Headquartered at his kitchen table in Torrance, Edmond Masciana belies the image of a wine merchant doing business with some of the finest restaurants in town.
As a negociant, Masciana buys wine in bulk from a dozen vineyards in Santa Barbara, Napa and Sonoma counties and has it blended and bottled for distribution and sale.
It's a process that starts anew each May, when he contacts wineries to determine if they have product they're looking to dispose of, either as overstock or wines with slight flaws, to make room for the new harvest.
"Every single winery I don't care how small they are has some wine that doesn't fit their profile," said Masciana, owner of Peralta Family Wine Co. LLC. He declined to name names because it's considered bad P.R. to acknowledge having wine that doesn't quite pass muster.
But Masciana insists that a wine's "flaws" can sometimes be overcome. "I took chemistry three times and never passed, but I understand the chemistry of wine what should be in there and what shouldn't be in there," he said. "I can usually figure it out from just tasting it because I'm blessed with a very high quality palette."
A wine that has too much acidity, for example, might be offset by blending juices of different characteristics. He then tells the winery the blend he's seeking and it does the mixing and bottling. Along the way, the wine is tested to ensure that levels of components like ethyl acetate and hydrogen sulfide don't exceed appropriate limits.
Masciana said he is looking for something that is fruit-forward, with a mild, easy finish. "I like the climate and soil components in Santa Barbara," he explained. "I like what it does to things like Chardonnay and Pinot Noir."
He also likes Santa Barbara County wines "because they don't have an attitude, although after 'Sideways,' a few of them may," said Masciana, referring to the critically acclaimed buddy movie set in the wine country.
Wine had been a staple in Masciana's family he recalls first drinking it with dinner at the age of six. After graduating California State University, Long Beach, with a degree in speech communication, he worked in public relations and advertising before landing a job as national marketing director for HMR Winery in Paso Robles, which had been purchased out of bankruptcy by a group of investors.
"I thought it was going to be a piece of cake," said Masciana. "I thought it was going to be the easiest job of my life."
It wasn't. In order to clear its inventory, the vineyard required buyers interested in its most popular wines buy those that were less popular as well.
A job as wine director at Bristol Farms and a post at Castle Rock Winery in Palos Verdes Estates followed. Along the way, Masciana wrote articles for Wine Spectator, taught food and wine courses at the UCLA Extension, and published a book, "Shortcuts on Wine."
Masciana had some money tucked aside and with a handful of friends that hold a minority stake started Peralta Family Wine Co., named for his great-grandmother, Rosalie Peralta.
The first batch came from juice purchased from the Gainey Vineyard in Santa Barbara, which provided him with enough wine to make 1,500 cases of the 2000 Chardonnay he released in 2001. Co-owner Dan Gainey let Masciana pay for the juice, charging him upfront only for bottling, labeling, corks and foils.
Being a former employee for Bristol Farms helped him get consideration from the chain, as did his friendship with the owner of Caf & #233; Pierre in Manhattan Beach and Zazou in Redondo Beach.
Peralta's first Chardonnay sold out fairly quickly, prompting Masciana to take a second mortgage for $300,000 to keep the business going.
From an initial 1,500 cases four years ago, Peralta is increasing production to 18,000 cases this year. The wines are sold in 20 states, up from 12 at the start of 2004, and retail for between $6.99 and $9.99, a 15 percent to 40 percent markup from wholesale. The company wants to enter five more states this year.
"People really like it," said Julian Zaragoza, wine director for Valentino, which sells a case of Peralta Chardonnay each month and charges $7 for a glass and $32 for a bottle. "The wine is well-made, it's reasonable and it's a good drinking table wine."
It takes at least two months from the time Masciana requests wine samples until the time the wine is bottled and ready for sale. Peralta has a network of 18 wholesalers that sell to restaurants and stores, but the company's best relationship is with Bristol Farms, which carries its Cabernet, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Syrah.
"We always keep an eye out for items that are more exclusive and unique than just the nationally-marketed brands," said Bristol Farms wine buyer Michael Cristillo. "They have a unique flavor we like in wines and they're good wines for the price."
Masciana sees 2005 as the "make or break year" in which he needs to reach $1 million in sales to keep up with expansion plans. "We can't stay stuck at the same spot," he said. "At some point, I'm going to have to lean on my wholesalers and they're gong to have to start paying attention to me."
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