The Wine Maker (Supplier)
By day, attorney Mark A. Tobin works as a real-estate attorney at the Akerman law firm in downtown Miami, where he is a partner. Tobin specializes in eminent domain and property-rights cases. When not using the law to protect individual constitutionally protected property rights, Tobin can often be found toiling in the vineyard he and his wife, Christine, own.
Mattebella Vineyards — named for the Tobins’ two children, Matthew (Matteo in Italian) and Isabella — is a 22-acre spread with a wine-tasting cottage in one of New York’s oldest towns, Southold; it’s on Long Island, where Christine is from. The vineyard has an annual production of 2,000 cases of European-style wines. It produces artisanal wines in a sustainable manner, with all operations by hand. Mark is the winemaker and Christine runs the vineyard.
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“We’re focusing on the quality of our business in our wine garden instead of trying to be in every wine shop in the country,” Tobin told the Miami Herald.
According to Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate, the quality of their wines is astounding. This year, three of Mattebella’s wines received gold medals in the blind tasting at The Wine Advocate Competition, with the 2007 and 2011 Old World Blends winning 90 points and the 2010 Old World Blend topping out at 92 points.
Early on, Mattebella provided wine to several of Miami’s premier restaurants, including Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink and Azul at the Mandarin Oriental. But bringing the wine to Florida through a distributor — with the risks inherent to shipping a perishable product in the Miami heat — proved too costly. So today, 90 percent of Mattebella’s sales come from people who visit the vineyard to create a memory centered on tasting wine and selecting a bottle.
Tobin says many Floridians have participated in that experience and can order his wine online.
“The positive side of dealing with Florida,” he says, “is South Florida is the sixth borough of New York.”
Location: 46005 Route 25 (Main Road), Southold, N.Y., 11971
Founded: 2005, and the winery’s tasting cottage opened in 2011
Management: Mark A. Tobin, a partner at the Akerman law firm in Miami, and his wife, Christine
Customers: At one point, the vineyard provided local Miami restaurants such as Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink and Azul at the Mandarin Oriental. Today, vineyard visits constitute the main business.
Wines offered: Red, rose and white wines, ranging in price from $20 to $70.
Formerly a subsidiary of the mega-distributor Southern Wine & Spirits of America, Shaw-Ross International Importers is impressive in its own right. Shaw-Ross represents some of the most sought-after labels in the business.
From memory, Shaw-Ross General Manager Bruce Hunter, provided a partial list of the 32 brands the company represents. Their names are well known to the public:
“We have Reál Sangria, the No. 1 imported Sangria; Whispering Angel from France; GatoNegro, one of the top Chilean wines in the U.S. market; Ron Barceló from the Dominican Republic; Pusser’s Rum, a British Navy rum; Pisco Capel, a brandy from Chile; Glengoyne single-malt scotch,” Hunter says. The list includes anything from fine wines to every imaginable spirit — except vodka. “We’re looking for a vodka,” he says. “It’s a very competitive market. It’s a great market, with huge volume. You have to have something that has a unique selling proposition.” By that, Hunter means that the vodka has to stand out amid all the Russian, flavored and artistically-bottled vodkas already on the market.
As of next month, Shaw-Ross will add Gekkeikan Sake to its portfolio. The 400-year-old company is based in the Fushimi district of Japan’s former capital of Kyoto. The company, which makes premium sake and plum wine, also has a brewery in Folsom, California, and sells roughly half a million cases in this country every year, according to Shaw-Ross managing director Bruce Hunter.
Shaw-Ross hopes to expand the sake market for its client by actively working with restaurants to develop a client base and broader appreciation for sake.
“We’re bringing sake into the mainstream,” Hunter says. “It’s delightful with any kind of seafood, like a Chardonnay or Pinot Grigio. We’re working with our wholesale partners and going to the restauranteurs and teaching them about sake.”
Inroads already exist at various Fort Lauderdale restaurants, Hunter says, explaining that Gekkeikan is available at Grille 401, which serves American fare; Blue Moon Fish Co., which specializes in seafood; Mama Mia, an Italian restaurant, and Foxy Brown, a bistro with a wine bar.
Gekkeikan, which means “crown of laurel” in Japanese, uses a green wreath similar to those the ancient Greeks won at the Olympics for a logo. Its labels also stand out as bold and uncluttered. A great product and a compelling label are two of the most important elements to creating and sustaining a loyal customer, Hunter maintains.
“The label is very important,” he says. “Approximately 70 percent of the wines are purchased by women, and you need to have something. Everybody’s not a wine expert. You go to ABC or Crown. You see a crowded field of labels. It has to be attractive, easy to read, easy to pronounce. That gives people the incentive to pick it up.”
Then it’s all up to the quality of the product as to whether the customer returns. Hunter agrees, adding, “You do have to have the quality.”
Shaw-Ross International Importers
Location: 2400 SW 145th Ave., Second Floor, Miramar
Management: Managing Director Bruce Hunter
Brands: Shaw-Ross represent 32 suppliers, with brands as diverse as Blue Nun, Glengoyne Highland Single Malt Whisky, and Pusser’s Rum.
Annual sales: 2.5 million cases of wine and spirits a year.
Although Southern Wine & Spirits declined to participate in this article, the company is worth mentioning because not only is its headquarters in Miami, it is also the biggest wine and liquor distributor in the world. According to the company website, more than 14,500 people work for SWS, which caters to more than 180,000 customers in 35 states, and more than 100 million cases have been shipped throughout the country since the company’s inception in 1968.
SWS helped underwrite the cost of The Southern Wine and Spirits Beverage Management Center, which opened in 1999 on Florida International University’s Biscayne Bay Campus in North Miami. The center features a 2,000-bottle wine cellar and a modern tasting classroom that includes sinks at every seat (instead of spittoons). It is in the Chaplin School of Hospitality and Tourism Management, named for SWS Chairman Harvey R. Chaplin.
In October, SWS put the finishing touches on its nearly 1.1 million-square-foot warehouse in Lakeland, a $55 million facility with 60-foot-tall ceilings, and the capacity to ship 22 million cases annually, up from the 13.5 million cases shipped last year. “The Lakeland facility will also deliver all of SWS’ Florida case volume,” an article in the Lakeland Ledger stated.
A source familiar with the Lakeland facility noted that SWS was using “400,000 square feet of warehouse space up until last month, right here in Miami.” That warehouse had been part of SWS since 1968, but the company had expanded so much that it simply needed more space, the source maintained. It remains unclear what SWS plans to do locally, but another source gave assurances that the company intends to keep its headquarters in Miami.
Southern Wine & Spirits of America, Inc.
Location: 1600 NW 163rd St., Miami
Management: (according to the Florida Division of Corporations) Chairman Harvey R. Chaplin, CEO Wayne E. Chaplin, Vice Presidents Lee F. Hager, Melvin A. Dick, Steven R. Becker, and Director Paul B. Chaplin
Brands: (according to analysis by Hoovers) SWS represents 1,500+ wine, beer and spirits suppliers worldwide and handles roughly 5,000 brands. Many of the brands are household names, including SKYY Vodka, Campari, and Wild Turkey Straight Kentucky Bourbon.
Revenues: (according to Forbes magazine):
$11.9 billion in 2014
Christmas Eve is the happiest time of the year for Pete Izaguirre at Pantry Liquors in Miami. It’s also the most profitable.
“The 24th is our biggest day,” Izaguirre says. “They party. Roast their pig. A lot of that is for gift-giving.”
The next busiest day is New Year’s Eve, followed by Thanksgiving, he says. He specializes in spirits.
“This is really a spirits store — 65 percent spirits, 25 percent wine and 10 percent beer,” he says, explaining that 90 percent of the beer is imported. “Dade County line is the cutoff for domestic beer. South of the Dade County line, Heineken is No. 1, Corona No. 2, and Beck’s No. 3.”
Izaguirre calls his place a neighborhood store that sticks to the traditional, as opposed to trendy. His clientele is mostly Latin, and they tend to buy white wine at Thanksgiving, with California wine the most popular. That’s followed by wines from Spain, Argentina and Chile, in that order.
“I deal with an older crowd,” he says. “I don’t have what you call them [Gen] ‘X.’ I don’t have much of that around here.”
However, Generation X has influenced the evolution of the liquor industry, and the package store, as well, Izaguirre says.
“It used to be scotch, vodka, rum,” he says. “That’s not the way it is anymore. The clubs started making these innovative drinks. They’ve created excitement in the industry.”
Case in point was a recent Ketel One Vodka mixologist who created Bloody Mary drinks during a recent lunch in Wynwood. “Normally, you take Bloody Mary mix, put it in a glass and add vodka,” he says. “This guy was adding powders, and he made a heck of a Bloody Mary.”
The new approach to drinking increases sales, Izaguirre says, adding that in turn calls for expansion.
“It takes up space in the store,” he says of the liquor stock and displays. “It requires the retailer to have a bigger space. We’ve expanded the store three times. We opened in 1980. We took over the pizzeria next door five years later.”
Ultimately his store tripled in size from 1,500 square feet to 4,500 square feet. And size does matter.
“We are able to compete with all the big chains,” he says, “like Total Wines and ABC (Fine Wine & Spirits).”
Location: 12846 SW Eighth St., Miami
Owner: Pete Izaguirre
Annual gross sales:
$5 million to $6 million