06/21/2011 04:58 pm ET | Updated Aug 21, 2011

The Big Man Behind the Little Wine Company

In a city as competitive as New York, small wine distributors flood the marketplace. At first glance, this situation may seem counter-intuitive to the distribution consolidation that has taken place around the United States. The New York market, as well as much of the Northeast, has always been driven by imported brands along with California and domestic wines. Great eastern restaurant cities like Boston and New York demand small artisanal producers, and wine collectors and ethnic neighborhoods need retail selections that satisfy their demands. Specialty and boutique distributors have looked to find their niche, as the larger distributors need to concentrate on the larger more commercial brands that help to grow their business exponentially, nationally.

One of the local New York distribution success stories is the Little Wine Company, owned by Danny D'Ancona and Paul Bacsik. Danny, a great salesman, has been living and breathing the wine business since starting in 1978. His great knowledge and passion rub off on the accounts that share that passion.

Companies such as the Little Wine Company do not carry products that could satisfy the whole marketplace. They specialize with stores and restaurants that deal with more focused boutique products, that represent the region they are selected from.

Danny started in the business as a clerk at Golden Wine & Spirits in Bayside, Queens.

Wine did not have the popularity it does now, and it was the enthusiasm of an assistant manager at the store, Frank DeFranscesco, who taught me about German and California wines. Then I discovered Hugh Johnson's The World Atlas of Wine, and started tasting some of the wines I was learning about. My brother Phil and I really started to get into wine.

From his starting point, Danny ended up managing the store, and ultimately left to work in the wine distribution business as a salesman. He developed contacts with restaurants, stores, and hotels that still form the backbone of his business today. Distributors are a middle tier of the supply chain; wineries, importers (sometimes), distributors (some distributors double as importers), retail (including restaurants, stores, and hotels) and then finally, the end customer. Some wineries are making inroads with direct sales through the internet, in states that allow for it. Still, the least recognized cog in the machine, at least from a public perception, is the distribution business.

Restaurant and wine retail store buyers in large markets have a tremendous amount of choices to make to stock their shelves. Danny reflected on some key elements that had effected change.

Liquor stores were once a cash business, and the allowance of credit really helped. The second major change was from the suppliers to distributors. As the suppliers focused on a national sales plan, they went from having what were referred to as 'dual' or multiple distributors in a market, to 'exclusives' or a single distributor. Lastly, the Steven Spurrier tasting of 1976 changed the types of wines the public was demanding, and they were increasingly demanding more wine. First California wines, then domestic wines from all over, then other countries that were not just the western European countries...

The Little Wine Company was formed by a chance conversation between Danny, who at the time was a fine wine manager at a large distributor, and his soon-to-be partner Paul, who was a top restaurant salesperson with great restaurant contacts. Paul simply said to Danny, they could do this (distributing business) themselves. Danny agreed, and soon after, in October of 2003, they were in business.

Some of the key elements that made it possible for them to start were their vast market contacts, and some very important French and Italian suppliers that committed. The national and state compliance laws are a ball of confusion. The complexity of these laws are the downfall of many small import and distribution companies. USA Wine, a company that specialized in support systems that also include warehousing, trucking, billing, and collecting, allowed The Little Wine Company, and allows other boutique companies, to concentrate on their portfolios and their sales.

Danny and Paul represent producers and importers they admire. Peter Franus is someone Danny has leaned on for his thirty plus years of insightful wisdom in California winemaking, and the California wine business. Robert Kacher, whose industry leading French discoveries made the US market aware of such regions as Costieres de Nimes and Gascony, provided wines that were instrumental for the credibility of the upstart company. Armando Fastelli produces old school traditional "honest" Brunello, meaning no scandals, no controversy, just great Brunello at fair pricing. Paul Pernot has sixty years of making well-balanced white and red Burgundy wines.

The Little Wine Company built a portfolio based on Old World wines, some west coast boutiques, and are always on the lookout for great unusual discoveries. Their portfolio selections are found on the wine lists and shelves of the finest stores and restaurants throughout the New York metropolitan area.

With all of the market changes, the economy, and all of the trends and fads that have influenced the wine consumption patterns of customers, where will the wine market go?

Danny believes,

The industry will go where the economy goes. Look for casual restaurants with great cooking. Look for wines and spirits that are not standard brands. Look for a new breed of retailer that specializes in wines that are generally thought to be the best of their type. Still, sales are getting tougher and more competitive. I am finding it harder to get in front of the buying decision makers.

What will continue to remain in the market?

Quality remains now, as it always has. Quality does not go in and out of fashion.