January 15, 2010

ISBDC nominates Alto Vineyards for state honor

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- The Illinois Small Business Development Center at Southern Illinois University Carbondale has nominated an Alto Pass vineyard for a statewide business award.

Alto Vineyards Ltd., with Paul A. Renzaglia as winemaker and general manager, is the nominee for the Jeffrey Butland Family Owned Small Business award from the Small Business Administration. The Butland award goes to a family owned business with ownership passing from one generation to another as the company logs at least 15 years of successful operation.

The Illinois SBA presents the Jeffrey Butland Family Owned Small Business award and other small business recognitions during ceremonies each spring in Chicago. In addition to a plaque and special recognition, statewide winners are eligible for national awards presented in Washington, D.C.

“Alto Vineyards Ltd. is one of the true business jewels of Southern Illinois,” said Lynn Andersen Lindberg, director of the Illinois Small Business Development Center and director of manufacturing enterprise development and business innovation at SIUC. “I have had the pleasure of knowing for many years the Renzaglia family, who are the heart of Alto Vineyards, and I’ve had the opportunity to watch the company grow from one man’s dream to the foundation business of a tourism industry that reaches across Southern Illinois and throughout the state of Illinois. The development and success of Alto Vineyards truly exemplifies the importance of family owned businesses in the spirit of former SBA New England regional administrator Jeffrey Butland, to the Illinois and U.S. economies.”

Guy Renzaglia, Paul’s father, founded the winery in 1984. Working in viticulture is a family tradition tracing its roots to a small seaside village in Italy. Alto Vineyards produced its first wine in 1988. The company sold out its first 1,200 gallons of wine in just one weekend. The vineyard now employs 14 with annual sales topping $1 million. It became a third-generation business in 2003 with the addition of Elissa Hopkins-Renzaglia to the management team. Alto Vineyards now bottles about 30,000 gallons of wine each year.

Current general manager, president and winemaker Paul Renzaglia has twice been Illinois Winemaker of the Year. He’s an alumnus of SIUC, earning a Bachelor of Science in criminal justice in 1980 and completing coursework but not his thesis for a master of science in special education as well.

Alto Vineyards currently produces 21 different types of wine. Located on a 50-acre plot along Illinois Route 127, the vineyard includes acres of grape vines along with bottling and production facilities, coolers and storage rooms, a retail sales and wine tasting room, company offices and a large, open air locale for special events. Planning is under way for a 7,000-square-foot event facility offering seating for up to 200 people during festivals, banquets and special events. Alto Vineyards anticipates opening the new facility later this year.

Alto Vineyards is the recipient of more than 750 national and international wine competition awards. In addition, Guy Renzaglia was in 2004 the first recipient of the Guy Renzaglia Industry Achievement Award from the Illinois Grape Grower’s and Vintner’s Association, an award created to recognize longtime service in the industry. Paul Renzaglia won the same award in 2009.

“What makes Alto Vineyards special is not just its success as a small, family owned business. It is the support that they have given to other businesses throughout Southern Illinois,” Andersen Lindberg said. She notes that the winery has loaned equipment, provided storage, and even sprayed crops for other vineyards while also giving generously to the community and the region’s people and organizations.

“I am hard-pressed to think of another family owned business in Illinois that has become such a vital member of a rural economy and is more deserving of this award than Paul Renzaglia and Alto Vineyards,” SIU President Glenn Poshard said in his letter of recommendation for the award.