01/31/2013 06:15 pm ET Updated Apr 02, 2013

Debra and Dino Santonastaso: Passionate New U.S. Importers for Quality Regional Wines of Italy

Italian wines have enjoyed what seems to be a never ending growth in the U.S. marketplace. According to a March 2012 article on by Richard Woodard, "Italy has nearly a quarter of the global wine market." The same article cited the United States as the most significant export market for quality wine. Clearly, there is huge demand in the the U.S. market for Italian wine, but at the same time, there is great competition. Debra and Dino Santonastaso, two enthusiastic Australian-Italians, have recently begun selecting and exporting wines to the U.S. Debra was candid in explaining their reasoning and philosophies in starting D&D Italian Wines.

What Got You Started in Importing Wines to the U.S.?

"We had been looking to start a business in Italy for quite some time, and Dino and I have always been passionate about Italian food and wine. It was October 2011 and we were enjoying a glass of our local Morellino wine with two close friends who have been in the wine business for about 15 years. I asked them how well known our Morellino is in the States, and their reply was, 'Americans still have a lot to learn about Italian wines, and need to be educated on new wines.'

As Debra and I sipped our wine and I listened to our friend talk about the U.S. wine market, we realized how much potential the U.S. has for 'Made in Italy' consumer products, particularly Italian wine... so D&D was born."

Regions & Sub-regions of Interest

"We are passionate about the Tuscan Maremma, where we live, thankfully still quite unspoiled with its beautiful coast line, pine forests, and rolling hills. When you mention Tuscan red wine to Americans, Chianti immediately comes to mind. Not many people know our local Golden Boar Morellino di Scansano and our Gianni Valentini; both Sangiovese varietals, and serious quality red wines.

Visiting the different regions and sub-regions of Italy is like traveling to a different country. They all boast their own unique beauties and traditions. The countryside and quaint old towns, people and their customs, the food and the wine, all vary."

Where will D&D Fit In the U.S. Importing Business?

"There are many wine importers in the states; it is a very competitive market, which also means it's a lucrative one. This is why we have chosen to promote Italian wines exclusively. We are not interested in adding wines from other countries. We intend to continue to expand our Italian portfolio, and become present in all American states and beyond. Our first three containers (containers hold 1,200 cases) landed in New Jersey mid-May 2012, and we have been active for just eight months. The wines are currently selling in NY, NJ, MA, DE, MD, DC, and FL; which we feel is a pretty good start. With every shipment, our portfolio expands, and the next will arrive in New Jersey and Florida in mid-March.

We have Italian and Australian citizenship, so our obvious next market to tap into would be the Asia-Pacific, but that is only after we bring the U.S. market home. Being so passionate about the Italian table, Dino and I would eventually like to look at other authentic 'Made in Italy and Maremma' consumer products such as virgin olive oil, Balsamic vinegar from Modena, local pasta sauces and spreads; not to mention... the famous truffles!"

Strategies for the U.S. Market

"The strategies we use to compete in the U.S. market are very simple... quality, integrity, and authenticity. We have selected wines with exceptional quality/price relationships while ensuring on-going effective personalized customer follow-up. We believe it is vital to listen to our market place, and constantly work towards satisfying their needs. We work closely with our wineries and their enologists so we can assure our customers continuity, quantity, and quality."

Styles of Wine

"We consider our styles of wine to be a combination of both tradition and modern. All of our wines are produced using state-of-the-art technology, while preserving tradition and integrity. Originally, Italian wines were consumed only with meals, and so favored delicacy and smoothness to match the dish. Today, international trends have changed, also in Italy; wine is enjoyed outside of meals as well, which call for more accentuated complex flavors, full-bodied, fruity, and softer wines with good color. Today the Italian style is to combine both elements by researching the grape clones and the yield per hectare, and by blending native and international vine varieties."

For Example

"We have captured both styles in the characteristics of the Old World wines, such as our Rubentino Chianti and Montepulciano d'Abruzzo, Cellar One Barolo and Barbaresco, Terre di Monteforte Soave, not to mention our well known Cadia Pinot Grigio(Veneto).

People think of Lambrusco as being traditionally an overly sweet wine, but this is not the case. Still today, the local people of Modena, where the original and best Lambrusco is produced, drink the traditional dry with their meals. Our Allegro Lambrusco di Sorbara wines are pleasantly surprising the US market. Our modern style Light Sparks has shown remarkable popularity. The wine is a lower pressure demi-sparkling wine vibrant ruby-red in color with a full-bodied, well balanced sweet flavor with hints of wild berries."

Debra has great respect for the enologists and agronomists who are the heartbeat of the industry. She speaks of enologists and agronomists in general, and specifically about the ones she is working with.

She states, "Day in and day out, they diligently control each stage of production, from the vine to the bottle, working around the clock during harvest time, they constantly strive to better the quality of their product."