Turning over a bottle to find the importer can be a great way to explore new varietals and producers, or make a quick call on what to bring home when you’re riddled with indecision at the bottle shop. In this interview series, we’ll be chatting with importers across the country who have different philosophies, markets, and preferences when it comes to the kinds of wines they welcome into their portfolios. We hope that getting to know them leads you to a few new favorites!
At first glance, it might seem that by building a portfolio of wines that come from just one country, an importer has an easier job. In the case of Dalla Terra Winery Direct, that country happens to be Italy, and the task of curating and representing family-owned wineries from Piedmont to Puglia is anything but simple.
Dalla Terra acts as an importer by enabling its distributor partners to buy directly from wineries, a model that means wineries and distributors enjoy higher profit margins, while consumers pay roughly 20 percent less for some of the best Italian wines. It’s the kind of arrangement that aims to create a win-win situation for wineries and consumers, but necessitates that Dalla Terra act as a much closer partner with its portfolio wineries than the traditional importer.
It’s been 32 years since Dalla Terra was founded, and the importer is still going strong with some of the most exciting and respected Italian wineries. We asked president Scott Ades to share his approach to importing, his five must-try bottles, as well as what to expect the next time you come across a wine from the Dalla Terra collection on the shelves of your local bottle shop.
What is your importing philosophy?
We tend to focus on family-owned wineries. That isn’t to say that if it’s not family owned it can’t still be a very good winery, but that’s always been a distinction we’ve tended towards. We like wineries with a clear multigenerational path, because we like to partner with people we’ll be working with for a long period of time.
What kinds of winemakers and wines excite you the most, and why?
We like to work with wineries that are focused on sustainability and committed to being a good steward of the land that they are farming. Because we only represent one winery per appellation across Italy, we need to be really careful –– each wine needs to be a quintessential representation of that appellation. If we don’t get it right, it’s not like we have three more wines that we can offer. We’re always looking for wineries that prioritize quality and an ability to produce consistently. Generally, I’d also say we lean towards wines that are more on the elegant side –– that’s not to say we don’t have wines with power, but elegant is a good descriptor for what we’re excited by.
Who is your target consumer, and how has that evolved over the past three decades?
I would say the wines that we represent as a category were previously typically enjoyed by older consumers, and that’s changing rapidly. Over the last 15 years or so, our demographic has shifted to include younger drinkers; Their tastes are a bit more varied, and those drinkers are much more adventurous today than they were in previous generations. Our wines are, on a relative scale, more expensive, so we’re typically speaking to more affluent, older millennials who are developing a real interest in higher-quality wines.
For someone who’s trying to understand the role an importer plays in the wine businesses, how would you best explain what you do?
There is a ton of wine out there, especially from Italy. Our No. 1 job is finding good wineries to bring to the U.S. but doing that has a lot of layers. We define good wineries as those that can consistently not only make good wine, but can also maintain consistency of supply and price. Once we’ve found that kind winery, our next job is to educate the market on those wines, both the trade, like distributors, retailers, and restaurateurs, and also the consumer. Without that education and storytelling component, everyone would just drink what they know, and no one would drink Nebbiolo or Verdicchio. We do this through seminars and presentations for our distributor salespeople and restaurant partners. We do retail tastings all the time, and now in the past few years, there’s been an explosion of virtual seminars as well, because they can include more consumers and more people can get involved. We’re responsible for creating the information and making it available for the sommelier or retailer that is carrying the wine.
In your view, what sets Dalla Terra apart from other importers?
I think one of the most frustrating things for consumers is reading a review of a wine and then realizing that they can’t find it. Dalla Terra has a very good national distribution network, and we really focus on all of the markets. You can go to Kansas and Oklahoma and find our wines — maybe not every one, but a lot of them.
5 Wines to Try From Dalla Terra
Adami Vigneto Giardino Prosecco
In 1933, Abele Adami made the first-ever single vineyard Prosecco from his Vigneto Giardino nestled in the remarkable hills at the northernmost edge of the Prosecco region. Almost 90 years and four generations later, the Adami family is still making the same wine and setting the benchmark for quality across one of the fastest-growing winemaking regions in the world. To say that the wines the family creates are “just Prosecco” is an understatement; they are some of the most passionately crafted wines in all of Italy.
Cleto Chiarli Vecchia Modena
In the mid-1800s, Cleto Chiarli began making his own wine from the local Lambrusco grapes to serve at his Osteria in Modena. The wine became so popular that he ended up founding the first wine-producing company in Emilia-Romagna, which is now run by the family’s fifth and sixth generations. The story of Lambrusco is intrinsic to the family’s history and they have been instrumental in elevating the quality and reputation of Lambrusco worldwide. Vecchia Modena is made from the Sorbara clone of Lambrusco, and yields a delightfully and surprisingly pink and tart wine. It’s a refreshing contrast to the traditionally red, tannic, and sweet Lambrusco that many are familiar with.
Inama Vin Soave
There is a ubiquitous nature to Soave that has placed it firmly in the annals of the Italian wine world, but there is also a renaissance happening in the region. The Inama family is at the forefront of these exciting times. With an energetic and relentless trio of brothers now running the winery, Inama is unapologetically pushing the boundaries of what is possible in Soave by focusing on sustainable farming, parcel selection, reducing yields, and experimenting with different fermentation methods and vessels. Their Vin Soave is full of their vivacious personalities and is, as they call it, “a little luxury for everyday.”
Selvapiana Chianti Rufina
If you know Federico Giuntini, you adore him, just like you adore his Selvapiana Chianti Rufina if you’ve tried it. The wine has a delightfully rustic backbone that is quintessentially Italian. Rufina is the smallest subzone of Chianti (and also one of the oldest officially recognized wine-producing regions in the world) and Selvapiana is widely regarded as the best of the small number of producers in the region. Dating back to 1827, the cellar still holds bottles from 1948. Today the small estate has 60 hectares of land devoted to organically farmed vines, olive trees, and forest.
Vietti Castiglione Barolo
Throughout Vietti’s storied history they have managed to purchase a portion of every grand cru vineyard across the Barolo region, which is a truly singular feat as their trials included losing a vineyard in WWII and purchasing it back from the church decades later. Their dedication to the region and its traditions have been passed down for four generations. Vietti’s Castiglione Barolo contains a selection from 15 of the best grand cru vineyards across Barolo, making the wine emblematic of the whole area. Year after year, the wine is a remarkable expression of one of the most revered wines in Italy, while also being a remarkable value.