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Wine Distributor Mel Dick Wins Wine Spectator’s 2016 Distinguished Service Award

September 22, 2016

Most wine consumers in America have probably never heard Mel Dick’s name, but many of them are drinking great wines because of Dick’s nearly six decades of hard work expanding the Amerimeldickve5a0715_640x426can wine market. As president of the wine division of Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits, Dick played a leading role in building the nation’s largest wholesaler and distributor. When he became general sales manager of Southern’s wine division in 1969, the company’s annual wine sales were $890,000. This year, Southern Glazer’s is projected to register $6.3 billion worth.

For his role in helping to bring wine to generations of Americans and his support of educational programs instrumental in professionalizing wine service and sales in the United States, Dick is this year’s recipient of Wine Spectator’s Distinguished Service Award.

Dick began his career in the drinks business by helping out in his future father-in-law’s liquor store in Passaic, N.J., in 1956. In 1957, he approached the president of Gambarelli & Davitto Wine Company in Newark, N.J., and asked for a sales job. He was told he had no experience and no prospects. Undeterred, Dick offered to work for free for a month. He got the job.

Within a few years, he was working for a bigger player, selling wine for E.&J. Gallo. When he heard Gallo was opening an office in Florida, he pushed hard for the assignment, moving to south Florida in 1966. Three years later, the founders of a young distributor named Southern asked Dick to be general sales manager of their wine division. The only rub was that Southern didn’t actually have a wine division. “They said, ‘We need you; please join us and you’ll never look back,’” Dick says.

Since then, both Southern and Dick have flourished. His strategy was to begin selling more sophisticated wines in what was primarily a jug-wine market, bringing in French Beaujolais and other imports, as well as better California brands.

In 1972, Dick took the reins of Southern’s wine operations; in 1976, he became president of the wine division, and in 1984, he was made part owner of the company. In 2000, the French government awarded him the Legion of Honor for his work on behalf of the French wine and spirits industry.

Dick will receive his award at the Grand Award Banquet at this year’s Wine Spectator New York Wine Experience on October 22.

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