Getting to Know the Honorary Chair

This year at the Cincinnati International Wine Festival, we at Wine Trends have the tremendous honor of naming Leonardo LoCascio, founder of Winebow, the Honorary Chair. He will be at the festival March 6-8, 2014 sharing his wisdom and passion for wine and hopefully telling an anecdote or two from his remarkable career.
LoCascio has received many accolades in his more than 30 years in the wine industry but his greatest joy is going out to a restaurant and seeing one of his wines on someone’s table. When that happens, he simply can’t help himself. He has to go over and introduce himself.
“When I go out with my kids, they know the routine,” he said. “They don’t particularly like it because they don’t like to draw attention to our table but they also know they won’t be able to stop me. This is something I really enjoy doing.”
LoCascio is considered the foremost expert on Italian wine and his company, Winebow, is the largest importer of Italian wine in the United States, but wine was not originally his chosen profession. LoCascio left his native Sicily to study International Business at New York University. After graduating he moved to Chicago to get his MBA from the University of Chicago, got a job at Citi Bank, and climbed the corporate ladder at an astonishing speed, attaining the position of vice president by the age of 30.
But something was missing from LoCascio’s life. “I was missing an actual product,” he recalled. “Financial products are interesting, but they’re conceptual. You can’t hold them in your hand, you can’t smell them, you can’t taste them.” He wasn’t exactly sure what this “product” he was looking for was exactly, but he knew that he “had a passion to have a passion.”
LoCascio had many interests at the time but there was one thing above all that had been a part of his life: wine. Growing up, wine wasn’t just something his family drank to wash down their food, it was an integral part of the meal itself. He carried this appreciation of wine with him to college in America and while LoCascio speculates that he was the only wine drinker in his entire dorm, he still had wine with every meal.
When he told his boss at Citi Bank that he was going to quit to start a wine importing business, his boss was so certain that LoCascio would be back that he insisted that LoCascio take a six month leave of absence instead of quitting then and there. Surely someone with such a talent for corporate finance, he was certain, wouldn’t be able to walk away from such a promising career.
In 1980, that’s exactly what LoCascio did. “I guess I didn’t play enough Legos when I was a child because I wanted an opportunity to build a company. I wanted the opportunity to kind of put the pieces together,” he said.
The first piece was securing the wine. LoCascio returned to Sicily and asked his father to help him bring some local wines back with him to America. After a thorough search, LoCascio’s father bankrolled three containers full of Sicilian wines from three different wineries. Winebow was officially in business.
Initially, it was a niche Sicilian wine importer with a handful of salespeople operating out of LoCascio’s garage. The trade, however, quickly came to love this young, energetic newcomer to the scene and Winebow began to grow as a result. They started adding more salespeople and more wines from other parts of Italy and soon were a major importer.
Many things have changed in his 30 years in the wine industry. He discussed the biggest changes in an interview for the Winebow website:

Today, although known for their Italian wines, Winebow carries wines from all across the globe. Three factors distinguish Winebow wines from other imported wines. First, they’re focused on family-owned and operated wineries; wines that, as LoCascio puts it, “has the family name on the bottle.”
Winebow wines also have to reflect the regions in which they’re grown. One taste of these wines should immediately tell you whether they’re from Sicily or Sardinia or Chile or South Africa.
Finally, the wines have to “over-deliver,” meaning they taste like they cost much more than they do. A $15 bottle should taste like a $25 bottle. This is something that Winebow has built a reputation for over the years and have consistently been praised for in the press.

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