Celebrator Vanberg DeWulf Cooperstown's Other Claim To Fame By by Breathe Carolina


Vanberg & DeWulf: Cooperstown’s Other Claim To Fame
By Stephen Beaumont

If you look for Cooperstown on a New York State map, you will find a tiny dot denoting a charming little town of
roughly 2,500 inhabitants. If, on the other hand, you ask a baseball fan about Cooperstown, you will hear
grandiose tales of the area’s major tourist attraction, The National Baseball Hall of Fame.

But if you ask a Belgian beer lover about Cooperstown, chances are that they will stare blankly at you and
wonder what the hell you are talking about. They shouldn’t. Because Cooperstown is not only a baseball Mecca
wrapped up in Anytown, U.S .A. It is also the corporate center for one of the biggest Belgian specialty beer
importers in America, Vanberg & DeWulf.

The Vanberg of the equation is actually a Feinberg, Don Feinberg to be specific, a New York marketing man who
traded in a lucrative life in the Big Apple for the quieter and, I suspect, less profitable but equally stressful world
of beer importing. The DeWulf side refers to the Belgian who first turned Feinberg on to the many and varied
beers of that great brewing nation — the reference is the sum total of DeWulf’s current involvement in the
business. Instead, Feinberg runs V&DW with his wife and partner, Wendy Littlefield.

If your idea of a beer importer centers around an image of staid men and women in business suits sitting at a
boardroom table discussing which big-name foreign brew will be the next to take the nation by storm, Feinberg
and Littlefield have a bit of a surprise for you. They run their company from a couple of offices in a converted
house just a short walk away from the Hall of Fame. And they are anything but staid.

When my wife and I entered the hallowed hall of V&DW to meet Feinberg and Littlefield for the very first time,
the welcome we received was the kind you normally reserve for old friends, except less formal. Then, after
introductions had been made, our new, old friends informed us that, rather than going out for a beer together as
had been arranged, we would instead be returning to their home for a relaxed beer tasting and a casual dinner. It
was clear that the famed hospitality of Belgium’s brewers had not been lost on the Cooperstown duo.
What followed was an immensely enjoyable evening of evenly impressive beer, talk and food, interrupted only on
occasion by the couple’s small daughter, who obviously felt that she wasn’t getting enough attention. And, over
the course of the night, the curious tale of how Vanberg & DeWulf came to be was finally unraveled.

Our story begins in 1981 in the great brewing nation of Belgium, where Feinberg was employed by the
advertising firm of J. Walter Thompson to sell Kellogg’s Corn Flakes to the Belgians. However successful
Feinberg was in his cereal endeavors, his efforts were overshadowed by the spell the nation’s brewing industry
cast over him. In 1982, Feinberg returned to New York a Belgian beer convert. During his final days overseas,
however,- Feinberg had possessed the presence of mind to have a friend and co-worker by the name of DeWulf
introduce him to several Belgian brewers. Convinced that there was a market for this beer back in the States,
Feinberg inked a deal with Moortgat for the rights to Duvel and returned to New York City to run Vanberg &
DeWulf as a sideline to his ongoing JWT work.

It took less than a year in NYC for Feinberg to become tired of the advertising game and quit his job. Thus, with
Littlefield still drawing a full-time paycheck for her advertising work, Feinberg was able to devote his full
resources to the running of the importing firm. The demand for eccentric ales in the early 1980s was decidedly
not what it is today, though, and Feinberg found himself returning to the science of persuasion in late 1984,
motivated in part by the imminent arrival of his and Littlefield’s first child.

V&DW continued as a sideline occupation until 1990, when Feinberg and Littlefield decided to quit their
respective jobs and make the big move out of the city, relocating in Cooperstown. With their two children,
Cooperstown’s safe and quiet community seemed a logical choice, and its one-hour proximity to an airport made
it convenient for business. The fact that the little town is situated smack dab in the center of a traditional hop-
growing region didn’t hurt its sentimental draw one iota.
Coincidental to their move was Littlefield’s entry into the beer importing business it had previously been just
Feinberg’s baby — and Feinberg’s realization that he had been addressing his market in the wrong fashion. In
what he now refers to as a typically American advertising approach, Feinberg had been selling the brand rather
than selling what the beer represented, namely variety.

The Duvel consumer, Feinberg reasoned, was not so much concerned with the brand itself as with the variety
of taste made available by Belgian beers. Thus, it logically followed that V&DW would sell more Duvel if they
also provided a range of Belgian beers that were representative of many styles. With this in mind, Feinberg and
Littlefield went about expanding their line of brands dramatically beers from nine Belgian breweries plus three
from France’s Brasserie Castelain and, when available, the Marriage Parfait line of lambics from Belgium’s
famed Frank Boon.

In addition, Feinberg and Littlefield use their mail-order business to distribute two of Michael Jackson’s books
and sell signature glassware for most of the beers they carry.

Most recently, V&DW have added a West Coast distributor, California Vineyards, and thus far western demand
has exceeded supply. As preferable as this situation is to the alternative — more supply than demand — the
couple from Cooperstown are working flat-out to try to rectify their left coast imbalance. In addition to all this,
another ongoing project is the translation of a cuisine a la biere cookbook originally penned by a noted Belgian

While such a hectic pace doesn’t leave much time for leisurely strolls though the Hall of Fame, or quiet dinners
with visiting beer writers; for that matter, neither half of the V&DW team can be heard to complain. Life as
small-town beer importers seems to suit the pair quite well, thank you. And nobody talks to Feinberg about
Corn Flakes anymore.

Vanberg & DeWuIf
52 Pioneer Street
Cooperstown, NY 13326

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