The wine business is a fickle and unreliable industry. At any time there are certain wines that seem indestructible as they forgethrough new markets and penetrate elite restaurant wine lists. The next minute they’re the old has-beens of the bunch, barely able to find some shelf space in a back-alley liquor store. It’s a common tale associated with flash-in-the-pan wines and poorly planned marketing strategies.
Some of the best wines available aren’t those that blitz the marketplace, but rather slowly massage their way into the fabric of
the market. To become one of these steadfast and reliable wines, it takes just as much planning and intuition in the importing, promoting, and pricing of each wine, as it does to actually produce to the bottle of wine itself.
Leonardo LoCascio is the founder and chairman of Winebow, one of the country’s leading importers of wine. Originally from Palermo, LoCascio emigrated to forge a career in the banking industry. Despite his meteoric rise to success, he eventually left behind the finance industry to begin importing the hidden gems of the Italian wine world. With an undergraduate degree in International Business from NYU and a MBA degree from the University of Chicago, LoCascio was quick to make an impact, and by doing so, helped open the door for many of Italy’s most successful brands. 30 years later, he’s still at the helm, forging the same path he always has: sourcing new and unique wines for the ever-waiting thirsty wine trade to consume.
At a recent tasting at Eataly in NYC, I had the privilege of hosting Mr. LoCascio to discuss his past and also the evolution of his company.
DA: Was there a defining moment when you decided to leave banking and begin importing wines?
LC: I was relentless to be successful in a complete sense. I realized you need to work hard, and although I was successful in banking, I felt disconnected from the product. I wanted to hold sucess in my hands, I wanted something physical. I dreamed it possible to combine a profession with a lifestyle. For me, there were ceramics and wine. I had a good understanding of both, but the wine business had a larger draw. From this desire, everyday grew a burning passion to have a burning passion.
DA: What was your strategy when you first began? As an early importer in the wine trade and a native of Italy, did you have any bargaining power?
LC: I definitely didn’t have any bargaining power. My first trip to find wines in Italy was very tough as many of the best producers were already represented in the States. I learned quickly that credibility was important for the business. I eventually came to meet Robert Haas of Vineyard Brands. Bob helped me to learn the business and earn credibility on my own. I also thought that being an importer AND a distributor was an important business model in the industry. This was a strategy that set us apart, because there were few companies that were doing both at the time. I also learned that it’s important not to be all things to all people. We specialized in fine wine, and from this idea, we have expanded distribution into eight states.
DA: What do you look for in a new product to carry, now that the wine market is quite saturated?
LL: There are a few things that I always look for. First, the wine should carry a family name, or be directly involved with a family unit. It signifiies generations of knowledge, and it means that there is someone on the other side of the table to talk to. In a market with strong externalities, the market can change drastically, but we’ve been able to navigate the economy due to our relationships with these family wineries. Secondly, (and rather simply), the wine must taste good and be interesting.
DA: You have many regions represented in your portfolio, but is there one in particular that you’re proud to have exposed?
LL: Southern Italy as a whole. The wines from the south are very fashionable now, but it wasn’t always so. We felt strongly in the potential of southern Italian wines, and we are happy to have brought grapes such as Nero d’Avola and Montepulciano to the forefront of the market.
DA: As someone who has scoured the Italian countryside from north to south, is there a region you would recommend to someone looking for the ultimate Italian winery excursion?
LL: Campania has so much to offer: Capri, the Amalfi coast, Naples, Pompeii. There are many great wines, interesting wines, both white and red.
For further education, visit the Winebow website to learn more about the products and the people that Winebow represents. www.winebow.com