Vinifera Imports Ltd.
For Dominic Nocerino, founder and owner of Vinifera Imports Ltd., finding premium and top-quality wines is more than a passion, but also an obsession. “I love this business and I think about wine 24 hours a day,” he says. For the last 36 years Nocerino has been building relationships with some of the world’s premier wine makers, positioning his family-owned company as a top-tier importer of Italian wines. Based in Ronkonkoma, New York, Vinifera now imports and distributes fine wines in up to 30 states nationwide.
Investing in what's inside the bottle
Since Nocerino set up his first single-office operation in Chicago, there’s been one focal point for Vinifera: quality. “The word compromise doesn’t exist in my vocabulary when it comes to Vinifera’s products,” says Nocerino. “From day one, I’ve only gone to the very best producers.”
After building relationships with suppliers across the Atlantic for several decades, Nocerino has formed a longstanding network of some of Italy’s top 35 to 40 wineries. “Our name really stands for quality,” he assures. “There are a lot of cheap ‘commercial’ wines out there and wineries that cut corners and use cheap ingredients. It’s funny because today, people are so careful about what they eat, but many consumers have no idea what they’re drinking. This is because in the U.S., many people still don’t understand what makes a good quality wine.”
Since founding Vinifera, Nocerino’s mission has been to share his knowledge and passion for quality wine with his customers. “Since our inception, we’ve chosen to invest in what’s inside the bottle, with a clear vision of quality as we promote boutique wines of distinction,” says Nocerino. “At every price point, our wines consistently offer outstanding value.”
Building national business
Born just outside of Naples, Italy, Nocerino’s first passion was soccer at 5 years old. He wanted to play at the professional level, but when the team negotiations went awry, he ended up traveling from Italy to France and finally to Chicago’s South Side.
His first beverage sales job was in Chicago. “I started selling wine in 1972,” recounts Nocerino, I sold French, German and Italian wines while working for an importing company. At the end of 1979, I started my own company, Vinifera Imports Ltd. in Wheaton, Illinois. The move to New York was in 1985.”
Today, Vinifera has expanded to include a national distribution network, serving retail shops, boutique wine stores and restaurants in all major commercial markets across 30 states. Vinifera operates a 50,000-square-foot temperature-controlled warehouse in Ronkonkoma, New York, and the company’s portfolio offers unparalleled depth and range of choice in the best vintages and boutique Italian wines.
This is the result of relationships Nocerino has been cultivating for years. “I travel to Italy about every six weeks,” he says. “Overall, I’m usually there for two to three months out of the year. I meet our producers face to face and try new wines. We tend to look for small-batch producers and I normally meet them through our friends I have in the industry.”
Sharing a family passion
Vinifera prides itself on these relationships and a portfolio including individual wine styles from local climates, indigenous grape varietals and wide-ranging selection. “We represent 35 to 40 top wineries in Italy,” he adds. “Many of these producers have been with us since the beginning. Our producers are even better than the wine and the wine is amazing; they’re wonderful, passionate people.”
In an industry dominated by a handful of conglomerates, Nocerino says Vinifera takes great pride in remaining small and family owned. “In this industry an overwhelming amount of business is done by four to five top companies, so it’s really not an easy industry to stay afloat in, but at the end of the day our passion and love for wine really shows.”
Nocerino is joined by his son Dom Nocerino, who’s been working with Vinifera for a little over six years, but has been around the business since he started walking. “He has a love for the business too,” says Nocerino.
Even with much larger, national competition, Nocerino says he is optimistic in the economic and long-term viability of Vinifera. “I see positive growth in the next 10 to 20 years,” he says. “I think there’s going to be a shift among consumers, much like there has been with food. People want to go out and eat better and also drink better.”
By focusing on Italian wines, Nocerino says Vinifera does one thing, but does it exceptionally well. “We’ve intentionally elected to specialize in Italian wines and not expand to other countries,” he says. Staying in this niche business, Vinifera Imports Ltd. continues a family tradition and passion for sourcing the very best, boutique Italian wines.