Winston Wilson Jr., 63; Imported Prestigious Wines to U.S.

Times Staff Writer

Winston "Win" Wilson Jr., a prominent wine importer and wholesaler who brought some of the world's most prestigious wines to the American marketplace, has died. He was 63.

The co-founder of Winston Daniels Ltd. died Sunday at his home in St. Helena, Calif., of esophageal cancer, the Napa Valley-based company announced.

Wilson and his partner Jack Daniels set their sights high from the beginning in 1978, when they began representing such premium Napa Valley wineries as Cuvaison, Chappellet, St. Clement and Silverado.

Within two years they had scored a coup by obtaining the exclusive U.S. importing rights for Domaine de la Romanee-Conti, one of the great estates in France's Burgundy region.

They soon signed another esteemed Burgundian wine house, Domaine Leroy, and Biondi-Santi, which produces highly regarded Brunello di Montalcino wines in the Tuscany region of Italy.

With Wilson focusing on sales and Daniels (no relation to the whiskey distiller) on operations and marketing, the company portfolio grew to include more than 40 labels from all major international wine-growing regions.

"Winston Daniels is in the middle ground between being a boutique importer and one of the giants," Colman Andrews, editor-in-chief of Saveur magazine, told The Times.

"In this business, on a small scale, people come and go fairly quickly. [Wilson] was able to build a good solid business.... And they were able to bring in a lot of good wines in the meantime."

Born April 24, 1943, in New York City, Wilson attended the University of Denver. After graduating in 1967, Wilson moved to California and went to work as a salesman for E.&J.; Gallo Winery.

He moved on to the Los Angeles-based wholesaler Young's Market Co. and in 1971 started his first business venture, a wine wholesale company called J.M. Winston Co. Next was a job in sales and marketing for Cuvaison Winery in Napa Valley. Soon he met Daniels, who was working for Chappellet Vineyards in St. Helena, and in 1978 they formed Winston Daniels Ltd.

From their promising start with high-quality Napa Valley products, they went on to add more domestic wines, including Schramsberg, Far Niente, Clos Pegase, as well as such international brands as Maison Faiveley and Domaine Dujac from France, Mastroberardino from Italy, Wirra Wirra from Australia and Felton Road from New Zealand.

A key part of Winston Daniels' business was selling their clients' brands, said Hugh Davies of Schramsberg, a family-owned Napa Valley winery that is one of a few premium producers of California sparkling wines.

"Our size makes it a little more challenging to market to the consumer," Davies, president and winemaker at Schramsberg, said in an interview with The Times. Winston Daniels "is an extension of our reach, to restaurant sommeliers who determine which wines will be on the list and retailers who determine which wines will be on the shelves."

The company entered into a partnership in 1997 with Young's Market Co. Since 2003 Winston Daniels has been a wholly owned subsidiary of Young's Holdings, which controls Young's Market Co.

An avid beach volleyball player since his days in Los Angeles, Wilson took up triathlons and competed in dozens of the running-swimming-cycling competitions in the 1980s and '90s, gaining a national ranking in his age group in 1993.

Wilson became involved in world-class cyclist Lance Armstrong's foundation to raise funds for cancer research in 2000. Then, in the summer of 2004, Wilson himself was diagnosed with cancer.

He is survived by his wife, Maura Wilson; stepdaughter Kendall Asmuth; stepson Logan Asmuth; and a sister, Elizabeth Cody of Indian Wells, Calif.

A memorial service will be held at the Winston Daniels corporate office in St. Helena on Aug. 1. Donations to the Lance Armstrong Foundation are suggested. Details: (707) 967-1840.

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