Philip di Belardino, a Larger-than-Life Figure in Wine Marketing and Education, Dies at 68
Philip di Belardino, who worked tirelessly in a 41-year career in wine to educate and inspire wine professionals and consumers alike working for wine firms such as Heublein and Banfi Vintners, succumbed to complications from diabetes on the morning of Nov. 13 in New York at the age of 68.
A massive outpouring of affection on social media and public forums greeted his passing. The emotional response was not surprising to anyone who knew di Belardino. His larger-than-life personality connected with anyone who shared his passions for wine, food, travel, theater and opera.
He was born Filippo di Belardino in Rome, and many people called him Filippo until his death. Friends called him Pippo. His career in wine began in 1973 with his family’s company, Mediterranean Imports, founded by his late father, Aldo di Belardino. The firm was later absorbed into Heublein, where Filippo’s brand responsibilities included such California wines as Beaulieu and Inglenook and French giants such as Mouton-Rothschild. He joined New York's Banfi Vintners in 1999 as vice president of fine wines, where he remained until his death.
“Filippo befriended the great and small of our community,” said James W. Mariani, Banfi co-CEO. “He connected legendary winemakers with industry novices, and everybody between.” While a student at Cornell University in 1989, Mariani vividly remembers a 90-minute di Belardino lecture that “energized me to embrace wine beyond what we thought possible. [He made] a tectonic contribution of wine knowledge, wit and friendship to thousands who today feel as if the wine world slipped on its axis.”
Di Belardino knew that part of education was showmanship. An on-stage entertainer at his family’s resort in New York’s Catskill Mountains, Villaggio Italia, he developed a signature presentation style that loosely blended facts with puns and anecdotes. It made reluctant audiences comfortable with wine in general. They often left impressed with his employer’s wines, smiling, well-fed and speaking a few more words of Italian.
Di Belardino created and connected a rich network of consumers, producers, press and trade, which made him wildly popular and sought-after as an educator, travel guide, and all-around resource.
“There are a lot of people in our world who know an awful lot about wine, but there are precious few who make you want to love it,” said John Fischer, a hospitality professor at the Culinary Institute of America. “There was nothing like a big, sweaty, deep and honest hug from Filippo to remind you that understanding Italian wine meant more than just memorizing the DOCGs.”
Even if non-Italians had trouble spelling his Italian name, they loved and respected di Belardino. “When Filippo walked into our restaurants we were all Italian,” said Richard Lavin, who had a long career as a sommelier and restaurateur and today operates his own educational firm. “He brought with him his love of food, music, art, history, his passion for Italian wines and his friends. And, what a parade of friends! Mastroberardino, Felluga, Ceretto, Bonacossi, Monsanto—not just the bottles, but the vineyard owners and the winemakers and their families.”
Di Belardino is survived by his brother Mario, sister-in-law Susan, and nephews Adam and David. His memorial service will be private, but friends and colleagues may visit Sunday and Monday at Frank E. Campbell Funeral Chapel in Manhattan. Donations in Philip's name may be directed to Calvary Hospital, a non-profit institution specializing in hospice and palliative care, located in the Bronx.