging cases of wine at Greenblatt’s Deli and worked for seven years at GRACE, rising to Wine Director. He most recently implemented the wine program at Lukshon and still works two nights per week behind the bar at Covell. We recently met at Paper or Plastik, where he further illuminated his background and approach.
What’s your first wine memory, good or bad?
There’s this wine that we always used to have at home in Vienna. I might have been four or five years old, and it was a Spanish red called Sangre de Toro, and it’s this really great value red, easy drinking, but it comes with this little plastic bull on the neck of the bottle. I would always remember how excited I was when mom and dad would pop a bottle of that wine, because I got to play with the little bull.
With regards to my first wine memory, sipping wise, I can’t pinpoint it because it was such a part of my growing up. I certainly remember extraordinary New Years Eves in Rio with my family and everybody popping a bottle of Champagne, sipping Champagne. I remember – fast forward to my freshman year at Cornell – and the seniors were taking the Wines course and hanging out off campus. Some seniors were drinking some fantastic wine, and there I was, 17, 18 years old, sipping this really fancy stuff the day after I had been at a crazy kegger. It was such a great juxtaposition of the two worlds. For me, wine is a very visceral experience and there are certain moments that are definitely starred in my timeline that will always make me feel damn good.
What was your first food or drink related job?
Directly after I graduated, I moved out to L.A., opened up the L.A. Times want ads looking for something interesting, and went through the entire classifieds and didn’t find anything. In sort of a flurry of anxiety, I kind of just threw the classifieds on the coffee table, bummed out, and saw that the last past, the very bottom of the last page, there was this add for Wine Clerk, wanted, down at the Ws. I had missed the Ws. I went and applied for it, and it was a clerk job in a wine shop, which has been around for near 80 years, up on Sunset, called Greenblatt’s. My first gig there was lugging cases up and down stairs, checking people out. It was brilliant because I got to taste a lot of wine. The paycheck was not what I had in mind, with a college degree, but it was exceptionally important for me now that I look back on it, the amount of exposure I had to wines across the board, from phenomenal $5 wines, to extraordinary $500 wines. It really kind of tuned my antenna to, “This wine thing is pretty awesome.”
Why did you originally move to Los Angeles?
After I decided I wasn’t going to be in business, I said, I’d been acting and performing since I was 12 years old, so I said, “Let me give this acting thing a try.” I was between New York and L.A., and my big reason for choosing L.A. was the fact that I had a lot of friends who were already in New York. I said, “Okay, I’m 21 years old, when the hell am I going to do something so crazy? Why don’t I just up and leave?” So I went to the West Coast and starting from scratch, decided to make my life in L.A. as a “struggling actor.” Then I kind of stumbled on to wine.
Do you feel like your business degree serves you well in what you’re doing now?
I feel that having a foundation of business is good for anybody. The major reason why I applied to the business program was so that I could have a plan, so I could have something to do, so that I could have a respectable job. Cornell opened my eyes to a lot of other things that I was really loving and digging and enjoying in life. And it also made me realize that I didn’t necessarily need to wear a suit every day to be content. Rather, wearing a suit every day made me a tad upset, or maybe depressed.
What was the moment that you knew you’d end up working with wine for a living?
Wine has been part of my life since I was a little kid. My mom and dad were both very much into enjoyment of life. They taught me that there’s more to life than just a payment or a fancy title. It’s very important to live and experience and enjoy your life, and the people around you, and the foods you eat, and the beverages you sip on. When I was at the wine shop, I was furiously soaking up information on wine. I had taken a wines class at Cornell before. I knew that I liked the subject, but I never considered it as a career. Seeing these winemakers come in and these wine reps, was kind of my introduction toe the wine business. This sort of planted the seed, this might be something that I’d be into. Because of a friend of a friend, I ended up with an interview to this restaurant that was about to open, and got a job as a food runner there.
Grace Restaurant. I started in the kitchen, running food at Grace. While I was doing that, I was also at the wine shop. I was pulling doubles every once in awhile, and while the servers were doing their wine training, I would always sit in and it all made sense. It just clicked. After I became a food runner, I became an expediter, and after a little while, I started getting shifts as a waiter, there. As soon as they put me on the floor as a waiter, the wine director at the time said, “Hey, would you be interested in helping me out with the program?” I said, “Absolutely.” I was 22 at that point, and was offered a job as a sommelier…That moment, my bosses essentially said, “We believe in you and think you can do this. Go with it, run with it.” That moment was sort of the a-ha.
Who have your mentors been?