South Florida fans have known Paul Castronovo for more than two decades as the irreverent host of the syndicated Paul & Young Ron Show on local radio, but now he’s trying to parlay that brand recognition into the wine business.
Several chance events during a 2008 vacation in Italy lead Castronovo into creating his own wine label Castronovo Vineyards. It started with a random meeting in a trattoria in the Lake Cuomo area with a wine salesman who introduced Castronovo and his wife Gina to a whole new world of Italian wine varietals. Then came a three-hour drive to Abruzzo to meet the Galasso family, the owner of San Lorenzo winery. The family had no one importing its wine in America and decided Castronovo’s notoriety as a famous radio DJ would be a perfect match, so they spent the day literally wining and dining him.
Castronovo loved the wine, but he knew nothing about the wine business and wasn’t sure he wanted to start. That changed on the plane ride home from Italy when he ended up meeting Bruce Hunter, the president of Shaw-Ross Importers, a division of Southern Wine & Spirits. During the trip, Castronovo and Hunter began working on the beginning of what would eventually lead to a partnership.
“I certainly didn’t go to Italy to start a business,” Castronovo said. “I love wine, but I didn’t know anything about the business. I started calling every guy I know. I didn’t want to stick my name on a label unless it was a great wine.”
The Castronovo Vineyards Montepulciano arrived in Florida in December 2009, sold 1,200 cases during its first year and then doubled in sales the following year. Sales saw a 112 percent jump in 2012 compared to the previous year. Last year, the vineyard introduced a Pecorino, a white wine, which has already been selling out in certain locations. Both wines retail for an average of $15 per bottle. Coming next year is a more expensive reserve wine.
In total, Castronovo Vineyards has sold 4,850 cases. The wine is currently available in 1,100 accounts and in seven states: Florida, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Delaware, Pennsylvania and Illinois. Castronovo wine is on the shelves at major retailers like Total Wine and Publix and on the menu at a diverse group of South Florida restaurants ranging from Joe’s Stone Crab to Anthony’s Coal Fired Pizza.
But it’s still in its early stages of development and the process has been a challenge for Castronovo.
“I thought this would be something that happened overnight and the money would be rolling in,” he said. “The product is rolling out and that’s a good thing. The money will come.”
After chatting with Castronovo about his wine business, we asked him to write out his answers to a few questions:
Q. What have you learned about the wine business?
I’ve learned that I love wine but that there’s way more to the business than just tastings and eating at great restaurants. I also learned that if I don’t work the product it’s not going to be successful. I figured that since people know my name, that restaurants and chefs would simply take a call from me and I would be right on their menus. A chef may love me and the wine, but he may not be the answer man. Find the answer man, the GM, a corporate guy and get him to taste the product. Then they may add the wine, but will it be by the bottle or the glass? By the glass is where the volume is, and that’s not an easy position to get on a menu.