Sunday, February 12, 2012


There are many people who have dreams and once in a while their dreams converge with yours. It isn’t really anything more than water in the river, but isn’t it a good thing when one is recognized for their efforts? Brian Larky is one of those with a dream. And when I met him in the very early 1990’s, I honestly thought what he was talking about was just another scheme. Call me cynical, or distracted, or arrogant, but I never thought he would have the stick-to-it-iveness to do what he did.

What he did was to bring together a stable of iconic wineries in Italy, aligned them with his dream, and proceeded to assemble a company dedicated to growing the Italian fine wine business in America. Old friends, Selvapiana, Badia a Coltibuono, Marchesi de Gresy and Vietti among them. Wineries I sold in the 1980’s and thought I’d never get to be part of their world. But Brian had a dream, a crazy, California kid dream. And maybe Italy lured him into her web too? Whatever the mechanism, now Brian can look at all of those who thought he was a crazy kid with a wacky dream (me amongst them) and he can have the last laugh.

And laugh he loves to do. The guy really has brightness about him, and I’m not just talking smarts. Oh, he has that. It’s as if Italy saw something in him and lassoed him into the big dream of Italian wine growing into the dominant imported wine category in America. Or maybe it was mutual. However it was so arranged, there are a lot of winners because of it.

First the wineries in Italy. Dalla Terra is an unusual model in that the goal is to reward the wineries first. Yes Dallas Terra makes money, but not in the usual sense. Whereas the traditional model has import companies making upwards of 50% margin (yes, 50%) Dalla Terra takes a very modest cut. I’ve seen the figures, and it’s impressive. But even more impressive is the quality of the wineries that had assembled for this endeavor. I won’t labor on them, go to Dalla Terra’s website and see for yourself. I have been visiting the wineries in the last year, in Alto Adige, Piemonte, Tuscany and the Veneto and my mouth waters at the thought of these wineries. Maybe I am speaking out of order, for I work in the business and come into contact with a lot of different models. I don’t think my enthusiasm for Dalla Terra should take away from the other folks out there trying hard in their way. At least that’s not my intent. Really it’s more like a re-union than anything. And I am just happy because of that.

To listen to Brian talk about Italian wine, whether it be in front of a group of sommeliers or in front of a rowdy crowd of consumers, his enthusiasm is infectious. And he knows his stuff. How well? I am pretty into Italian wine and have a pretty low threshold for folks making things up. When fellows like Brian talk, it’s like music to my ears. It’s like a vacation. How so? The level at which he understand things in the Italian wine world is such that I feel like I am learning something. There aren’t many folks I can say that about when it comes to Italian wine. Guys like Brian approach Italian wine in an intellectual way that keeps me interested, keeps me wanting to know more. And after 30+ years in the wine business, it’s a great way to stay young and hungry.

So to those of you who keep me young and hungry, thank you. Italian wines are a metaphor for something in life I quite haven’t figured out. But with folks who are at the top of their game and who keep me in their court, this wine trail business stays interesting and engaging. I love it. And I am forever in the debt of those who keep me in the game.


Mike Dunne said...

Thanks for this reminder of Brian Larky. Haven't touched bases with him for years, but when I return to California I definitely will give him a call for an update on his current portfolio. You are absolutely correct, his story is rare, humble, helpful and progressive.

Hal Rose said...

Incredible dinner with Brian at Jimmy's! One of the more entertaining, while still educational, wine speakers I've heard...and wow, what a stable of top notch Italian wineries! Great job Alfonso giving a taste of a great persona.

Thomas said...

Hear, hear.

In the 90s, I worked for an East Coast distributor that took in Brian's products. He was the fellow who introduced me to Verduzzo at Marco Felluga's place in Collio; an indelible experience, not to mention il calore della famiglia di Felluga.

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