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@Work: Versovino Distributor

Nov. 26, 2007 — A stroll through the back streets of Italy one day last year transformed Francesco Guerriero from a hair stylist in a St. Thomas salon into a businessman with a nationwide corporate clientele.
"When you get something and you think in your head you have to do it, you have to be committed to it and not give up," said Guerriero in a thick Italian accent about the new direction his life is taking.
A hair stylist at Jan Michael's Hair Studio at the Marriott Frenchman's Reef Resort, Guerriero is setting aside his scissors and dedicating himself to building a business that fell into his lap — or rather, poured into his lap — last year while on holiday.
He and his wife Nancy were strolling through Bellaggio Lago di Como in the north of Italy when they passed an enoteca or small restaurant, and she decided it was cocktail time. They went in and took advantage of a special offer — a free glass of wine with a plate of appetizers. Then she noticed something strange on top of all the restaurant's wine bottles.
"I turned to the bar and saw it," recalled Guerriero, "and from just a small little cocktail it became a two-and-a-half hour conversation [with the restaurant owner] about the product. And from that point, I was actually thinking … they ought to be selling this product in America."
They weren't then, but they are now, thanks to Guerriero. The product is called "versovino" — Italian for "pouring wine." It's a cork, a portion regulator and a decanter of handblown glass — all rolled into one. Its purported exceptional ability to decant wine, however, was a total accident.
Invented in 2003 by Damiano Miniera, originally from Corleone, Sicily (of "The Godfather" fame), the versovino was Miniera's answer to complaints from customers at his winery-restaurant near Florence that the glass of wine he just poured wasn't as big as the one he poured earlier.
"He made it to control by-glass sales, because the clients would complain, 'Last time you he gave me more, this time less,'" Guerriero said. "It was not about decanting, that was something it became afterward when people said, 'Wow — the wine tastes totally different.' That's when [Miniera] said, this is the perfect product to get people to enjoy the best wine at the moment and not wait for it to breathe."
Convinced he had stumbled onto something big, Guerriero contacted Miniera in Florence, arranged a meeting, raced up to see him the day before he and his wife were due to leave Italy, and then made his pitch. He had to persuade Miniera that he, Guerriero, was the man to market and distribute this unique invention throughout the United States.
"They asked me what I do for a living," Guerriero recalled, prompting laughter from a 43-year-old man whose sole occupation has been as a hairdresser. Guerriero told the restauranteur/inventor that he worked for the Marriott in St. Thomas. The Jan Michael salon, is, after all, in the Marriott.
Guerriero walked away from the meeting with a deal that gave him six months to prove himself.
Once he arrived back from Italy with a few of the versovino contraptions in hand, as much as he was sold on it, he needed to sell himself a bit more. He invited a friend who didn't drink and had never even tasted wine, to test his gizmo. Guerriero poured two glasses of red wine, one using the versovino decanter and the other straight from the bottle.
"When I poured it, she didn't see what I did, but from the smell of the wine, she picked the one which was decanted. At that point I said I'm going to pour all my time and effort and get on with this product," said Guerriero, who then took the decanter to New Jersey.
"I was going restaurant to restaurant with the product to see what kind of response I would get, and people said, 'Wow! What is that?'"
Tens of thousands of out-of-pocket dollars and seven trade shows later — from Los Angeles, to Chicago to New York City, to Atlanta — Guerriero established himself as a nationwide distributor. Buyer after buyer seemed captivated by this peculiar gadget that resembled a science contraption, and soon his product began appearing in restaurants and stores across the U.S., as well as in prestigious catalogues like Red Envelope and Dean & DeLuca. Guerriero's hoping to close a deal soon with Williams-Sonoma and Royal Caribbean cruise lines.
With approximately $100,000 worth of sales racked up in recent months, Guerriero is throwing his all behind the effort and relocating to Florida. He said it will be less expensive than the Virgin Islands, especially when it comes to import fees. He's looking for warehouse space, and has already settled on a community. But he hopes to keep St. Thomas part of his life — it's where he used to come to vacation, then to honeymoon, and ultimately to live.
"I'm thinking of buying a little place, condo or townhouse to make my vacations here and come back," Guerriero said, "because I really love the U.S.V.I."
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