Keeping up with the Jameses

In 1899, Battista Opici traveled from his home in Italy to help build the Sacred Heart Cathedral in Newark, N.J. When the cathedral was done, he went back home. Ciao!

But he moved back to the U.S.A. in 1907 in the company of his wife and sons. One of Battista’s sons, Joseph, and his wife, Esther, began working in the wholesale beverage industry in Paterson, N.J. in 1913. They imported wines from their paisans back in the old country. For 20 years they sold nice Italian wines to people in Paterson. Then came Prohibition. Dio mio! Followed by the Depression. Tragedia!

But Prohibition was repealed in 1933 and Joseph persuaded a former supplier from California to ship him one railroad car full of wine. The Opicis were back in the wine business. In 1934, Joseph founded the American Beverage Distribution Co.

Later that year, Joseph’s son, Hubert, joined him in the business after graduating from high school. As with many small family businesses, every family member had a job. Hubert was the delivery boy, Joseph was the salesman, and Esther ran the office. Seeing the potential that existed for wine, Joseph moved to California and to establish the family’s first winery in Cucamonga in 1939.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Cucamonga.

In 1942, Hubert joined the Army. After the war, Hubert rejoined the business in New Jersey while his parents relocated to California to work their winery. Hubert married in 1944 and his wife became his business partner.

Cutting to the chase, the Opicis became a giant in the wine distribution industry. The family handles about a jillion different labels (well, 50) from all over the world. Under the Opici umbrella are leading Italian, Chilean, Argentinian, Spanish and French labels. The company has its own proprietary brands, among them Julia James chardonnay ($9.99, John Edwards).

The fourth generation of Opicis is now in the driver’s seat, though Hubert still rules at the tender age of 101. So, as you can see, this is a very interesting story.

We wish we could say the same about the chardonnay.

Stephen Fay

Stephen Fay

Managing Editor at The Ellsworth American
Stephen Fay, managing editor of The Ellsworth American since 1996, is a third-generation Californian. Starting out as a news reporter in 1974, he has been an editor since 1976, working in Massachusetts, Connecticut and Vermont before settling in Ellsworth with his wife and two daughters. [email protected]
Stephen Fay

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