Who is Caleb Ganzer? Celeb sommelier arrested for serial arson in New York City
New York-based wine specialist charged with a slew of crimes for setting fires around SoHo hotspot Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels, put on leave
MANHATTAN, NEW YORK: New York's celebrity sommelier (wine waiter) Caleb Ganzer has been arrested on July 28, the Fire Department of New York (FDNY) confirmed. Ganzer was arrested for setting numerous outdoor dining structures on fire in Manhattan, near the restaurant where he worked. He has also been charged with a slew of crimes, for starting fires in lower Manhattan near the famous Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels.
Cases of arson have sharply risen over the last year, partially prompted by the wave of protests against police brutality. In June 2020, a White woman was seen setting a Wendy's on fire in Atlanta, as Black protesters were nearby protesting the killing of Rayshard Brooks. On July 23, authorities investigated a possible arson at Beyonce and Jay-Z's mansion in New Orleans, which thankfully didn't leave any injures. During the Presidential Election in 2020, a Pennsylvania woman was caught attempting to start fires at a polling station.
The arrest of Ganzer comes as a shock to his family and the Surnturels restaurant where he worked. He's a well-known sommelier with an international reputation, so why would he turn to arson? Here's what we know so far about him and the baffling crimes he is accused of committing.
Who is Caleb Ganzer?
The New York-based wine specialist is an alumnus of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. In 2009, he graduated from the uni with a degree in international studies. While studying, Ganzer worked as a server at a local Italian restaurant. He also had a brief gig as a wine consultant, at the Corkscrew Wine Emporium. He began an interest in wine after a semester abroad, in Paris. The experience led him to take up a gig as a manager at Flute Champaign Lounge when he returned to the US before he began to pursue a professional career as a sommelier.
Ganzer obtained a certification from the famous Court of Master Sommeliers and moved to New York to pursue his career professionally. In 2015, he joined the Parisian wine bar Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels, where he still works, now was wine director. In 2017, he also started his own digital wine course and app called VKnow. His efforts have not gone unnoticed. In 2017, Food and Wine named Ganzer their 'Sommelier of the Year'. The previous year, he was awarded 'Best New Sommelier of 2016' by Wine & Spirits magazine.
In 2020, Ganzer made headlines after he became one of the 1,022 candidates to put their name up for the presidential election. "It's actually surprisingly easy, you just have to fill something out online," Ganzer told WCBS 880. "I've been thinking about this ever since I was in third grade." Reportedly, his platform was built on investing in community colleges, getting back to civility in politics, and repairing the "broken" food system. He never made it to the ballot and continued to work at Surnaturels.
In a video posted on the website, greatsommeliers.com, Ganzer, then the Eleven Madison Park sommelier, was seen demonstrating a technique for serving port wine that involves heating a pair of tongs with a Bunsen burner so that they can be used to cut off the bottle’s top “to bypass the cork and just get at the wine.”
“This is the most dramatic aspect of it,” he says at one point in the video. “It’s the fire.”
The sommelier has also been extensively interviewed by several high-profile and local news outlets. In 2017, a news report indicated how he singlehandedly helped Surnaturels become a go-to in SoHo. "When Ganzer came on board, he began by reinventing the bar itself — starting with its list," Vinepair reported. Today, that very same bar is being forced to distance itself from Ganzer, after his arrest.
Why was Ganzer arrested?
According to the FDNY, Ganzer was responsible for at least three fire incidents around the Surnaturels. In January, June, and July 2021 he set fire to a number of outdoor dining structures, which thankfully haven't caused any lasting damage or injuries. He was first arrested on July 13 for setting fire to Prince Street Pizza. That led authorities to link him to fires on January 8 at Forsythia Restaurant and to a pile of trash on June 26 in SoHo.
FDNY Commissioner Daniel A. Nigro announced today that Fire Marshals have arrested Caleb Ganzer, 35, for allegedly setting fire to outdoor dining structures and rubbish in Manhattan in January, June, and July of this year. Read more: https://t.co/JcOkWAKPZ1 pic.twitter.com/ZJ3rCIgiJ0— FDNY (@FDNY) July 28, 2021
It is believed Ganzer used a lighter to start the fires, which was quickly controlled by the FDNY. "Thankfully in these incidents, there were no injuries and the suspect has been apprehended before another fire could be set," Fire Commissioner Daniel A. Nigro said in a statement. The news has come as quite a shock to Ganzer's family and associates. When The Daily Beast attempted to contact Ganzer's sister, she hung up saying she "had no idea" about the allegations.
The Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels has also been forced to distance itself from Ganzer. "We as the company are aware of the incident, and Mr. Ganzer is on a leave of absence,” they said in a statement. "If there are any other follow-up questions at this point, we have no further comment," the bar added. Since the arrest, Ganzer has also deleted all his social media profiles. He has been charged with third-degree arson, third-degree criminal mischief and second-degree reckless endangerment, among other charges. It is unclear when he is due in court and why he started the fires at all.