Lars is VP of Education for The SOMM Journal and The Tasting Panel Magazine. A former news reporter in Oneonta, NY, his passion for Italian culture lured him to the wine business. Over a 33-year career with leading US wine importers, he held various leadership roles in sales, marketing, and public relations, working and living in the U.S., Europe, Canada, the Caribbean, and Asia. A habitual speaker at sommelier conferences, cooking schools, and culinary universities, he appeared in the movie Somm II: Into the Bottle. He has guided scores of scribes, wine lovers, and professionals through vineyards, wineries, and food meccas in Italy, including scholarship trips with SommFoundation and SommSouth. As founder and de facto “Dean” of Cru Artisan College, he has brought Italian winemakers on barnstorming trips across the U.S. for insightful seminars and exceptional tastings. In the Covid era he is a frequent webinar moderator for the SOMM Relief Project and Geographical Digest educational series.
1. How did you get into the wine business?
I grew up with a strong appreciation for wine and though I started on an early career in journalism, I was hoping to find a way to parlay my Italian language skills and wine appreciation into a more rewarding career. Lucky for me, my cousin married a guy in the wine business, and at their wedding celebration, the contacts were made for an interview.
I started by “dragging a bag” around Metro-NY’s Westchester County as a commissioned salesman for Banfi making 12 to 16 stops a day and putting 45,000 miles on my 1986 Mercury Lynx the first year. Two years later, I was selected to be brand manager of their nascent estate wines, which meant working closely with ownership. Then I went back into sales for five years covering the Caribbean (usually in August), Canada (usually in February), and Asia (usually in monsoon season) traveling over 6 months a year including 3- to 4-week trips (lucky I was in my late 20’s and single!) before being asked to live at the estate in Montalcino for three years developing hospitality and European sales as well as liaising between American ownership and Italian management. I returned to the states in 1997 to look after PR and Communications and culminated my 33-year career by starting Cru Artisan, an in-house agency for Banfi’s luxury wines.
In 2019, I joined the SOMM Journal as VP of Education, in a way combining my roots in journalism with my passion for wine and thrill of communication; I also founded my own agency, Vino Viaggio, which among other activities brings wine lovers on personalized tours of Italy’s estates great and small. Every step has been a building and learning experience, and I look forward to many more adventures!
2. What are the most frustrating and rewarding parts of your job?
The most rewarding? That’s easy – getting to travel the world and “spread the gospel” of fine wine; Living in a vineyard in Italy, traveling with winemakers, taking somms and writers around Italy and Chile, hosting consumers in wine country, and seeing people’s eyes light up when you tell them the story behind a particular wine; sharing wines and experience that bring joy to people; fostering relationships with passionate people who make beautiful wines that speak of a sense of place. It is truly a “people business.”
Frustrations? Almost too few to mention, but top among them would be getting a corked bottle served at a restaurant where the service and/or management don’t handle the situation properly; poor wine service in general; and having a beautiful wine run out of stock at a restaurant, distributor, or importer warehouse.
3. What is your most memorable wine experience?
Oh, so many! But here’s one: I was once asked to attend a winemaker dinner in Osaka Japan and arranged my schedule around a trip to Canada. After a wine dinner in Calgary, I took a 2 am flight to Vancouver to connect to an 8 am flight to Tokyo, was chauffeured to the rail station to take the bullet train to Osaka, then taxi to the hotel to be told I had 45 minutes to freshen up before dinner. After greetings and speeches to the all-Japanese-speaking audience, I was instructed to stand up, raise my glass, and say campai! Then sit down and enjoy my dinner while somebody else explained the wines in Japanese.
Almost 7,000 miles and 24 hours of travel just to say cheers, but their enthusiastic response made it all worthwhile!
Vice President of Education for
The SOMM Journal and
The Tasting Panel Magazine
4. What is an upcoming trend you see in wine?
Greater appreciation for artisan wines that are worth shipping around the world – wines that speak of a true sense of place.
5. What is the best piece of advice someone has given to you?
Always lead with your aces. In other words, always show your best work to build your name and make a first impression because it’s easier to sell down than to sell up.
6. What is one tip you have for someone just getting into wine?
Never stop learning!
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