Home Industry News Releases Obituary: Anthony (Tony) Terlato

Obituary: Anthony (Tony) Terlato


“Consider quality a way of life; we do.”

A true visionary, Anthony J. Terlato has led the evolution of the fine wine industry for more than half a century. Whether as retailer, distributor, importer, marketer, winery and vineyard owner or producer, Terlato has achieved success at every level of the industry. Throughout his career, he has remained true to a simple principle: put quality first. As Chairman of Terlato Wine Group (TWG), the parent company of several businesses specializing in the marketing and production of exceptional wines, Terlato’s passion for quality is evident in every bottle of wine the company markets and produces.

Terlato’s career, and passion for wine, began in 1955 at his father’s retail wine and spirits store on Chicago’s north side. Leading Liquor Marts was one of the city’s first self-service stores – known for its selection of fine imported products targeted to affluent consumers. While at Leading Liquor Marts, Terlato saw an emerging market for fine wines.

In 1956, he joined his father-in-law’s wine-bottling firm, Pacific Wine Company. In a short time, he transformed the company into a respected distributor of fine wines, becoming the Illinois distributor for the wines of Alexis Lichine and Frank Schoonmaker – pioneer importers of the time. At age 29, Terlato was named President of Pacific Wine Company.

Terlato had already acquired a keen appreciation of pairing fine food and wine – building a kitchen and dining room on the second floor of the wine warehouse where he prepared menus and introduced high-quality wines to wine buyers and owners of fine restaurants and retail stores. Tom Matthews, now executive editor of Wine Spectator magazine, said Terlato’s “invitations to lunch [were] as prized as a table at Taillevent.”

In the late 1960s, Terlato expanded Paterno Imports, which imported olive oil, to import fine wines. At the time, the best Italian wines had not reached America; Terlato changed that. Traveling throughout Italy four times a year for 15 years, Terlato assembled an impressive wine collection from Italy’s finest producers. His insights proved correct – America embraced his Italian portfolio and, by the mid-1980s, Paterno was considered the premier importer of Italian wines in the U.S.

It was at this time that Terlato earned the title “Father of Pinot Grigio” when he introduced Pinot Grigio to America in 1979. Today, Pinot Grigio is the most popular imported varietal, and Tony Terlato led Pinot Grigio to become the most popular luxury wine in U.S. history.

For his leading role in introducing fine Italian wines to America, Terlato was conferred the decoration of Cavaliere Ufficiale, Motu Proprio in 1984 by the President of the Italian Republic, Sandro Pertini – the first American in the wine industry to receive this decoration.

In the late 1980s, with his sons Bill and John by his side, Terlato expanded the company portfolio beyond Italy, adding wines from prestigious producers in renowned winemaking regions. And in 1996, Terlato brought the family business full circle with the purchase of Rutherford Hill Winery in Napa Valley.

Rutherford Hill was the first of several significant winemaking ventures. TWG now includes investments in vineyards, wine production joint ventures and wineries in esteemed wine regions. In addition to Rutherford Hill, TWG fully owns Chimney Rock Winery (Stags’ Leap, Napa Valley) and Terlato Vineyards (Napa Valley and Sonoma), and also holds a majority interest in Sanford Winery (Santa Barbara). The company also has interests in M. Chapoutier (Rhône Valley), plus joint ventures in Australia (Domaine Terlato & Chapoutier).

For his contributions to the advancement of fine wine, Anthony Terlato has been recognized by industry peers. In January 2003, Wine Enthusiast  magazine named Terlato “Man of the Year” and credited him with “changing the way Americans drink” by bringing quality Italian wines to the U.S.

In July 2003, he was Guest of Honor at l’Ete du Vin, one of the top five wine auctions in America. At the event, he was awarded the Norman M. Lipman Award for “Innovation and Determination.” Then, in June 2004, Terlato received the Distinguished Service Award from Wine Spectator joining an exclusive list of recipients: Ernest and Julio Gallo (1983), Robert Mondavi (1994), Angelo Gaja (1997), Julia Child (1998), Piero Antinori (1999) and Francis Ford Coppola (2003).

In April 2006, Terlato was inducted as a lifetime member of the Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans. The award honors achievement in overcoming adversity and humble beginnings. With this honor, Terlato joins a list of recipients including Dwight D. Eisenhower (1961), George Halas (1968), Ronald Reagan (1969), Colin Powell (1991), Justice Clarence Thomas (1992) and Henry Kissinger (1992).

Terlato has been involved with many organizations dedicated to the knowledge and appreciation of fine wine. In 1995, he founded The Renaissance Club, which celebrates and explores the gastronomy of Italy and its wines. He is a member of the French wine societies Commanderie de Bordeaux and Confrerie du Tastevin. In 1980, Terlato was awarded the “Spirit of Life Award” from the City of Hope. In 2002, Terlato was elected to the Board of Trustees of COPIA, the American Center for Food, Wine and the Arts. In 2009 he was inducted by the Italian Trade Commission into The Wines of Italy Hall of Fame.

Terlato is also a passionate advocate of the arts. He was a long-time Board member of Chicago’s Lyric Opera and a Governing Member of the Orchestral Association of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

In 2008 he published TASTE: A Life in Wine to exceptional reviews and introduced his story to thousands with a national book tour.  In 2009 he appeared on the top-rated food show, Bravo’s Top Chef, and was interviewed by Gary Vaynerchuk for the top online wine review site Wine Library TV. In 2011, he was heralded as a Napa Valley Pioneer and appeared with Margrit Mondavi in a short film at the Napa Valley Film Festival.

In 2013, his Terlato Family Vineyards Pinot Noir Russian River 2010 captured the top award in the San Francisco Chronicle awards competition with over 5,450 entries winning Best in Class of all Pinot Noirs entered and Sweepstakes Winner – best red wine of all red wines entered in the competition. Chimney Rock Elevage Stags Leap District 2009 won Best in Class for all Bordeaux Blends and Double Gold was awarded to both 2009 Chimney Rock Cabernet Sauvignon Stags Leap District and 2009 Rutherford Hill Merlot Napa Valley.

Named Wine Enthusiast magazine’s Lifetime Achievement Wine Star award winner for 2014, Terlato was selected for his “vision and energy (which) have helped to make wine into the global industry it has become today.”

Terlato’s passion for excellence can also be found in his company’s corporate headquarters, Tangley Oaks, the Tudor-Gothic mansion built by Philip D. Armour, III, in Lake Bluff, Illinois, in 1916. The 26,000-square-foot mansion sits on six-and-a-half acres overlooking a large pond and is adorned with exquisite antiques, art and tapestries. It was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1996 after the Terlato family’s two-year restoration of the property. 

To see the Terlato family’s message regarding Tony’s passing on June 28th, 2020, please click here: HERE

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  1. To Billy and Johnny
    Your Dad was an Icon in the industry and
    a hard charging business man, who loved his family. The more he acquired,
    the more humble he became. May he rest in peace.🙏


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