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Secrets of Success: Tony Leonardini


There are some “rules” of business success most entrepreneurs abide by. But many also have their own “secrets”—things they do or believe that helped them achieve success. In “Secrets of Success,” a weekly interview series here at’s Small Business Forum, I ask some of today’s smartest, most innovative, most successful business owners to share their insights and success secrets with you.

Meet: Tony Leonardini, the cofounder of BNA Wine Group. Winemaking is in Tony’s DNA—he grew up working at Whitehall Lane, his family’s Napa Valley winery, and spent years learning about wine through research, observation and experimentation. Tony’s philosophy is that his wines should be a “special-occasion taste [people] can enjoy every day,” and he takes pride in making distinctive wines that are known for their taste and value, since “you shouldn’t have to choose one over the other.” Most of Tony’s wines, which are delicious and award winning, sell for less than $20.

You can reach BNA Wine Group on Twitter @BNAWineGroup. What did you want to be when you grew up?

Tony Leonardini: I wanted to be a lot of things but probably most of all, a firefighter! I have been a volunteer firefighter in St. Helena for over 10 years now. It’s great because I am able to be a firefighter and help run a business at the same time. The tough part is juggling everything, but I received great advice from a friend: family first, BNA Wine Group second, and everything else falls behind. Why did you start your own business?

Leonardini: Starting my own business was a journey. It took a lot of years educating myself, working hard, and lots of sacrifice. Part of that journey is meeting the right people and building a team. I am truly blessed to have met John Hooper and Gary Carr—who are my business partners in BNA. Did you experience a pivotal moment on your way to success?

Leonardini: Absolutely! I can’t give names or states but I was on a little road tour with my business partner Gary and we were at the right place at the right time. What occurred that day has partly parlayed into where we are today. Another pivotal moment, or moments, is when I walk into a Safeway, Costco, Cost Plus, Whole Foods, HEB, Central Market or Publix and see our wine on the shelf. It’s a great feeling, and it continues to drive us to really dial in our business and keep it growing. What’s one “best practice” more entrepreneurs should be embracing?

Leonardini: Branch out and get out of your comfort zone. As my parents always said, “Just because everyone else is doing it doesn’t make it right.” Do you have a prediction for small business?

Leonardini: We have been in a healthy bull market environment for several years now. Be prepared for it to possibly slip and [be ready to] capitalize on the opportunity. What’s your favorite book?

Leonardini: I don’t have a favorite book but I do enjoy revisiting the high school classics by folks like Steinbeck, Golding, Orwell and Hemingway. I just finished The Wright Brothers by David McCullough. Great, educational quick read. Is there a quote you find particularly inspiring?

Leonardini: I don’t have one inspirational quote that motivates me. Being a volunteer firefighter, I have seen some tragic situations that have affected me and made me reevaluate life, family and my job. Hug your family; tell them you love them; and when life gives you lemons, squirt someone in the eye.