Pedro Goncalves learned the significance of living off the land while he was growing up in Portugal in what he calls an “Old World agriculture family.” Most of what was served on the dinner table came from gardens cultivated outside his childhood home. Wine played an important role, too, as each year, his extended family gathered on the mountainside in Trás-os-Montes (which translates to “behind the mountain”) to collect grapes for fermenting into wine. Goncalves still recounts the story of when he was 3 years old and crushed grapes for the first time. “I remember crying for four days because the purple stains wouldn’t come off my legs,” he says.
Goncalves moved to London when he was 12 to attend boarding school and lived in England for the next decade. He started working in restaurants in the mid-‘80s to pay the bills and in 1989 relocated to the United States to pursue his first passion: martial arts. Goncalves landed in New York City to study with a leading martial arts authority, but he still needed to make a living and took a job as a head waiter at Remi restaurant. It was in this role that his interest in wine was piqued. He began assisting Remi’s customers with wine recommendations. Goncalves next worked at New York City’s Gramercy Tavern and after just a few short months was promoted to captain. During his five-year tenure there, he developed a strong base knowledge of diverse and global wines under the tutelage of Beverage Director Paul Grieco. “Paul recognized that I had insider knowledge of Portuguese wine, so he started having me give classes to educate the staff,” he notes. “At that time, they really didn’t know much about Portugal beyond port and Madeira.”
In 2002, Goncalves joined Oceana as captain, but the self-taught sommelier moved his way up and was promoted to wine director in July 2010. He now curates Oceana’s 950-plus selections spanning over 130 regions and 80 different varietals, including 30 rotating wines by the glass. While Oceana is known for its extensive collection of White Burgundy and Bordeaux, Goncalves aims to highlight affordable options from all over the world. In particular, he is fond of the wines he features from the Loîre Valley that show off 15 distinct growing regions, each with varying nuances of minerality, acidity, and overall diversity that pair well with seafood. “When it comes to wine philosophy, I’ve always been a very international kind of guy; I don’t favor one region or one country,” he says. “We have such diverse clientele, and I like that anyone from any place can come to Oceana and find something from their country. Our menu is like a passport to the world.”
Goncalves lives in Clifton, NJ, with his wife of 20 years, Maria, and their two dogs. In his spare time, he enjoys tending to his garden, taking care of house projects, and hiking. He still avidly practices martial arts and is one of six masters worldwide of Eagle Claw kung fu.