August 24, 2003 by

Tony LaBarba


Categories: Business

Anthony James LaBarba, a successful Dallas wine merchant, died on Aug. 10 of heart failure. He was 81.

LaBarba was born in Dallas to Sicilian immigrants. His father ran a fruit and vegetable company, and taught his 10 children how to stomp grapes in the wine cellar of their home. By the time he was a teenager, LaBarba was already learning the family business. When Prohibition was repealed in 1933, he helped his father buy wine in California, bottling it and sell it.

LaBarba served in the Navy during World War II, then took over his father’s struggling wine business in 1947. By visiting European vineyards and developing a palate for fine wine, LaBarba was able to build up a multimillion-dollar wholesale wine business that sold to all the best restaurants and bars in Dallas.

LaBarba, the former president of American Wine and Importing Co., was also a board member of the Texas Hill Country Wine Festival.

14 Responses to Tony LaBarba

  1. Marybeth Wright

    Tony LaBarba was someone I looked up to for spiritual, business and life lessons that made me the person I am today. No one would be more willing to give advice, lend a hand or help a friend if you ever needed it. He would share his plate of pasta and a glass of wine with anyone from Robert Mondavi to Benny his right hand man and Christmas light extraordinare for 40 some odd years. Never without a story, he would always start it out with “Let me tell ya something”. I never knew just how much of a presence he was till he passsed, then I realized that my grandfather was a legend. Not only to me but to so many others. God must be having having one heck of a party right now.

  2. Glenda

    I just recently found out about Tony’s passing. It really saddened me that I was not able to say goodbye, but then I know that Tony would have said “Hey, forget about it!” I worked for Tony at American Wine & Importing when it was on Haskell Avenue, and learned a lot from him about wine and how to be a good person. One funny thing I remember was in 1969. Tony did not think that you had to be sick when he could go into the kitchen and mix you up a toddy. I came to work very sick one morning and just threw up everything. Tony put a cold rag on my forehead and said let’s fix you up something. I drank whatever he put in front of me and soon felt better. The next day, same thing happened. Another toddy and I soon felt better. When the same thing occured the next day, he told me to go see my doctor. I did and found out that no amount of toddies would help my problem. I was pregnant! We both got a belly laugh out of that. I will miss him.

  3. Phillip Wright

    Well it’s two year’s later, and I’m fixing to graduate college. I think that my Grandfather would be very proud of me. Anthony “Tony” LaBarba was and still is the reason I am here in college. Five years ago, my grandfather pulled me aside in his private wine cellar and told me “Phillip, if I were to have gone to college, I would still be where I am right now, A Happy Man.However, I would still have American Wine.” With this lesson, I believe that through the trials and tribulations my family and I have endured we will be able to accomplish anything. So, here’s to you Grandfather! I made it!

  4. christina wright

    “you know let me tell you something” My grandfather tony always had a story to tell you, if he knew you or not! hahahaha! He was the most generous person i have ever known! He would bend over backwards to help someone if he had to and believe me he did! You know i have missed my grandfather fro mthe day he had his last stroke but now that im in college able to drink i miss him more (who will give me a wine lesson?) No, i miss him bc i didnt get to share all the things i would have love to share with him. well thats life right?!
    you know my grandfather was a really strong in his faith in the Lord Which Taught me alot. One Thing i remember the talk we had at my Grandmothers funeralwhen i was about 13. All i would cry was “why? why,take someone so speacial from us?” he heard me and said “Tina, dont blame the lord accept that God may take something away without giving you a reason. the lord has a reason for everything!”
    Well i just wanted to tell him thank you for showing me how to… “turn tears into telescopes” bc with out that i dont know where i would be! i love you Grandfather with all of my heart! 😀 i miss you!

  5. Tony Palmer

    I met Tony in the last 15 years of his life; however I was able to know him well in his later years and enjoy his friendship, knowledge and generosity. My wife and I were blessed to have the opportunity to know someone as exceptional as Tony LaBarba. Sadly the wine confraternities that he created and supported have closed. Should anyone be interested in continuing his legacy in the Texas Chapter of the Confrerie des Vignerons de St. Vincent Macon, please let me know.
    Tony Palmer, M.D.
    Arlington, Texas

  6. George A. Monroe, M.D.

    I first met Tony, in 1973, when my wife, Beverly, and I were dining at the “original” Callaud’s Restaurant in Dallas, Texas. My wife and I were interested in gourmet food and wine and I happened to recognize Tony and his wife Mary at a table near us. I went to Tony and Mary’s table, apologized for my interruption, and introduced myself and my wife Beverly. Both Tony and Mary were as receptive and gracious as if we all had been long-time personal friends. Tony asked me for my card, explaining that he and Mary would like to invite Beverly and me to join several Wine Societies in Dallas. With Tony’s sponsorship Beverly and I were, later that year, inducted into the Confrerie des Vignerons, the Chaine des Rotisseurs, the Confrerie des Chevaliers du Tastevin, and Les Amis du Vin. Tony, Mary, and his wonderful family became our close personal friends. I was later deeply honored when I was chosen to be the Pediatrician for the Tony LaBarba family. Tony was a wonderful inspiration to all those with whom he came in contact.

  7. ranny mazza

    I worked at American Wine in the early 80’s and whenever Tony could help with an account, even if it was just one bottle from his own cellar, he would. The trips to California were always a treat! My condolences to his lovely daughter, Kathleen,Barry, and the whole American Wine family and culture that Tony created.

  8. Marybeth

    Grandfather. You and Grandmother were remembered at Hans & Sarah’s wedding this past July. It was fun and a wonderful time; however it wasn’t the same without you two. Also Hans played the wrong tarantella for his dance with mom:)
    C’e la luna mezzo mare…
    With love-

  9. Christina Wright

    I just got done watching one of your favorite crazy movies…. Best little whorehouse in Texas. And… YESSS…I actually Sat through I miss You, grandmother and charlie like crazy. I just hope you are up there having fun! As you know we just lost cousin Paul Cascio. :C Sad but I know he is in good hands. May you all rest in Peace. I love you!

  10. Cathy

    Recently I was sorting boxes of old paperwork; when I ran across several letters I had kept from Tony LaBarba from the late 70’s. I went on the internet to see if I could locate something about how he was doing after all these years. His name popped up and regrettably, read about his passing in 2003. Suddenly my memory of this great man poured over me like a bottle of his most finest vino. I’m not sure if his family will ever read this… but if they do… I would like for all of them to know – Tony LaBarba was one of my all-time favorite customers/passengers @ the airlines I worked for at the time. He was a kind, happy, generous, selfless soul. He treated everyone as if they were without a doubt, the most important & special person on this earth… or when he was onboard the plane… the most important person in the air. He flew out of Love Field often and when he did… he made all of us feel special. I respected him, his positive energy and his love for his family was always apparent. He was very proud of his kids & you could see the love in his eyes for them. I’ll never forget his sweet smile & thoughtfulness. He would randomly send a bottle of wine to us… and during Christmas… cases of wine would be delivered to the Dallas station for all of the employees. Simply amazing!

  11. Marvin A. Kruskal

    I was employed by Mr. LaBarbas company in the late 60’s early 70’s in San Antonio & Austin Texas. Whenever we had regional meetings,we were taught something new about wine in general and those that we represented in particular.
    One thing that I remember of Mr. LaBarba, never, never an ill word regarding our competitors and their products. Negative remarks about other wines and/or wine representatives were not part of Mr. LaBarbas vocabulary, and now, years later living in Switzerland, I can verify that when he told us that Ruffino’s Riserva Duccale was the best Chianti in the market, he was right and when he told us that the best Barolo was the one from Cantine di Marquese di Barolo, he was also right, then and even now. All that I know about wines, I owe to Mr. LaBarba.

  12. Karla Kirby Corkran

    I don’t know if this thread is still ongoing but if James reads this, I just want him to know that I also thought his Dad was one of the sweetest persons I can remember. Mom and I were talking about him and wondering if he were still alive. Sad to read here that he isn’t! I still have one of the wine openers from the Company that was used at Kirby’s!

    • Kathleen L Arceneaux

      Hi Karla,
      Thank you for the sweet thoughts. This is Kathleen. It has been a long time! I was so happy to see your blog. We all have some wonderful memories. Please give your Mom a hug. Please email me, I would love to catch up.

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