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Maurizio Farro: Bringing Italian Wines Close to Home

Posted by on in February 2014 Editions
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Maurizio Farro, founder of Cantiniere Imports & Distributing Inc., is a true American success story.  He even talks like a proud American, albeit with a way-cool Italian accent. He doesn't refer to the year he came to the United States as "2002."  He describes it as "the year after the Towers fell."  He didn't let the language barrier stop him from prospering.  He went to community college in Towson to improve his English ("I realized I had to not only learn the language, but be able to hear the people").  And when asked what his secret is for becoming his own boss, he answers: "If you come here to this country, you must come to work hard.  Otherwise, there is no reason to be here."

Farro indeed came to America in 2002.  "I come from a winemaker family in Naples," he said, during a recent interview with the Beverage Journal.  "My family has been making wine for decades.  Both of my grandfathers made wine, my father made wine, and so did my uncle.  There was always wine on the table.  . . . My father eventually didn't want to do the job anymore, and my brothers and I didn't follow in his footsteps.  It was my cousin, who was working for my father's brother, who kept the family business.  Today, I purchase his wine." 

But running Cantiniere wasn't always the plan.  With a slight chuckle, Farro recalled, "The idea was to come to the U.S., make some money, and go back to Naples and open my own restaurant.  But I met my wife, got married, and we had three children.  So, the story changed."

He continued, "I became fed up with working at restaurants.  I said, 'I have to do something else, because I am going crazy.'  One of the things I always knew was wine.  I really wanted to work at a distributor or importer.  I was lucky to find Vinifera Imports, one of the biggest importers of Italian wine in the United States.  I learned the business and met a lot of great producers.  After five years, it was time for me to leave and start my own thing."  

That "thing" became Cantiniere Imports & Distributing, which he founded in Columbia, Md., two years ago.  The name comes from the person who works in the cellar with the enologist making wine.  "The winemaker gives the orders," Farro stated, "and the cantiniere follows all of the steps and makes sure that everything goes right.  In the end, he's really the winemaker."

Farro recalls a time when he was a little boy and he and his brothers helped their father deliver the family wines to people in and around Naples.  Customers used to call them "cantinieri," plural for cantiniere.  So the name of his company is not only a description of the business, but is a way to honor his family's legacy.

The main goal of the firm is to work with the best Italian wine producers from each region of Italy and bring their products to America.  Cantiere currently distributes throughout Maryland, the District of Columbia, and Virginia.  " My portfolio includes one producer from Sicily, one from Abruzzo, and so forth and multiple producers from the more famous regions of Tuscany and Piedmont.  Italian wines are still not on the mind of everybody.  Because I am Italian and I love my home country, I can talk about the product, the region, the producer, and so forth."

Of course, there have been many challenges in his first two years of operation.  "I see challenge everywhere," he remarked.  "But my joy is to go out with the wine, taste the wine with people, and sell them.  That's what I love to do.  I want to meet my customers, drink wine with them, and make the sale.  It's the best thing ever!  But then as the owner, I have to come back here and deal with a lot of bureaucracy and paperwork. That's the challenge."

Mostly, he credits his wife for being a calming influence and helping him to stay focused.  He met the woman while working in a restaurant.  Today, she is a teacher who speaks fluent Italian.  He concluded, "People like me who come from Southern Italy, we have a lot of temper.  But you can't be like that if you want to be a success here.  You have to change.  She has taught me to be -- what is the word -- diplomatic!"

ANY SIBLINGS?: Three brothers and
five sisters

Twin boys, age 4, and a 7-year-old daughter

The Oakland Mills community of Columbia

Spending time with his family at home

: Cinghiale in Baltimore co-owned by Tony Foreman.  "It's where my wife and I go for real Italian food."

While serving as wine director for Facci Ristorante in Laurel, he was featured in an issue of Wine Spectator for putting together one of the world's most outstanding wine lists.