Anthony Terlato, whose long career as an importer, distributor and winery owner was recognized with Wine Spectator's Distinguished Service Award last year, is set to put his name and face in front of the public for the first time. He is launching a collection of California wines under the new Terlato Vineyards label this summer.
The Illinois-based Terlato Wine Group already owns three Napa and Sonoma wineries--Alderbrook, Chimney Rock and Rutherford Hill--and has a stake in Santa Barbara's Sanford winery. The company's Paterno Wines International division imports big-name producers such as Gaja and M. Chapoutier and introduced Americans to Italian Pinot Grigio more than two decades ago with Santa Margherita, now one of the 25 most-imported brands. But most wine drinkers are unfamiliar with the Terlato family name.
Terlato, the company's 71-year-old chairman and CEO, is planning three wines at the outset. The Terlato Vineyards Pinot Grigio Russian River Valley 2004 is being released later this summer at a suggested retail price of $24. The Terlato Vineyards Syrah Dry Creek 2003, bottled at Alderbrook, is set to debut in September at $35. In April 2006, the Terlato Vineyards Napa Valley Angels' Peak 2003--a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot that came mostly from Rutherford Hill's vineyards, will be released at $48.
Initial production of each will be small, with the Pinot Grigio at 1,800 cases, the Syrah at 975 cases and the Angels' Peak at just 600. The combined sales aren't expected to rise much past $1 million in the first full year, a drop in the bucket for a company that had revenues of $200 million in 2004. "This has nothing to do with making money," Terlato declared. "I'm doing this for the pleasure I get in making something very special."
He has no burning desire, he added, to build a family brand empire. "We actually started off by considering 20 other names for these new wines, and then somebody asked, 'Why not just call them Terlato?' And so we did," Terlato said.
While Terlato's two sons, William, 46, and John, 45, manage much of the company's day-to-day operations, Tony and Doug Fletcher, director of winemaking for the Terlato group, will make most of the decisions on the new wines.
Fletcher is working with both purchased and estate-grown grapes for the three new wines. Although Terlato is famous for Pinot Grigio, the family owns no Pinot Gris vineyards so the company is buying from a couple of Russian River growers. "This Pinot Grigio has been made in an Italian style with minimal malolactic fermentation and oak aging," Fletcher said, adding, "We think the Russian River is going to be an up-and-coming region for the Pinot Gris varietal."
Terlato Vineyards may add more Cabernet blends and eventually expand production of the first three wines, but for now, the bottlings have been tightly allocated among Terlato's best accounts. "We'll be conservative and methodical as we build the brand," William Terlato said. "I can't envision Terlato Vineyards getting to the 30,000- or 40,000-case level. But if people insist they want more, then we'll have to consider how we can meet that demand."