2006 Horatio Alger Award Winner
"If you’re not the predator, you’re the prey."
The only child of an Italian immigrant, Anthony Terlato was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1934. Two years before his birth, Terlato's father was forced to close his real estate business due to the Depression. He found work as an insurance agent, but finances were a struggle throughout those early years. The Terlato household included Anthony's widowed maternal grandmother, who was nurturing and loving. His parents valued family and their home was often filled with his father's music and wonderful aromas from the kitchen. "We enjoyed our family gatherings and were appreciative of the time we could spend together," says Terlato. "My father had strong values and was very honest in his business dealings. He believed that he didn't have much to leave his family except his good name, so he protected his reputation. I always admired knowing that about my father."
Throughout his school years, Terlato worked. He delivered newspapers, and when he was older, he worked in a grocery store after school and on weekends, delivering groceries on his bicycle. While in college, he worked as a butcher's helper. He saved his earnings and was able to buy his first car, a 1939 Chevrolet, at the age of 16.
Terlato attended St. Francis College, where he majored in business. He left during his sophomore year, however, for a junior position with a bank in Brooklyn. When he learned that it took a vice president in his bank 20 years to buy his first new car, he realized he wanted a career that would allow him to have more control over his destiny. He left his bank, told his parents he would return in a year, and then drove to Miami to find a job. He worked 16 hours a day as a bellboy in a hotel and then gave up one shift to park cars at another hotel. When the luxurious Fontainebleau Hotel opened, Terlato became their swimming and diving instructor, and also managed several poolside concessions. After earning only $50 a week at the bank, he was earning $300 a week in Florida and thinking of buying a small café.
In 1955, Terlato's father moved to Chicago to open a self-service supermarket-style liquor store. He asked his son to come to Chicago and help open the store, which he agreed to do. Shortly thereafter, Terlato met and married Josephine Paterno, whose father owned a wine bottling business called Pacific Wine Company. Terlato went to work for his father-in-law, but soon realized there was no future in locally bottled California wines. He discovered that few companies in the United States were involved in distributing imported wines, so he began importing French and Italian wines. They were soon out of the bottling business and full time into wine distribution. At the age of 29, Terlato became president of the company.
In the mid-1960s, Terlato focused his efforts on building a national fine wine import company, Paterno Imports. He embarked on a journey across Italy in search of wines that would make this company the most important importer of Italian wines. In 1979, he discovered and introduced Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio to America, which is today the most popular luxury wine in U. S. history. This success earned him the title, Father of Pinot Grigio. For his leadership in introducing fine Italian wines to America, Terlato was conferred the decoration of Cavalier Ufficiale, Motu Proprio in 1984 by Sandro Pertini, president of Italy. He is the first American in the wine industry to receive this honor.
In the late 1980s, Terlato expanded Paterno's portfolio beyond Italian wines to include other prestigious producers from Europe and began to market California-produced wines. Today the company is known as Paterno Wines International, the flagship company of the Terlato Wine Group. Terlato, with his sons in key leadership roles, has become the leading marketer of luxury wines in the United States.
Terlato serves as chairman of the Terlato Wine Group, which in the last 10 years has expanded its wine interests with the purchase of five California wineries: Rutherford Hill, Chimney Rock, Sanford, Alderbrook, and Terlato Vineyards. The Group also has a joint vineyard venture in Australia with renowned French winemaker Michel Chapoutier, which produces Terlato-Chapoutier Shiraz. In addition, the Terlato family launched an international division that now sells their wines in 32 countries around the world. Today, one of every eight bottles of wine sold for more than $14 a bottle in America comes from the Terlato family's portfolio of luxury wines.
When considering his success, Anthony Terlato turns to Ralph Waldo Emerson for inspiration. "I have edited a few of his writings to fit my own view of success," he says. "For me success is to laugh often with your friends; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to remember and respect your promises; to be trusted; to look for the best in others; to love and help your family; to leave the world a better place whether by healthy and well-adjusted children or by helping others accomplish their dreams; to have grandchildren who are proud that they have your name; to lend yourself to social, charitable, and cultural activities; to know that even one person's life has benefited because of your influence; and finally, when you are gone, to be missed."
When addressing young people, Terlato's advice is to "stay focused, be passionate, be honest, dedicate yourself to your work, and be enthusiastic about it. Keep in mind that if you make decisions based on money alone, they are probably going to be bad decisions. Being financially successful is a consequence of doing the right thing. Don't forget, the impossible is what can't be done until someone does it."
Looking back at what he has been able to accomplish in his lifetime, Terlato says, "As a first generation American, I feel fortunate to have a great family that I'm very proud of and to be living in the greatest country in the world. If your dreams are ever going to come true, they're going to come true in the United States."