A Career Leap: From Working With A Large Wine Company To Co-Owning A Small Italian Wine Importer

Scott Ades has a very impressive resume that ranges from investment banker to overseeing human resources management software and services for corporate and brokerage businesses to being COO of a national fine wine and spirits distributor in the US. Scott had it all, both on his resume and in life, as he was “really happy” where he had ended up professionally and had no desire to leave. But sometimes, when one is comfortable, he doesn’t know what he misses out on until much later in life when it is too late.

A very unconventional small wine and spirits importer would end up taking Scott on another path that, in some ways, was much more challenging yet, in other ways, immensely more rewarding.

Dalla Terra Winery Direct 

Dalla Terra Winery Direct lineup of wines
Photo Credit: Cathrine Todd

The wine importer, Dalla Terra Winery Direct, specializes in small Italian wine producers and much of their portfolio includes esoteric wines that are well-respected by top sommeliers around the country.

A traditional importer buys the wines from the wineries and then sells them to a distributor that can make placements in restaurants and retail stores across the US. In this situation, the traditional importer will markup the wines’ wholesale price as high as possible to make the most money. In many cases, when a wine producer from another country sees the final retail price at a store or restaurant in the US, which can be a shock when comparing what the importer bought it for as opposed to the final price, the producer doesn’t know how much margin the importer added versus how much margin the distributor and then retail store added. It can deeply bother a small producer, who often is in the dark regarding their wines’ pricing, as they are often persuaded to sell their wines to the importer for a lot less, as they are desperate to get into the US market. In contrast, the importer could have added significantly more to their wines’ price.  

Dalla Terra is more of a “national agent” in the way they operate, according to Scott. They represent all of the wineries in the United States, like any other importer, except their business model is based on what he feels to be a much more symbiotic relationship.

The wineries sell directly to the distributors so they ultimately decide the price. Of course, Dalla Terra represents them in these agreements with these distribution companies as Dalla Terra not only has long-standing relationships with these companies, they can also advise the wine producers on reasonable pricing that doesn’t price the producers out of the market but allows them to make as much money as possible. Dalla Terra also works with the producers to promote their wines in the marketplace yet it is always the wine producers’ money paying for the promotion.

If the wine producers sell more wines, Dalla Terra makes more as they work on commission. And so, it is always in the best interest of Dalla Terra to ensure that the producers make the most money while also selling out their wines. Scott has worked the numbers and says that if a traditional importer brought in the wines in the Dalla Terra portfolio, the final prices for the wines in restaurants and retailers would be around 20% higher, and so, consumers are benefiting as well.

How did Scott, a man with top-level positions at big companies, end up at a small business?

Brian Larky
Photo Credit:
Dalla Terra Winery Direct

Dalla Terra was started in 1990 by Brian Larky, a man who is rooted in working in the wine cellars of Napa Valley wineries, as he fell hopelessly in love with Italy when he worked at a winery in the Italian wine region of Lombardy. For him, it was all about getting to know the people and living the Italian lifestyle of spending time with good people, drinking wonderful wine and eating delicious food. He wanted to spend a significant amount of time in Italy to be part of the Italian community so he started a wine import business that was entirely transparent for the wine producers. Also, Brian had ensured that there is no in-fighting between his wineries since they carry only one producer representing a specific wine-producing area of Italy.

Through time, Dalla Terra made a strong name with distributors and wine buyers looking for something different and unique in the Italian wine world. Scott Ades was Chief Operating Officer for a large distributor with a sizeable premium Italian wine portfolio that distributed wines from Dalla Terra and he knew Brian and the former president of Brian’s company. Once the former president retired, Scott was approached about coming to Dalla Terra to fill that role but he was happy where he was and it never occurred to him to ever leave. Yet he could not help but think there would be a day when he turned 60 and he might regret not taking that leap when he was still young enough to do so. He decided to join Dalla Terra if he could be a co-owner as well as president.

Symbiotic Relationship

Brian Larky and Scott Ades
Photo Credit: Dalla Terra Winery Direct

Although Scott had all of the sales and operations of a large wine and spirits company as part of his duties when he was COO yet during his first year of Dalla Terra, over six years ago, he worked twice as hard than at his previous job. And it is undoubtedly challenging times for small importers and small wine producers as Covid, transportation issues and the whole way people work has been turned on its head. But he wouldn’t change anything as working for Dalla Terra has brought more meaning to his work.

“We talk more about ourselves like a family,” noted Scott, regarding the employees at Dalla Terra and the wineries. Now, when he travels to Italy to visit with his wine producers, it is the best kind of family to visit as everything is above the board and any type of success is mutually beneficial. Scott proudly smiles, “The people we represent care about us, and we care about them.” And his previous journey of knowing the ins and outs of the realities of the fiercely competitive world is an excellent asset to his wine family and he gets to finally transition his career where he is making genuine relationships for life.

Link to original Forbes article: http://damewine.com/2023/09/a-career-leap-from-working-with-a-large-wine-company-to-co-owning-a-small-italian-wine-importer/

Lineup of Dalla Terra Winery Direct wines
Photo Credit: Cathrine Todd

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