Leonardo LoCascio, the nattily dressed chairman of Winebow Group, has decided to hang up his corkscrew, retiring from the company he founded in 1980. Over the past 35 years, LoCascio introduced generations of American wine lovers to the flavors of Italian wine, discovering dozens of producers over the course of his career.
"I'm retiring from active management. As the founder of the company, slowing down is not easy," LoCascio told me. "The company is in great shape and I felt that if there was a time to let it go, now is the time."
Born in Sicily, it's not surprising that LoCascio was interested in Italian wines. Yet, he had a promising career in the financial industry, first for McKinsey & Company, then Rockwell International and eventually Citibank, where he was a VP before leaving the corporate world for the wine world. He wanted to be an importer of Italian wines.
He may have been the first "garage" importer, starting Winebow from his garage in Teaneck, N.J. Though he didn't necessarily specialize in garage wines, LoCascio did work with small, family owned wineries. Some of those relationships are now with the third generation of the family. Peter Matt and Bob Haas were partners in the beginning; both were eventually bought out by LoCascio.
I first met LoCascio in the early 1990s, at a Winebow portfolio tasting. Among the Italian selections he represented then were Altesino, Argiolas, Castellare di Castellina, Falesco, Bruno Giacosa, Librandi, Montevetrano, Tasca d'Almerita and Zenato. Most are still with Winebow today. Some, like Castellare di Castellina, Librandi, Morgante Taurino and Zenato, began selling wines for the first time in the United States with LoCascio in 1980.
Locascio was instrumental in discovering and promoting Italian wines from Southern Italy at a time when regions like Sicily, Campania, Puglia, Basilicata and Lazio were little known.
But it wasn't just Italian wines. Winebow also imported Chablis from Domaine Laroche and continues to import the wines of Domaine Jean Chartron in Puligny-Montrachet. They distributed California heavyweights Caymus, Duckhorn, Rombauer, Seghesio, Shafer and Spottswoode, along with Adelsheim from Oregon. And they distribute some of the Kermit Lynch portfolio.
Over the years, LoCascio and Winebow lost important producers too. But as anyone who has some tenure in the wine business knows, it's one thing to build a successful company, and another to maintain it.
I also remember LoCascio for his colorful wardrobe, which brought flair to Winebow's events. He made an impression that you couldn't forget. "I developed an early liking for tailored shirts and suits," he recalled. "I started having them made by a tailor in Italy and still do to this day."
He started a distribution company in New York and New Jersey early on; today, Winebow distributes in 16 states. With the consolidation of the distribution chain over the years, he said his only regret, given Winebow's strategy, was not accelerating that process.