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Interview: Rocco Lombardo, President, Wilson Daniels

February 3, 2016

Last fall, the Underwood family, owners of Young’s Holdings, began a campaign to ramp up its East Coast presence by launching Wilson Daniels Wholesale in New York as a companion to its national importing and marketing company, Wilson Daniels Ltd. Rocco Lombardo, formerly president of Frederick Wildman & Sons, is now president of both Wilson Daniels Wholesale and Wilson Daniels Ltd., with Chris Underwood remaining CEO of both units. SND senior editor Daniel Marsteller caught up with Lombardo to discuss the opportunities ahead for Wilson Daniels as it zeroes in on the East Coast fine wine market.

SND: What was the thinking behind the launch of the Wilson Daniels Wholesale business, and how is it doing so far?

Lombardo: Looking at the company, we were over-indexed in the West and challenged in the East, so part of the initial strategy was to correct that imbalance. We felt the best way to do that was with direct distribution. We launched our New York wholesale operation on October 1. We’re fully staffed with 16 people and three managers, and we’ve been off to the races. For the fourth quarter, the Wilson Daniels portfolio was up 45% in New York compared with the prior year, and we have very high expectations for 2016. The majority of our business is in the on-trade, and our average price point in the fourth quarter was nearly $300 a case, so we’re truly in that dynamic luxury segment, which is exactly where we want to be.

SND: You’re now launching the wholesale business in New Jersey as well?

Lombardo: We’ll officially launch in New Jersey on March 1, with exclusive rights to the brands marketed nationally by Wilson Daniels, and a handful of artisanal spirits brands marketed by Infinium, our sister company. (Editor’s note: Wilson Daniels’ brands were previously distributed in New York by Martin Scott—part of The Winebow Group—and in New Jersey by Allied.) We’re fully focused on entrenching ourselves in the fine wine and artisanal spirit distribution business in New York and New Jersey. Our goal for this year is to approach $20 million in sales across New York and New Jersey. We’re very optimistic about the prospects for strengthening and diversifying the portfolio.

SND: Besides Wilson Daniels Ltd., who are your other key suppliers in the wholesale operation?

Lombardo: The assimilation of our nationally marketed portfolio (including Schramsberg, Davies, Ponzi, Pierre Sparr, Domaine de la Romanee-Conti, Champagne Gosset, Domaine Leflaive and Castello di Volpaia among others) has gone very well, and we’re prepared now to start to recruit some mid-sized family wineries. What we’ve done initially is complement Wilson Daniels’ national portfolio with image-building properties. We’re working with Will Harlan (The Mascot) and Abreu from Napa Valley, Hanzell from Sonoma Valley, Josh Bergstrom and Antica Terra from Willamette and others. We want to create a halo projecting to the market that we’re about family-owned properties with the utmost integrity in terms of product quality.

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