db meets: Rocco Lombardo, Wilson Daniels

President of US wine importer Wilson Daniels, Rocco Lombardo, details how the company is now a major wholesaler in the New York and New Jersey markets having launched a distribution partnership with Bordeaux powerhouse negoçiant Joanne last month.

Rocco Lombardo

When Rocco Lombardo was tapped in the summer of 2015 to lead U.S. West Coast importer Wilson Daniels, a division the Underwood family’s Young’s Holdings, it was primarily a collection of luxury brands such as Domaine de la Romanée-Conti and Domaine Leflaive.

While carefully protecting that upscale positioning, two-and-a-half years later the company is now also a major wholesaler in the prime New York and New Jersey markets, has considerably expanded its portfolio of top producers in Italy and the U.S., and last month launched a distribution partnership with Bordeaux powerhouse negoçiant, Joanne.

In an interview earlier this week, Lombardo, who spent 20 years in top executive positions at Frederick Wildman and Sons before joining Wilson Daniels, said, “We have accomplished in two years what was originally planned for five years. And after less than two years, we were profitable.”

The Young’s Market unit of Young’s Holdings already distributed the Wilson Daniels portfolio covering 10 western states, and opening a wholesale front on the East Coast was one reason for hiring Lombardo.

“It was part of the plan for my move,” he said. “I wasn’t out fishing, but the opportunity with Wilson Daniel and the Underwoods was not only for their existing business but also to establish a footprint on the East Coast. I started in June and the wholesale business came to fruition in October.” First came New York, where the wholesaling unit’s headquarters is now located, and New Jersey was next.

Previously, the primary distributor for Wilson Daniels was Martin Scott Wines, but Lombardo says, “We knew that to thrive we would have to expand the portfolio.” This portfolio expansion was primarily with Italian, French and American producers which have large estates in “the premium, super premium and luxury” categories. That includes such recent hookups as Biondi Santi and Arnaldo Caprai in Italy, Champagne Gosset, Château Gassier and Olivier Bernstein in France and Frank Family, Rombauer and Arista in the U.S. Last fall, Bisol, the prestige Prosecco producer, was added. Additionally, Young’s Infinium Spirits division is a source for non-wine sales.

“We now have an exclusive partnership in New York and New Jersey with Joanne, the most important cru classé negoçiant in Bordeaux,” Lombardo says, adding that he sees it as Wilson Daniels mission to “give a lift” to Bordeaux sales in the U.S. “I think in general Bordeaux has been challenged in the U.S. because of its marketing setup.”

Lombardo also says the luxury producers that are at the core of Wilson Daniels historic franchise are completely on board with the portfolio expansion and the addition of a wholesale unit to the import business. “We are being sure that they are only represented in the top accounts – the best restaurants and the best retail accounts,” he says. About 55% of the wholesale business is on premise, and 45% off, which he says is a switch from when he started.

An additional attraction to producers in Western Europe, Lombardo says, “is that we now have an East Coast portal.”

Lombardo is also excited about a five-city portfolio tour in June celebrating the founding of the company 40 years ago by Jack Daniels and the late Win Wilson. The complete portfolio will be represented at the trade-and-media-only tour, and many of the owners will be on hand.

First stop will be an open house at corporate headquarters in St. Helena in Napa Valley on 3 June. The next day, 4 June, the road trip will be in Los Angeles at Hills Penthouse, 5 June in Houston at The Post Oak and 6 June in Chicago at Matthew Rachman Gallery. The marathon will end on 7 June in New York at 214 Lafayette Townhouse.

“The tour is important because we’ll recognise and celebrate the past while looking to the future,” Lombardo said.

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