What started as a small companion enterprise to their winemaking in Italy turned into a new full-time venture for husband-and-wife business partners Renato Vicario and Janette Wesley.
Located at 800-840 Old Jones Road in Greer, Vicario Spirits and Liqueurs occupies a seven-acre farm with an 8,000-square-foot warehouse and distillery with 2,000-square-foot tasting room. Vicario Spirits and Liqueurs was never supposed to exist in the way it does now, distributing to multiple states in the United States with the goal of covering the entire country.
In fact, it wasn’t ever the plan to start a business making liqueurs at all, but rather to sell a book Vicario wrote, “Italian Liqueurs: The History and Art of a Creation,” published by the Aboca Museum in San Sepolcro, Italy, which is now included at the Italian Academy of Historical Gastronomy.
Liqueurs are strong, sweet alcoholic liquors, usually drunk after a meal or used in cocktails. The liqueur recipes in the book are Vicario’s, developed over time with inspiration from his family and world travels using a variety of native herbs and spices.
While living in Italy as winemakers, Vicario and Wesley would travel the country to promote the book, and he would always bring along examples. Those became the selling point.
“Everywhere we went people really loved them and wanted to buy the liqueurs and not the book as much,” Wesley says.
Already immersed in the wine world, they started exploring the idea of launching a liqueur-making arm since the business models are similar.
“So as it turns out, the wine business became less important than the liquor business,” Wesley says.
The 16 liqueurs Vicario developed are now made in the Greer location and range from easy to drink to more adventurous.
Vicario and Wesley are ideal partners for such a business.
Raised in the Piedmont of Italy, Vicario grew up in the kitchen, cooking with his grandmother from the time he was 5 years old, learning about using the highest quality ingredients possible. His grandmother had a soda pop business, and his great-grandfather was involved in winemaking in Gattinara. Vicario moved into the wine business as well, planting vineyards with Wesley on their property in Cortona, Italy, in 2010.
Wesley spent years learning about horticulture. Though not formally trained, she has taken on the role of farmer, growing many of the herbs and ingredients for the liqueurs on their Greer property, and from a distance manages the crops on the Italian property as well. Their commitment to using the best possible products means, for them, growing as many of the ingredients as they can.
The couple decided to pivot to making liqueur in the U.S. four years ago because the cost of doing business here is much lower than it is in Italy. Breaking into the liquor and spirits market wasn’t nearly as difficult as they thought, though it’s still a slow process.
“I love making wine and the whole process,” she says. “The wine business is so cutthroat. It took the joy out of it.”
Attending trade shows has increased their visibility, and the timing of getting into the business as bars were starting to use more liqueurs in their cocktails proved positive for their growth.
“Four years ago, it took a long time for people to come by,” Wesley says of their booth at a large trade show they attend annually. “Now everyone comes by. It’s kind of like a big fan club. We feel very appreciative.”
Visit www.salutellc.com/vicario-products for a list of where to find Vicario products in restaurants and retail locations.