A decade and a half ago, Andrew Vingiello sipped from a bottle of Pinot Noir that would forever change his life. A successful buy-side trader for a San Francisco-based financial services firm, he had never considered a career in the wine business. Still, “I was blown away by that bottle of wine. I’d never had something so genuine before,” he said.
An adept researcher, a skill honed by a 17-year career in finance, Vingiello started studying California-based vineyards and winemakers. Soon after, a well-known winemaker in Santa Barbara opened its doors to Vingiello, allowing him to work the harvest, meet other local winemakers and growers, and get an insider’s view of the business.
Vingiello was hooked.
Then Gary Franscioni, a well-known, high-quality pinot noir farmer in the Santa Lucia valley, offered to sell Vingiello some grapes. “It was an offer I couldn’t refuse,” Vingiello said.
While balancing his day job, Vingiello established his winery, A.P. Vin, in 2003. He created 150 cases of his very first vintage and it won the acclaim of several well-known publications. Just two years later, he fully dedicated himself to his new passion, transitioning to a career as a full-time winemaker.
Creating an urban winery
In 2005, Vingiello moved his operation to downtown San Francisco, a city rich with wine history. Once the hub of the domestic wine business, the industry was rocked by the great earthquake and subsequent fire of 1906, and then again in 1920 by Prohibition. When A.P. Vin opened its doors almost a century later, it joined just one other inner-city winemaker.
Today, Vingiello contracts with seven select California vineyards to create unique, small-lot pinot noir. “I only do single vineyard pinots. I stand out in the pinot world for doing that,” he said. “When people come there, they are surprised that we can do this in the middle of the city. No one would guess we’re in the middle of San Francisco.”
Building a brand
A.P. Vin’s brand is built upon the creation of superior wines and the close relationships built with its customers. “I’m the ultimate one-man show. I don’t have any employees.” That means he is A.P. VIN’s sole winemaker, but it also means he’s his customers’ main point of contact. Respond to his customer newsletter, and you won’t reach a marketing department. You’ll chat with Vingiello, himself.
Vingiello markets his wines to upscale restaurants in Chicago, Miami and other large cities, but he pays special attention to his direct customers, who get exclusive access to specialty wines that his vineyard produces. They’ll get to sample a new vintage before it goes public. “I treat my mailing list like gold,” he said. “They’re my most important clients.”
As for the wine, it’s been widely acclaimed. Wine Spectator magazine scored five 2014 A.P. Vin wines, made from grapes from four different wine valleys, as 90 and above. “I’ve been very lucky with accolades for my wine,” said Vingiello. “The greatest advertising I can have is a great review from Wine Spectator.”
Thoughts on a second act
Most important for budding winemakers, Vingiello suggests, is to build connections within the business. Find vineyards to work with. Get to know distributors. Build relationships with restaurateurs. “The hardest part is selling the wine. Any edge in making those relationships is critical.”
For those with a similar passion, he suggests starting young. Vingiello warned, “You only get one shot per year to make wine. If you start later in life, you may only have 40-50 opportunities to hone your craft.”
While his new business isn’t as lucrative as his old career, Vingiello couldn’t be happier. “I miss the paycheck, but I love the freedom of being my own boss and being able to craft wines,” he said. Plus, “wine brings people together,” he added. What could be better than helping to make that happen?
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©First Republic Bank 2016