Just seven years ago, Chris Riccobono was selling medical equipment and, in his spare time, producing a wine-focused video blog, Pardon That Vine. Today, UNTUCKit, the apparel company he and buddy Aaron Sanandres founded in 2011 with $250,000 from friends and family, is poised to top $100 million in annual sales, according to Forbes. But it’s still wine, more than button-downs, that gets Riccobono most jazzed. Here’s the story of a wine-obsessed Jersey Boy making good.
The names of many of UNTUCKit’s shirts sound like they’re from a wine encyclopedia.
A lot of them were, in fact. We are approaching 500 different styles, and we’ve pretty much expired every known grape type and wine region. When we got going, I could pick up a shirt and tell you the name. Oh, that’s Carter, or that’s Sangiovese. I can’t do that anymore.
How did UNTUCKit come about?
I knew that a career in corporate America wasn’t for me. But you have to find your way, and one day I called a friend from business school and asked him, ‘Do you ever wear your shirt untucked?’ And that’s how it began. We launched a line of men’s shirts meant to be worn out while not looking baggy and sloppy.
I really prefer to do my serious wine drinking at home.
UNTUCKit began as strictly an online retailer. Now you are opening stores at breakneck speed. How have you evolved so quickly from internet-only to clicks and bricks?
We started with maybe 10 designs, which were pretty terrible because they shrunk and the buttons all popped. Back then, I was cruising around New York’s Garment District, trying to find somebody on 37th Street to make shirts for us. I knew nothing then about prewashing and preshrinking. Now we work with factories [around the world]. We also recently received $30 million in venture capital, which has helped us expand into women’s wear and clothes for kids. We’re naming the children’s line after cheeses.
How were you able to get the word out about UNTUCKit?
We started at the bottom of the barrel in terms of advertising: local sports radio and inflight magazines. Our first celebrity endorser was the NHL player Brad Richards. Then Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks started to wear our shirts. The word got out. Guys started to take notice.
How did you get into wine?
My father went to medical school in Bologna, Italy, so wine was part of my childhood. But that eureka moment took place right after I graduated from Providence College and before I went for my MBA at Columbia. I was invited to dinner at an older cousin’s house, and he has a nice wine collection. He let me pick the Champagne to start the night, then a white wine, then a couple of reds and finally, a dessert wine. That was my moment of awakening. I was done with vodka and light beer, and I started learning about wine and reading about it. I became obsessed. It’s what ultimately led me to doing Pardon That Vine out [of] my apartment [in Hoboken, New Jersey].
And what are you drinking today?
I collect mostly Napa Cabs, Barolos and Bordeaux, so I’d say I’m more mainstream in my tastes. I also love Amarone and some Spanish wines. To me, the perfect wine would be if you could take some weight off a Napa Cabernet and add some fruit to Bordeaux, then blend them together.
How big is your wine collection?
I’m at about 1,300 bottles, but that’s because I’m out of room. Otherwise, I’d have more. I really prefer to do my serious wine drinking at home. Going out to drink aged Bordeaux or a top Napa Cab just isn’t feasible, unless money is no matter. I’m not at that point.
What would be your perfect vacation?
Fall in Piedmont, eating pasta buried in truffles and drinking Barolo. My wife loves Pinot Noir, so I suppose we need to go to Burgundy someday. But honestly, I don’t love Pinot. I prefer Cabernets like Spottswoode, Pride, Larkmead and Carter from Napa. From Barolo, hands down my favorite is Bartolo Mascarello. They have avoided any semblance of going modern. Solaia, Tignanello and Quintarelli are also tops on my Italian list. My dad’s favorite wine on earth is Quintarelli’s Alzero. It’s made like classic Amarone, but from Cabernet Sauvignon, Cab Franc and Merlot. I think Amarone is the one wine that even wine experts don’t fully understand and can’t explain. It’s magical.
Do you see yourself doing more with wine in the future, maybe even investing in a winery?
I definitely want the next generation to have a greater knowledge base of wine than I had. And that’s already happening. Every young person seems to know something about wine. To me, wine is the new golf. Maybe I’ll go back and get a degree in wine education or enology. Maybe I’ll resurrect Pardon That Vine and put some real money into it.
If you could tell a neophyte one thing about wine, what would that be?
That wine turns an average night into a great night. I love something that you can talk about for hours without getting bored.