Bill Terlato understands just how well wine and golf go together from a couple of different perspectives. One comes from his being a fervent mid-amateur who appreciates the ways a fine wine can be as pleasurable as a fine round – and how enjoyable it is to have one after the other. He also appreciates how the camaraderie of a well-assembled dinner table can be as gratifying as that of a deftly matched foursome.
“Sharing food and wine is a great way of bringing people together, and so is golf,” says Terlato, who plays much of his at Bob O’Link in Chicago and The Bear’s Club in Jupiter, Fla.
And that fact has been demonstrated on countless buddy golf trips where the restaurant choices at night can be as important as the selection of courses by day. Terlato also points out that each of the men’s major tournaments organizes a champions’ dinner, showing that the urge to bond over food and drink extends to the highest levels of the royal and ancient game.
Terlato’s view of the relationship between golf and wine only gets deeper when you consider his work. As CEO of the Terlato Wine Group, a leading importer, marketer and producer of wine operating out of the old Armour Mansion in Lake Bluff, Ill., he oversees a privately held concern that has a global portfolio of more than 50 brands – and sells more bottles of wine with 90-plus ratings than any other wine concern in the world. Chimney Rock is one of his family’s labels, and Rutherford Hill, too. In addition, Terlato is also the sole U.S. agent for the wines of Angelo Gaja, one of Italy’s premier vintners.
But that’s not all, for Terlato also produces, bottles and markets signature wines for a very discerning and rather unusual trio of oenophiles – professional golfers Luke Donald, Ernie Els and Jack Nicklaus.
“Wine is my profession, and golf is one of my passions,” says Terlato, who joined the family business after graduating from Loyola University in Chicago in 1981. And the man who has served as a guest judge on the Emmy-winning Top Chef television show leaves little doubt that he finds great joy in being able to meld the two in these ways.
The father of three, Terlato got to know Donald when the Englishman studied at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. The two men formed a friendship based largely on their mutual love of golf, and that evolved into a Napa Valley wine partnership. The initial release under the Luke Donald label came in April 2008 with a stylish Claret blend, followed a year later by a Carneros Chardonnay that is happily more French than Californian in character. According to Terlato, who plays in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in St. Andrews each year, Donald was very active in the crafting of those wines.
The relationship with Els started in 2007 when Terlato added five acclaimed South African brands to his family’s luxury wine portfolio, including two made by the South African golfing great. Now, Terlato features six wines from the Big Easy, including a full-bodied blend that bears Els’ nickname.
“I was not into the celebrity wine thing when I met Ernie,” he says. “But then I tasted his wines and was extremely impressed by their quality. He owned his own vineyards and was very serious about what he brought to market.”
As for his involvement with Nicklaus, Terlato saw that development out of friendship as well, much like his wine partnership with Donald. Terlato knew Jack from The Bear’s Club, which Nicklaus had founded and where Terlato was a former club champion.
“Jack is a long-time wine collector and had been approached by a number of people over the years about coming out with his own wine,” Terlato recalls. “But he never did it. After Jack and I had gotten to know each other, he asked me about one of those proposals. I gave him my opinion, and about an hour later, I received a call from one of Jack’s people saying he wanted to do a wine with us.
“We talked for hours about that, and Jack and his sons Jackie and Gary came out to visit some of our Napa vineyards,” Terlato adds. “It was so clear how dedicated to excellence they all are, and how much Jack wanted whatever he put his name on to be of the highest quality. Our families connected, too, and it was interesting to see what common interests we had in agronomy and agriculture, which no doubt came on his part from all his time designing courses.”
The result was the release nearly two years ago of a pair of Napa reds under the Nicklaus name – a 2007 vintage Cabernet Sauvignon and a 2007 Private Reserve Bordeaux-style blend. The first bottles were uncorked at a private event at the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews. And then they made their public debut during the 2010 Memorial Tournament.
Later this year, Terlato is bringing out a third Nicklaus wine, a Bordeaux-style white, as well as another white under the Donald name, in this case a Viognier.
Golf and wine. Working well together once again.