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Taste Makers

One of the few fourth-generation wine companies in the United States, Terlato International Wines is poised to break
the mold—again.

Bill, John and Tony Terlato in their Lake Bluff corporate headquarters, a 1916 61-room Tudor gothic mansion

Brooklyn-born Anthony Terlato began his career stacking boxes in his father’s grocery/liquor store, Leading Liquor Marts, on Chicago’s north side in the 1950s, before joining Anthony Paterno (his father-in-law-to-be) at Pacific Wine Co., the first Illinois distributor for the inexpensive Portuguese wine Lancers. Fast-forward 50-plus years, and Terlato has built his own Terlato International Wines into a highly respected global company that owns and partners with multiple wineries in California and abroad, imports more than 60 brands from countries spanning the globe (from Europe to Argentina to New Zealand) and markets one of every 10 bottles of wine over $14 sold in the U.S. NS sat down with Terlato and his two sons, Bill and John, who head up the Lake Bluff-based Terlato empire, to find out about their expansion into the spirits realm and what it’s like to work with family—every day.

How did a boy from Brooklyn selling jug wine for 59 cents a gallon work his way into a position of global leadership in the wine trade?
TT: At one point, I wanted to leave my job at Anthony Paterno’s store because I knew I didn’t want to be famous for doing a great job selling cheap wine. I told him that I wanted to sell important wines, so that’s what we did. And I’ve been lucky all my life.

Tell us about Terlato Wines today and where you see it going in the future.
TT: There are only three other wine businesses in the United States that are fourth generation or older. Someday, I want us to be the longest running generational business within the wine industry. My granddaughter, Jo Terlato, just joined the business this year, and my grandson, Anthony Terlato Jr., is now starting to work for our distributors, Southern Wine and Spirits of Illinois.
BT: Artisan spirits are starting to become like fine wine, and we just launched our new Artisan Spirits portfolio, starting with Langley’s No. 8 gin, Tigre Blanc vodka and Marnier Cognac. We want to create a market for differentiated artisan spirit beverages for the luxury consumer. It’s at this high level that we thrive.
JT: On the business side, I want to create a bigger footprint and let the world know what we are doing in our wineries and to make wines as good as the wines we market. My personal goal is to demystify wine drinking so that people are more comfortable with their wine choices.

How is it to work alongside family every day?
TT: Having your children work for you can be either the best thing or the worst thing. For me, nothing could be better. I see them every day, and I see my grandchildren often. It is important to me to know that the company will go on when I am no longer around.
BT: I love it, and I won’t let my dad retire. He’s a wealth of knowledge with an unbelievable palate.
JT: I’m the luckiest guy in the world. I first worked outside of the business after graduating from law school. Here, we all agree to listen to each other and leave our egos at the door. Afterward, we leave the discussion behind us and move forward.

Terlato Family North Shore Favorites
Concerts at the Ravinia Festival, waterskiing and playing golf in Lake Geneva, cooking with family and friends at home on the North Shore on weekends