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Wine Wholesaler Uncorks Her Spirit

By Cindy Atoji Keene

"Wine is Sunlight, held together by water” – this is the email signature used by Judith F McDonough, a Boston-based wine wholesaler who last year founded Mariposa Fine Wine and Spirits. McDonough is one of the few female wine wholesalers in the state angling her way into a traditional male-dominated market. “With the state's byzantine regulations, it hasn’t been an easy road but I’ve persevered and gotten my fine Italian wines placed with restaurants and retailers and the future is looking bright,” said McDonough, a former national sales rep for gourmet food products who decided to expand her portfolio to include wine.

Q: What type of wines from Italy do you represent?
A: Italy has 3,000 indigenous grapes and many of these regions are identified with specific wines. I represent award-winning wines from small vineyards; elegant boutique wines of great value not previously sold in the U.S. My niche is currently five Italian regions, Friuli, Lombardy, Calabria, Piedmont and Puglia. I have wines like Franciacorta, which is refined sparkling Italian wine – Italy's answer to France's champagne.

Q: What do you do as a wine wholesaler?
A: Massachusetts is the fourth largest consumer of Italian wines in the U.S. I’m sanctioned by the Commonwealth with a license to sell wine – not directly to consumers, but to hotels, restaurants, convenience stores, specialty grocery stores and caterers with a liquor license. I get my wine from the winery, supplier or vendor and then call on sommeliers, chefs, managers, and other distributors. It’s hard work, but I also get to taste wine and talk about it for a living. I also organize wine tastings, and other events to promote wine.

Q: Describe a typical sales call.
A: I carry a nice segmented tote bag that holds 12 bottles of wine and I am also permitted to transport up to 10 cases in my vehicle. I’ll recommend wines in my portfolio that best enhance a client’s menu. When we begin tasting, I uncork the wine and am the first to sample. I look at the work, smell the wine, pour it in the glass and aerate it by swirling – it’s called snuffing – then spit. I’ll make sure the wine is showing and tasting properly.

Q: How does one get a license to sell wine?
A: The Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission (ABCC) requires a copious amount of documentation to be filed, as well as an interview, financial review, criminal background check, and necessary fees. They want to know where the wine will be stored; how you’re being funded; origin of the wines, and other details. I am storing my wine in a public warehouse in Mansfield that has been approved by the ABCC; according to blue laws, this warehouse must be three miles from a church or school.

Q: Why has wine wholesaling been a male-dominated market up till now?
A: I have no idea but it’s been all about the old boys club. A lot of businesses are very loyal to their current distributor and won’t consider a new face. It’s very difficult as a female to bring in wines that have never been tried before. A lot of New Englanders don’t like change. But you have to be tough, and you can’t take “no” for an answer.

Q: What’s your favorite wine?
A: That’s a very tough question. I love Old World wines that have a varied character, balance of components, complexity and a sense of place, such as Ugo Lequio, Barbaresco, Chiaromonte, and Riserva.

Q: What’s your go-to sales outfit?
A: Always an elegant dress and great shoes (La Petite Robe di Chiara Boni, Elie Tahari). If I’m delivering wine, I’ll wear leggings or jeans, a great shirt and leather jacket and boots. I like effortless ease.

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