“You get into something interesting like natural wine, and you love it, and you want the whole world to come to your party,” says Justin Chearno, wine director of The Four Horsemen in Brooklyn. “But then everyone gets there, and you’re like, ‘huh, it was a lot more fun when there were less people at the party.’”
No stranger to the wine industry, Chearno spent a decade as a wine buyer, then six years as operations manager for a wine importer, before taking on his role at The Four Horsemen alongside his three friends and business partners—James Murphy, Christina Topsøe and Randy Moon. But Chearno is hardly a natural wine elitist. “In the end, I have to step back and think how great it is that more people are drinking natural wines, and that more wine makers have an opportunity to get their stuff out there,” he says.
At the restaurant (Chearno eschews the term wine bar in reference to The Four Horsemen, as it really functions as a restaurant with a hefty wine list), there are certain norms he hopes to change. One such item is off-list wines, a practice that has become a pet peeve for Chearno. “I don’t like the secret market of wines just for people that are in-the-know,” he says. At The Four Horsemen, what you see is what you get. “We stress that everyone should get the same experience, and that we should be excited about everyone who comes in, not just the people who know a lot about wine.”
With natural wine inundating the mainstream (though still not at its peak, according to Chearno), it’s not uncommon for a large swath of guests to come in looking for the same bottle—whichever one happens to be garnering the most buzz on social media at that moment. But Chearno sees his role as going beyond simply satisfying those immediate requests. “People are so concerned with having things that are pre-approved by their peer group that it becomes boring,” he explains. “We’re able to select and pour the wine that we like, and we won’t just be about pouring stuff that isn’t great just because somebody saw a picture of it on Instagram.”
So what does Chearno do when he’s not shuffling around a wine cellar? Here, he tackles our Lookbook Questionnaire to share his favorite bar in Paris, his collection of steel mill memorabilia and the weirdest cocktail experiment he’s ever attempted.—Tatiana Bautista
Partner and wine director at The Four Horsemen.
What do you want to be when you grow up?
Someone who is always putting people together to help them get shit done.
Best thing you ever drank:
The best thing I remember drinking was a bottle of Jardins des Esmealdins 2000 around 2014. We were on the road going to wine fairs and visiting growers. There had been so much wine all day, every day over the previous two weeks and I wanted to take a night off. A friend opened the bottle and passed me a glass that I pretty much had zero interest in drinking and I was shocked by how compelling it was. We slowly finished the bottle over the next hour or so, and I still think about how lucky I was to be in the right place, with the right people and that wine.
Worst thing you ever drank:
I will never understand kombucha. It makes no sense to me. It’s like all of the stuff that I hate about bad natural wine.
First time you ever got drunk (and describe):
I was pretty young and ended up drinking one of my great aunt’s or uncle’s unattended Brandy Alexander that had been left on a table at a New Year’s Eve party sometime in the late 70’s. I was quickly put to bed.
If you had to listen to one album on loop, for the rest of your life, what would it be?
My answer to this one right now is E2-E4 by Manuel Gottsching, but that answer will definitely be different tomorrow, if not later today.
What’s the weirdest hobby you currently have or have had?
I like to collect steel mill ephemera from my hometown of Youngstown, Ohio. I have workers badges, punch cards and other small stuff.
What do you know now that you wish you’d known five years ago?
That the hours of the day between 6:00 a.m. and 10:00 a.m. are some of the best and most productive times in the day.
Weirdest cocktail experiment you’ve ever attempted:
I grew up in my grandparents’ house and my grandfather had a full bar in the basement with 15 stools, a great back bar and colored lights above it. He was always making drinks for other people in the family, so I felt like I had a good idea of how a bar worked. One day in my teen years, while visiting a friend who was pretty much left unattended by his parents, I made a group of my friends a round of gin and bourbons topped them with bottled Harvey Wallbanger, with a maraschino cherry, of course. I can still remember how terrible and gross this drink was.
What’s your favorite thing to do when you’re not eating, drinking or drink-making?
Traveling with my wife and 5-year-old son. It’s the best.
Weirdest drink request you’ve ever gotten:
Nothing too out of the ordinary really.
Your favorite bar, and why:
I truly love Candelaria in Paris. The drinks are always better than I expect them to be, and the agave spirits selections is incredible, especially for Paris. The team is always pushing to be better. It’s just one of those places that I go to that I feel nails it every time.
Best meal you’ve ever had:
Currently, I think about a meal I was lucky enough to be part of in Normandy, France, this past fall when a large group of friends (old and new) from around the world went to Alain Passard’s farm. He cooked us a daylong, multi-course lunch of mostly vegetables. It was one of those moments where you ask yourself, “How was I lucky enough to end up at this table?”
What’s your go-to drink in a cocktail bar?
In a dive bar?
Bourbon and soda.
Your preferred hangover recovery regime:
Berocca before bed, Berocca when I wake up, the largest iced coffee I can get to the quickest, and then on with the day.
The one thing you wish would disappear from drink lists forever:
The last text message you sent:
“I can check with our GM but I’m not sure!”