Tony Lombardi can be described in one word – humble. He’s a brilliant storyteller especially when he’s talking about the wineries he represents for his marketing consulting company or the charity his family founded to support college athlete mental health in honor of his nephew and godson. But if you have the chance, you must get him talking about his winery, Lombardi Wines.
And it’s a great story story of family entrepreneurship. His great-grandfather Nazzareno Lombardi immigrated to the U.S. with his childhood friend Cesare Mondavi (yes, that Mondavi), from the small town of Sassoferrato in 1914 from the Le Marche region. The two men worked the iron ore mines in Michigan and Minnesota, before settling in Petaluma and Lodi, CA, respectively. His family moved to Petaluma in 1947.
Tony had the gift of time with his “Nonno,” who lived until he was 94. He recalled hearing details about his immigration story and his friendship with the Mondavi family and trips to the Lodi farm. Being part of a large Italian family, wine was always on the table – even if it was the kids table on Sunday night.
While wine was part of his family life, it wasn’t necessarily the path he thought he’d go down. “Journeys are unique and different,” he said. “Wine has always in my back yard, but I never would have thought about it as a career.”
A fun two years at San Diego State resulted in a move back home where he eventually became the liquor department manager at Safeway in Marin and San Francisco. His first wine job was on the hospitality team at Clos Du Bois Winery. Over his career, where he gained domestic and international wine experience, he held senior leadership positions in marketing, public relations, and sales for such companies as Allied Domecq Wines, Beam Wine Estates, J Vineyards & Winery, Ascentia Wine Estates, and Kosta Browne Winery.
While at Kosta Browne as its Brand and Public Relations Director until its sale in 2014, he was encouraged by his friends, Dan Kosta, and Michael Browne, to start his own label. “We did it, so should you” was the advice they gave.
He had a long talk with his wife, Christine, and in 2013 they started Lombardi Wines with a barrel of Chardonnay and a barrel of Pinot Noir with their own capital from vineyards in Sonoma. Today the winery is a collaboration with esteemed Winemaker Cabell Coursey, who has made wine at Alder Springs Vineyard, DuMol, Flanagan and Kosta Browne as well as his own label, Coursey Graves.
“I never thought this would be my path, but it honors a rich family history of wine, food, entrepreneurship and tradition,” Tony said. “I also had the incredible ability to hitch my wagon to an established farmer like Coursey who shared the same vision I did for wine and the vineyards.”
The entire family has been involved since the beginning – from picking to bottling to labeling to corking to putting the foils on the bottle. Even though it’s a passion project, this is a family that is all in – even with full time jobs, going to school and helping to run a charity.
We also talked about the legacy of Lombardi Wines. His son, Drew, is currently following the path of a winemaker. He’d love to pass the legacy on to his son and give him the opportunity to take the winery to another level. He’s much more analytical than I am. My strength is business and connection. He’s much more science and math oriented.”
The charity that they are very involved in is Hilinski Hope Foundation, a non-profit organization formed to promote awareness and education of mental health and wellness for student athletes. The Foundation’s mission is to educate, advocate, and eliminate the stigma associated with mental illness, while funding programs that provide student-athletes with the tools and resources that support their mental health and wellness. It was founded to honor the life of his nephew and godson.
“Good work on all levels drives us and it’s part of our DNA. I was so proud this year to see 120 schools wearing Hilinski’s Hope Foundation stickers during athletic events during college mental health week,” he said.
In 2015, Tony started a boutique consulting company offering Marketing, Public Relations, and Wholesale services to the benefit of small to mid-size wine companies. With over 30 years of experience in management, production, sales, marketing, and public relations, Lombardi Marketing has a stable of current and former clients including A.P. VIN, Arista Winery, Blue Farm Wines, Bucher Wines, CIRQ Estate, Cornerstone Cellars, Coursey Graves, Donum Estate, Flanagan Vineyards, Geodesy Wine, Keller Estate, Kreck Wines, Maxville Winery, Pellegrini Wine Company, Jigar & Sedition Wines, Ram’s Gate Winery, Roger Roessler Wines, Sangiacomo Family Wines, Three Sticks Wines and Work Vineyard. He sees it as an opportunity to help his friends launch brands and to tell great stories.
The wines of Lombardi, which started as a barrel of Pinot Noir and one of Chardonnay, have grown to five different wines and 850 cases, making wines from two appellations and from three single vineyards.
Last year, I tried several of the Lombardi samples and I immediately reached out to Tony because I knew there was a story to tell. It took us a year, but I was finally able to schedule time to tell the Lombardi Wine story. I posted one of these wines on Twitter and Facebook and was so happy to see all the positive feedback pouring in from my industry friends. Tony is one of those people who is well liked and respected. He’s just a good human.
I tried three wines and was really impressed. These are wines that showcase the terroir from special vineyards that are chosen with good fruit.
2020 Lombardi Sonoma Coast Chardonnay – I tasted green apple, citrus, grapefruit, honeysuckle, peach, and crushed rock. It was a great Chardonnay.
2019 Lombardi Gap’s Crown Vineyard Pinot Noir – the specialness of the vineyard shines through with this elegant single vineyard wine. I tasted dark cherry, chocolate, raspberry, blueberry, oolong tea and baking spice I couldn’t stop drinking it and my husband immediately started asking how we get more.
2019 Lombardi Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir – I tasted Asian spice, black cherry, herbs, spice, and mocha. It shows the power of Sonoma Coast pinot noir.
Tony founded Lombardi Wines to honor his Italian roots, ancestry and his great grandfather’s immigration story and love of wine. It’s a homage to the past and building toward a legacy for the future.