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On the Job

Local wine wholesaler looks to Italy

Judith McDonough sampled wine with Dominick Minots of Sorellina Restaurant in Boston earlier this month.Yoon S. Byun/Globe Staff/Boston Globe

“Wine is Sunlight, held ­together by water” — this is the e-mail signature used by Judith F. McDonough, a Boston wine wholesaler who last year founded Mariposa Fine Wine and Spirits.

Specializing in Italian wines, McDonough is one of the few female wine wholesalers in the state. “With the state’s byzantine regulations, it hasn’t been an easy road, but I’ve persevered,” said ­McDonough, a former national sales rep for gourmet food products who decided to expand her portfolio to include wine.

What type of wines from Italy do you represent?

Italy has 3,000 indigenous grapes, and many of these regions are identified with specific wines. I represent award-winning wines from small vineyards, elegant boutique wines of great value not previously sold in the US. My niche is currently five Italian regions: Friuli, Lombardy, Calabria, Piedmont, and Puglia.


What do you do as a wine wholesaler?

Massachusetts is the fourth-largest consumer of Italian wines in the US. I’m sanctioned by the Commonwealth with a license to sell wine — not ­directly to consumers, but to hotels, restaurants, convenience stores, specialty grocery stores, and caterers. I get my wine from the winery, supplier, or vendor and then call on sommeliers, chefs, managers, and other distributors. It’s hard work, but I also get to taste wine and talk about it for a living.

Describe a typical sales call.

I carry a segmented tote bag that holds 12 bottles of wine and I am also permitted to transport up to 10 cases in my vehicle. I’ll recommend wines that best enhance a client’s menu. When we begin tasting, I uncork the wine and am the first to sample. I’ll make sure the wine is showing and tasting properly.

How does one get a license to sell wine?

The Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission requires a copious amount of documentation to be filed, as well as an interview, financial review, criminal background check, and necessary fees.


Why has wine wholesaling been male-dominated?

A lot of businesses are very loyal to their current distributor and won’t consider a new face. It’s very difficult as a female to bring in wines that have never been tried before. But you have to be tough, and you can’t take “no” for an answer.

What’s your favorite wine?

I love Old World wines that have a varied character, balance of components, complexity, and a sense of place, such as Ugo Lequio, Barbaresco, Chiaromonte, and Riserva.

What’s your go-to sales outfit?

Always an elegant dress and great shoes. If I’m delivering wine, I’ll wear leggings or jeans, a great shirt, and leather jacket and boots.

Cindy Atoji Keene can be reached at cindy@cindyatoji.com.