Here is a nice article on Louis Restivo, which talks about the power he has with new distribution deals. Hope this helps some.
Newsday (Melville, NY), Jan 29, 2007 pNA
A taste of Italy, family style: Restivo clan is having success with its wine importing, in part tribute to past endeavor - bread.
Full Text: COPYRIGHT 2007 Newsday
Byline: Keiko Morris
Jan. 29--Louis Restivo first tossed around the idea with his brother while at a wedding in 1998. "He wasn't doing anything and I wasn't doing anything," said Louis Restivo, who once ran his family's large baking business. "I said, 'You want to do something together?'" Vincent Restivo, Louis' brother and a retired doctor and medical school dean, was game. And when asked what they should choose as their next venture in life, he responded quite readily: wine. More than eight years later, the Restivos' wine importing business in Roslyn Heights has taken off, catering to wine distributors across the country and national vendors such as Costco, BJ's and Sam's Club, and securing an exclusive contract with Castellani Wines, one of Italy's well-known and generations-old wine families. Biagio Cru and Estate Wines Llc -- named after Louis and Vincent's father, Biagio -- is not only a thriving second career for them but also a second family business in which their sons -- Darren and Ben Restivo -- have also discovered their own vocations. Darren Restivo, 32, marketing director, entered the business as he was finishing a psychology degree at Queens College. Ben Restivo, 35, managing director, had been a currency trader and banker for several years when he left for this family enterprise.
"When you have an opportunity to do something with family, it's exhilarating," said Vincent Restivo, 63, the company's director of corporate relations. "We stay younger because we have to keep up with their pace." Biagio Cru imports wine from a number of countries, including Argentina and Spain, but the emphasis is on Italy. With the proliferation of cooking shows, more and more American consumers are learning to pair wine with their food -- one of the main purposes of Italian wines, the Restivos said. The company's aim is to demystify wines and reach a broader audience with what they consider quality, affordable wine, they said. "Our focus is always going to be Italian wines because of our background, but also because we see the potential for Italian wines to grow," Ben Restivo said. "The Italians have the most indigenous varieties of wine grapes. And it's the perfect wine for food. In many cases, the wines were created because of a dish."
Bob Paulinski, Sam's Club senior wine buyer, also described Italian wines as a growing market, offering consumers variety and quality at lower prices. Castellani's Familia Cara Chianti Riserva, which sells for $9, "really over-delivered for that price," he noted. Wine Spectator listed Castellani's Toscana Campomaggio 2003 -- which costs $19 -- as one of its selections and gave it a 91 rating. The wine magazine rated the $11 Castellani Toscana Biagio 2003 at 88. And Castellani's Toscana Travalda, which sells for $23, scored an 89 rating. A special place for wine "People, more and more, are looking for variety," Paulinski said. "You can find a Cab Sauvignon, a chardonnay from everywhere, but when you get into Chianti Classico Riserva -- here's a wine tied to a specific place. And I think people generally feel good about Italy."
Anecdotally, some wine industry observers report that the number of small importing outfits has grown in the metropolitan area. Ed Wassmer, owner of Young's Fine Wines & Spirits in Manhasset, said he can count at least three new importers that didn't exist three years ago. "It's growing as more and more people are making wine -- the importing business has seen more and more importers that are really small outfits," Wassmer said. "Vineyards who don't produce enough wine -- the big importers don't want to add them to their book. "So there is this niche for producers who produce quality wines but don't produce enough." To hear the Restivo brothers tell it, securing a contract as exclusive U.S. importers for the Castellani family appears to have been surprisingly easy for newcomers. But their experience in running a family business and their past contacts played a part in their success. In 1961, Louis Restivo, now 64, began working for the family baking company, Restivo Brothers Bakery, which originally opened in 1922 in Ridgewood, Queens. Louis later became a partner in the company, which he said pioneered the unbaked, frozen bread goods used by supermarket chains and schools, and helped it expand into a business doing more than $30 million in sales. When Louis and Vincent were mulling the possibility of a wine import enterprise, Louis said, he called up his old contacts from the baking company days and asked buyers if they were interested in wine. "They said, 'Sure,'" Louis recalled. Vincent, who had been a senior associate dean and dean of developmental disabilities at New York Medical College in Westchester County, already had a passion for wine as a collector. But it was friendships he had made in Italy -- an indirect result of his medical pursuits -- that led him to Castellani.
While at New York Medical College, he organized trips to Poland for medical professionals to tour facilities for the developmentally disabled, which he said were in desperate shape. The group assembled their evaluations and recommendations in a book, which was then presented to the pope. Pope John Paul II, who had an interest in the well-being of his native country, later bestowed the rare distinction of Knight of St. Gregory upon Vincent Restivo in 1981. Name recognition
"When the idea for this business came about, I went to people there [the Vatican] and asked who I should see," Vincent Restivo said. "They said, 'You should see the Castellani family in Tuscany.'" He made a cold call, he said -- and one of the owners answered the phone.
In its first year, Biagio Cru imported 22 containers, each holding 1,200 cases of Castellani wine. The second year, they brought in and sold 28 containers. After that, the Castellani family agreed to a 30-year exclusive contract in the United States, Vincent Restivo said. Both the Restivos, who also import wines from the family-owned winery Neirano, of Piedmont, Italy, and the Castellanis say the family element of the business has been crucial to their partnership. "We decided to look for a family, a company with a ... family approach to create a sort of joint venture for the marketing of a family brand," said Piergiorgio Castellani, head of the agricultural and winemaking department of his family's business. "We needed to find an importer who really understands the Castellani brand, which is more than a brand -- it's a philosophy." Tied to Tuscany As wine producers, the Castellani family are tied to the land of Tuscany and deeply tied to the culture of the countryside, Castellani said. His family has taken this commitment to tradition one step further by cultivating an experimental vineyard of old grape varieties discovered there. Most of those varieties probably did not produce large quantities, he said, and were supplanted by other grapes. The process of attempting to produce a wine to bring to the market will likely take two decades. "You need to know the philosophy it takes to produce the wine in a most traditional way and at the same time propose the wine to people who know nothing about Tuscany and our culture," he said. The Restivos say they want to remove the pretentiousness that clings to wine and make it accessible to a wider market. They are planning a blog for their Web site, biagiocru.com, and perhaps even a video of Piergiorgio Castellani explaining his family's wine and traditions, said Darren Restivo. They have created easier-to-read labeling and have even used pictures -- portraits of a typical immigrant family from the early 1900s and, on another, a photo of a family from the 1970s -- on bottles. "If you open up Wine Spectator, they talk about hints of boysenberry and tobacco-leaf aftertaste," Darren Restivo explained. "When was the last time you had boysenberry and chewed a tobacco leaf? That's not going to make you try it." "When you put it to your mouth and it tastes good," he later added, "it's good for you." MONDAY FOCUS Italian vs. French imports U.S. imports of Italian wine and related products have significantly increased during the past five years, gaining on the world's wine leader, France.