Jillian Dara

Avid wine drinkers may recognize Arcudi Wines as a label for special occasions or celebrations. The brand’s latest release earlier this month, however, encompasses an everyday wine, one that winemaker Tony Arcudi refers to as “unpretentious,” and one that he’d pair with pizza or a cheeseburger on a Wednesday night. 

“In recent years, my customers were asking me for an everyday wine so I’d give them some recommendations,” explains Arcudi. “After a while, I thought, I’ll just make them something.” 

Terramagra was thus born; 93 percent cabernet sauvignon and seven percent merlot sourced from vineyards throughout Napa Valley and aged 20 months in french oak. Arcudi says the wine presents the structure of the old world but the ripeness of Napa Valley; a midpoint between the two styles, which is evidently a reflection of his resume in the wine world.

“I love old world wines and cut my teeth working at Maison Chapoutier [in Rhône, France] but I’m here in Napa,” Arcudi explains.

With that said, Arcudi’s journey to Napa was far from traditional. He grew up on the other side of the country in Boston, where his earliest memories involved picking garden-fresh tomatoes and learning how to make gnocchi with his mother. “She said you have to feel it which comes with practice; you can’t overwork it, you just have to feel it,” which Arcudi now relates to the gut feeling required as a winemaker when it comes to making decisions in vineyard management, like knowing when exactly to harvest the grapes—it’s also his favorite part of the winemaking process.

“There’s no flavor meter,” says Arcudi. “You have to walk, and taste, and at some point you have to decide they’re ripe enough; it’s using your senses and your guts.”

Upon graduating high school, Arcudi considered studying at Le Cordon Bleu, but couldn’t bear the thought of returning to the classroom so he signed up for the Navy. A sporadic decision, Arcudi was lured into the strategic weapons system program by its rumored culinary perks. “I had no idea what [the program] was,” Arcudi says with a laugh. “But at one point the officers said the submarines get all the best food… they have Alaskan king crab legs and I was like, ‘I’ll do it.’” 

Arcudi spent seven years in the Navy before returning to Boston for a technology role. His love for cooking was still pervasive but now he paired quality meals with wines—Arcudi says they were from the bargain box, but even so, he unabashedly began studying and appreciating the different varieties.

During this time, and over the next two decades, Arcudi says he discovered certain wines that embodied “an experience.” One particular experience he famously refers to is the first time he tasted Châteauneuf-du-Pape. “Everything just went quiet, it rattled me. I didn’t sleep that night and I started really thinking, ‘I’m in the wrong place,’” says Arcudi. 

Though he didn’t exactly pack up his bags the next day, the idea of leaving the east coast behind became more tangible with each passing day, and in 2001, at the age of 38, Arcudi drove to Napa Valley with “no plan,” just a mission to follow a lifelong dream even if that meant “outworking everyone else.”

Determination became Arcudi’s motivation as he applied to and attended college for the first time, transferred to UC Davis, interned throughout the Valley—at the likes of Nickel and Nickel, as well as with Heidi Barrett, and beyond, in France at Maison Chapoutier—to reach where he is today.

At the end of 2020, Arcudi earned his third 100-point rating for his work as winemaker at Kapcsándy Family Wines and of course, Arcudi is winemaking under his own label at Arcudi Wines. “I was an outsider,” he admits. “But if I had done a bunch of research, I probably wouldn’t have gone through with it.” 

This devoted humility ultimately ties back to Arcudi’s latest release, as he shares Terramagra’s direct translation to “meager earth”—a double entendre to honor his Sicilian roots, but also a description of the soil where the best grape vines grow. 

“Terramagra was my mother’s maiden name, the name given to her Sicilian father, an illegitimate child,” Arcudi concludes, “Like my grandfather, these wines embody the success that comes from humble beginnings.”