Karl Calini’s story reads much like a fairy tale.
At 17, he left his small village in the south of France to study in the United States. While attending Grandview High School in Missouri, Calini fell in love with the Midwest ... and Notre Dame de Sion co-ed, Sarah Ismert.
While it took some time and many, many frequent flyer miles (Calini had to finish his degree in France while Ismert was studying at the University of Miami), eventually they both made it back to Kansas City and married.
Fast forward 19 years. Today the Calinis have two children at St. Michael the Archangel School and a thriving wine business. Calini launched Bourgeois Pig with partner Jerry Kenefake last year.
The family of four travels to France several times a year to visit Calini’s family, who live in a 1,000-year-old, beautiful stone home complete with a duck-filled pond, barn and horse.
Now that’s happily ever after, right?
It hasn’t been all that easy, Calini protests with a laugh.
Calini started out his career importing French antiques and later pastries, owning several coffee and antique shops, as well as Café Apanaire in Waldo. He also worked for his wife’s family business, Sioux Chief Manufacturing, in international sales and was a sourcing manager for several years.
Awhile back, Calini’s roots in the south of France inspired him to buy into a fourth-generation winery in the Languedoc-Roussillon region. Calini then met Kenefake, a Kansas City native and business owner, and approached him with the idea of importing wine to the United States. After months of discussion, the concept for Bourgeois Pig was born.
In 2010, Calini and Kenefake hosted a three-day focus group at Gaslight Grill in Leawood, Kan., inviting 150 strangers to come and sample 20 of their wines. They chose the top six wines and two years later were finally able to start selling them.
Their goal then — and still today — is to offer wines of exceptional quality (“snobbishly fine wine” says the bottle) at very reasonable prices. Bourgeois Pig retails for around $9.99 and has a Wine Spectator magazine rating of 86.
In less than a year since its launch, Bourgeois Pig went from being sold only in Kansas to being available in at least 10 states, including Missouri, with several more states in the works. Calini hopes to be in 30 states by the end of 2013.
“Every time we do a tasting, our product over-delivers for the price,” says Calini. “And because I can control everything from the wine fabrication to the distribution, we can offer our wine at a competitive price. That’s why it’s so successful.”
To add to that success, in late 2012, Calini and Kenefake also launched a second product, a box wine cheekily titled Petite Derriere. Now plans are in the works for six or seven Italian wines under the Calini name (Calini’s paternal grandfather was Italian), as well as low-calorie and sweet wines.
Note: Bourgeois Pig wine is available in most Johnson County liquor stores.
photos: Brooke Vandever