- By Tony Doris Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Hubert Opici joined his parents, Joseph and Esther, in the wine distribution business after graduating from high school in New Jersey in 1934.
Eighty years later, the rosy-cheeked 98-year-old still makes it to the office almost every morning, at Opici Wine Group’s Lake Park plant.
“Then he goes for lunch in any restaurant that sells his wine,” says longtime friend Don Hessler.
“He’s amazing,” Hessler says. “He works for a couple of hours, goes out to the warehouse. Every once in a while he lifts a couple of cases of wine. … Then he goes for lunch in any restaurant that sells his wine. Then he goes home to rest and then he goes to dinner.”
In his spacious, marble-floored home in Frenchman’s Creek, Opici smiles easily and says he’s proud of the growth of the business that has been in the family for 100 years and five generations, interrupted only by the Great Depression and Prohibition.
Though still headquartered in New Jersey, the company, which employs about 550 people, also has distribution centers in New York, Connecticut, Maryland, Delaware, the District of Columbia and Ocala. He built the Lake Park center, at 1425 Watertower Road, in 1997.
Family members have aspirations to open warehouses in all 50 states, though they already distribute in 49.
They wholesale wines from Italy, France, Spain, Germany, Israel, Chile, Argentina, Turkey, Greece, South Africa, Japan, New Zealand and California, among others. They’ve also developed proprietary brands, including one from Italy he’s particularly proud of, LaLuca.
This year, the company created a spirits division. “You either die or you go forward,” he says.
Though four-and-a-half years ago he lost his wife of 63 years, Rose Marie, Opici is moving forward in the industry. Wine Enthusiast Magazine, at a big awards gala, named him its “2012 American Wine Legend.” This year, the magazine named Opici Wines “Importer of the Year.”
“He’s a phenomenal person,” says Randy Burke, Opici’s first Florida employee in 1979. “He’ll be 99 in March, but if he were sitting across the table, you’d think he was 60-something. You can talk to him about any subject — financial, everything.”
And he still samples the company goods, tending to favor a watered-down DueTorri, a Pinot Grigio, which he says go down more easily than most. “I drink the water and throw the wine in.”
Asked what he considers the biggest change since he started in the business 80 years ago, Opici laughs. “They’re drinking a lot more wine.”