It’s a story as old as the Tuscan rolling hills: American girl goes to Italy, falls in love with wine, goes back and falls in love with a winemaker. It’s East Hampton native Summer Wolff’s story and the latest chapter involves a wine importing business, Indie Wineries, that is bringing the products of small, usually one-man, operations to the United States. That idea started with a sip of barbera, one of the main grapes of the Piedmont region in Italy.
“It was like, ‘oh my god, this is so good,’” says Wolff, who at the time was working in sales at Sokolin while living in Italy. “I thought, ‘I have to get this wine to my customers!’”
The wine’s creator, however, was hesitant. He’d tried to sell in the U.S. before and had come away from the experience with a distrust of importers. And as a small business, he could ill afford to enter into another losing proposition. Wolff persisted because she found the wine so compelling, mostly because the winemaker did everything, from tending the vines, ushering the must through fermentation, blending, bottling, labeling and sales. They’ve only been touched by one set of hands.
“You meet the producer and you get the wine even more,” she says. “The wines reflect the person.”
A few meetings with established importers left Wolff depressed about the prospect of getting the wine to market. She had started to feel protective of the winemakers she was meeting and despairing of the fact that their wines might end up on the tables of people who knew nothing about who made them. Finally, she said, “I’ll just have to do this myself.” She needed a partner in New York and recalled Christian Troy, whom she knew from her days as the wine director at Teller’s restaurant. Troy worked as a salesman for other importers and lived in Springs. “He quit his nice paying job to make no money for a few years,” says Wolff.
But it has paid off. The business, Indie Wineries, launched in January 2011 and has gone from two employees to six and from 10 accounts to 200 with distribution in 13 states.Wolff thinks she’s never going to get rich, as the producers she represents don’t make enough wine. “But it’s what we say,” she adds. “Passion first.” That extends to the home front. Wolff is now importing the wine made by the man who produced that first sip of barbera, Fabrizio Iuli. “It’s impossible not to fall in love with these wines,” she says.
Reader, she’s marrying him.
Categories: Edible Entrepreneurs