Peter Morales '84
In the fiercely competitive business of wine importing, there are 75 countries that export wine to the United States. In New York alone, there are 75,000 varieties for sale. So, who in their right mind would willingly start a wine importing business and turn it into a success?
A Lehigh grad, that's who. Peter Morales '84, to be exact.
With his executive background at Johnson & Johnson, Grand Metropolitan (now Diagio), and Peerless Importers, Morales gained the skills and knowledge to open his own worldwide business consulting company, Peter Andrew LLC, which specializes in international beverages. After taking on a project with South Africa, where he successfully developed plans to market wines to the United States, Morales felt ready to jump into the importing business, and 57 Main Street Imports was born.
The company was actually named after the street address in Paarl, South Africa, where the trade agreement with parent company Peter Andrew LLC took place. His travels to the Cape of Good Hope, shortly after apartheid had ended, were a remarkable homecoming of sorts. Morales explains, "Being a descendant of West Africans who landed on the Caribbean island of Trinidad and Tobago, my journey had come full circle."
Since its inception in 1999, 57 Main Street Imports has continued to expand internationally, always selecting premium wines and spirits. Morales currently gathers foreign commodities from South Africa, San Juan, Argentina, several regions of Spain and Italy, and Brogans Irish Cream from Ireland. While many would expect importing wines from Europe, typically considered old-world wine making countries, Morales often gets a raised eyebrow when people hear South Africa, since the area has not been associated with wine in the same sense as Europe.
"Perfect combination of Old World and New World"
However, he says, "South Africa is the perfect combination of Old World and New World with the first wine being produced in 1659." Yet it is superior quality that brings customers back to the newly discovered label.
So, what does a wine importer do anyway? Morales gives a chuckle before replying.
"Well, you're a marketing and sales agent responsible for growing that particular label. You have to watch currency exchange rates, shipping and fuel costs, as well as exchange rates for agriculture and cultural changes." He also enjoys immersing himself in the process of wine making, such as understanding soil needs and the science involved in growing superior grapes, and he has even attended crushing sessions.
Regarding cultural changes, the United States is currently basking in greater disposable income, he explains, and people are traveling more. When they get home, they want to replicate their travel and food encounters, and that's where the wines of 57 Main Street Imports come into the picture.
Although Morales is pleased with the success of his New York company, it is his off-shoot organization, Vision 57, that brings him a special satisfaction. The program involves giving back a percentage of the company profits from South African wine sales to help improve and build schools in the Cape of Good Hope. Morales' parents taught him: "No matter how little you have, you always share." Seeing children without pencils or tablets made an impression on him. As a trader with the country, he feels a need to make a difference so eventually South Africa can do the same for other schools. Teaming with Rutgers University, a forum has been created where "an exchange of information and knowledge" takes place, he says. "It is not about us helping out those that are less fortunate, but rather an exchange of ideas" between the United States and South Africa.
According to Morales, his finest honor has been the 2005 Rutgers University "Vision of Excellence," an award that essentially recognized his outreach to others. You wouldn't expect an entrepreneur to be so humble, but it is his time spent at Lehigh that he credits with much of his success, saying, "Lehigh helped shape my business maturity and bring my business to fruition."
Lehigh Alumni Bulletin