New Jersey’s own Hubert Opici celebrates his 100th birthday
Just like a fine wine, Hubert Eugene Opici is getting better with age. At 100 years old, he currently serves as chairman of the board of the Opici Wine Group and boasts more than 82 years of experience in the wine industry—and it all started here in New Jersey.
Born in 1916 in Paterson and raised in Wyckoff, the centenarian entered the wine industry as none other than a delivery boy at the age of 16. His parents, Joseph and Esther Opici – both children of Italian immigrants—began importing wines from Italy and distributing them within New Jersey in 1913. Although they fell on hard times during the Depression and Prohibition, the Opicis remained focused on their passion. They were ultimately rewarded in 1934 when they established the American Beverage Distribution Company of New Jersey.
“It was a true family business, like many in those days,” said Opici. “My mother ran the office, my father sold the wine and I drove the truck.”
At the time, most wines were produced in Europe, yet once World War II began, getting wine from France and Italy was nearly impossible.
“My father went to California and bought 40 acres to start his own winery. That was the beginning of the U.S. production of wine,” explained the United States Army veteran, who served the duration of the war, plus six months, as a cook at Fort McClellan in Alabama.
Thereafter, interest grew. The University of California at Davis started researching new methods of wine production and the late Robert Mondavi, a leading California vineyard operator whose technical improvements and marking strategies are credited for bringing worldwide recognition to the wines of California’s Napa Valley, became intrigued.
“I was Robert Mondavi’s first customer in the eastern United States,” shared Opici, a 1934 graduate of Ramsey High School. “When Americans started to drink wines, the quality improved and the varietals have soared.”
Under Opici’s dynamic leadership, the Opici Wine Group has surely soared, experiencing tremendous growth and success over the decades. What started as a small New Jersey distributor has evolved into the Opici Wine Group, an importer and distributor of an international portfolio of fine wines and spirits, employing more than 500 people across the United States. The business includes Opici Wines, a national importer and producer representing nearly 50 brands of wines and spirits; and Opici Family Distributing, which boast distributors in New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Florida and Washington, D.C.
And, that family business model, it still rings true. The family-owned business is in its fourth generation of leadership, a feat that less than four percent boast.
“It is a wonderful feeling that after four generations we are still a great business and a great family,” said Opici from his Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, home. “We all love each other. May my great grandchildren continue our tradition.”
While Opici serves as chairman, visiting the office frequently, checking on customers regularly and keeping up with his sale personnel, his daughter Linda Opici is the president of the New York and Connecticut divisions of Opici Family Distributing. His granddaughter Dina Opici is the president of the New Jersey, Mid-A and Florida divisions of Opici Family Distributing; and his grandson Don Opici is the managing director of Opici Wines.
Despite his professional accomplishments, Opici believes his greatest success story is his family. On June 24, 1945, Rose Deregibus became his wife and business partner and the pair worked steadily to grow the Opici empire. They shared 65 years together before Rose’s passing in 2010. Today, Opici is happiest spending time with his four great-grandchildren – Julia, James, Luca and Logan.
“I enjoy when my family comes to visit me,” said Opici, who “retired” to Florida in 1982. “I taught my grandchildren to fish from my dock. My grandchildren are now teaching their children how to fish. I love seeing them do this.”
A regular at the gym, Opici also enjoys walking the company’s warehouse and watching the birds that come to eat from his mango tree. He credits his longevity to moving to Florida, maintaining his weight, having a positive attitude and high principles and, of course, to drinking wine.
To celebrate the patriarch’s 100th birthday, March 13, his grandson, Don, planned a three-day celebration. Members of the wine community from around the world gathered in Palm Beach Gardens, where they enjoyed golf, tennis, water sports, dancing, dinner and wine tastings. A more intimate celebration lasted a full week with his immediate family and close friends.
“I’m very fortunate,” said Opici. “I’m so proud of what this family has built together.”
Jessica Humphrey-Cintineo, a freelance writer, is a frequent contributor.