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Interview: Rocco Lombardo, President, Wilson Daniels

July 29, 2019

Wilson Daniels, the marketer and distributor owned by the Underwood family, has come a long way over the past few years, launching an East Coast wholesale operation and continuing to build its national portfolio of fine wines with a focus on Western Europe.  This year, Wilson Daniels’ revenues will reach approximately $160 million, up from $50 million in 2015. SND executive editor Daniel Marsteller caught up with Wilson Daniels president Rocco Lombardo to get an update on progress.

SND: How is Wilson Daniels’ national brand portfolio performing? Where do you see room for further growth?

Lombardo: When I joined the company four years ago, less than 4% of our turnover was from Italy; today Italy is approximately 20% of our turnover. Wilson Daniels has always been a force with wines from France and the U.S. But there was a clear void with Italy, and we took advantage of that immediately, bringing on Bisol, Biondi-Santi, Dal Forno, Caprai, and others. We’re now looking back to France. We’ve started a partnership with Edmond de Rothschild Heritage, representing their Bordeaux properties Château Clarke, Château Malmaison, and Château des Laurets. And we’ll be launching a seven-generation, biodynamic Southern Rhône property very soon that I can’t announce quite yet. We’re also looking very closely at the Loire. Right now we represent Clau de Nell from L’Anjou, but we need to have a presence in Sancerre. Over the next year or two we want to focus on further expanding our French portfolio in a smart manner.

SND: What’s the update on the wholesale side of the business?

Lombardo: The wholesale side now represents about 45% of our total turnover. We’re in four states, with New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut being operated out of the New York office. We also recently acquired Galaxy Wine Company, a distributor in Oregon, and that has gone very well so far. We moved our national portfolio to Galaxy in January of this year and we’re already seeing our depletions in Oregon double as a result.

SND: Are you adding more brands to the wholesale portfolio?

Lombardo: We’ve made a lot of progress on our recruitment of brands, but we have the bandwidth to handle more. We have a strong infrastructure today, with six managers and 30 sales reps across New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. In New York, we represent brands like Rombauer, Grgich, and Bergstrom, and we recently picked up the Jorge Ordoñez line. And we have an exclusive relationship with Joanne U.S. That’s been a great partnership, making us a force in cru classé Bordeaux.

SND: What are your top priorities for the business looking ahead?

Lombardo: We’re going to stay within our core competencies both as a wholesaler and national marketing company. Our average wholesale bottle price is $23-$24, and nearly 60% of our sales in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut are on-premise. Our goal is to make sure we maintain intimacy with the winery owners and partners, and you’re not going to be able to do that if you stockpile 500 or 600 brands. We represent no more than 125 families, and it provides us the ability to focus and deliver a very strong message to the marketplace with each brand.

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