Lexington wholesaler helps bring a non-migraine red wine to Kentucky

jpatton1@herald-leader.comDecember 16, 2013 

With the holidays almost upon us, who needs another headache?

Veglio Michelino e Figlio, a red wine from Italy, promises a dinner party without the prospect of a migraine the next day.

The wine, which is sold in the United States through Richmond distributor Di Vino Wholesalers, was vetted by the Norway-based MigrainePolice.com as unlikely to cause headaches in the vast majority of migraine sufferers. MigrainePolice.com used a grant from the Norwegian government to find a winery to develop a wine with far fewer headache-inducing histamines and other ingredients.

They found the vineyard in Piedmont, Italy. Veglio Michelino e Figlio is available now at Liquor Barn and Kroger Wine and Spirits stores; in January, it will be on shelves across Kentucky.

How did an Italian wine, developed by a Norwegian organization, end up on shelves in Kentucky?

In 2007, Sergio Sgro, owner of Di Vino, started distributing wines imported from Italy by his father, Gesino Sgro, owner of Bacco Wine and Spirit in Lancaster, Pa.

An Italian immigrant and former steelworker, Sgro senior wanted to bring the food and wines of his homeland to a wider audience in America.

Growing up, Sergio Sgro said, his friends would always comment on how much better the food was at his house. He didn't realize that their food was anything special, at the time.

Sergio, who teaches applied engineering management at Eastern Kentucky University, decided to try selling wines here.

"It turned into a passion," Sergio Sgro said. "We specialize in small, family-owned wineries out of Italy. We have relationships with each and every brand we have. It's not just, 'Here is a bottle of wine;' it's a livelihood."

The Sgros work with small Italian vineyards to bring in about 40 wines, including Veglio's Moscato d'Asti, which sells particularly well at Liquor Barn, Sergio Sgro said.

"Another one taking off is a real fun wine, Cantine Francesco Montagna's Sangue di Giuda. It's a sweet, red fizzy wine. It literally translates to 'Blood of Judas,'" Sgro said. (It's a little unclear where the name comes from; Sgro said the winery attributes it to an Italian legend that Judas became a winemaker for penance.)

"The other very popular wines are our signature wines — 'The Stick' wines — Italo Cescon," Sgro said. Each bottle is tied with a small stick, a piece of the tralcetto or prunings off the grape vines, so buyers can find the right bottles.

"I call it the 'total package wine.' I can sell you something that looks good, but if the juice inside isn't good, you won't buy it again," Sgro said. "This juice is good. The packaging is old-world beautiful. And the pricing is perfect."

Gary Dornberg, owner of Corner Wine on Euclid, said customers have had a Cescon at a party and have come in asking for the wine with the stick.

"We'll sell over 100 cases a year of 'The Stick," Dornberg said. "It sells itself, really. This one brings them back."

That's a far cry from the early days.

When Sgro started his business in 2007, Monty's Spirits in Richmond let him set up his first tasting.

"I had no idea what I was doing," Sgro said. "I would say, 'Would you like to taste some wine?' and they would say 'No.' Or 'I don't drink wine.' I said to my wife, 'We're going to have to sell this one bottle at a time.'"

So they did.

"I would follow people around the store and make them taste it," Sgro said.

But it paid off. "Once they taste, it's OK," Sgro said.

Now his wholesale business is growing, expanding the lineup of Italian offerings to include espresso, pasta, olive oil and Italian condiments.

"When I got here, I thought there wasn't that much Italian going on here. Everyone always wants the authentic experience," Sgro said. "When you get to the fundamental Italian meal, it isn't as complex as we have made it here. It's much more natural."

■ For more information on the wines, go to Divinowholesale.com.

Janet Patton: (859) 231-3264. Twitter: @janetpattonhl.

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