Winemakers often get into the winery business because they’re passionate about making wine. But what is a winery beyond a place where wine production happens? It’s a business of wine sales and wine marketing, and businesses should be profitable-including when it comes to selling wine by the glass. Wine businesses are often quite profitable, as long as the winery owner knows what they’re doing. That knowledge starts with buying a winery, and it never really ends. It even gets into online liquor sales.
If you’re starting a winery, and you’re still learning about wine profits, and building winery profitability, this article is the place for you. On the BinWise blog, we’ve talked about profitability in many forms, from bars to restaurants to virtual restaurant options to Valentine’s day promotion ideas for restaurants.
Today we’ll be tackling winery sales to help you figure out how to bring in profits to your winery. We'll take a close look at wine distribution, as that is a major factor in the business of selling wine. When you’re in the business of growing grape vines, this is all information you’ll need to know.
A big part of your role as a winery owner is the job of being a wine seller. The wine you’re producing could be the best in the world, but if you’re not getting it off the shelves, who will know? Whether you want to sell to select shops or get your wines on Costco's shelves (with wholesale marketing plans), being a wine seller is a full-time job.
If you’re targeting a selective audience, you may be able to work as your own distributor. You could also hire someone in-house for the role. If, however, you want to spread your wines beyond just a few locations, you’ll need to work with a wine distributor to achieve those wholesale alcohol goals.
Most wineries will need to work with a wine distributor at some point. A wine distribution company does the work of getting your wine inventory in front of the people with buying power. You’ve got enough on your plate with running a winery. Having someone else to take care of promoting and distributing (and mastering the wholesale definition for sales) is a huge help.
On the surface level, the term “wine distribution” is self-explanatory. However, there is more to the job than the term implies. A lot goes into the job of the wine distributor. We’ll give you a breakdown of the job, so you know exactly what you’re getting when you hire a distributor.
With such a straightforward term, you wouldn’t think there’d be much to add to the job description of a wine distributor. It turns out, there’s more to the term than meets the eye. A wine distributor is a marketer, salesperson, and overall wine expert, all wrapped up in one. Wine distributors are responsible for:
- Having product knowledge to share what makes the wine they’re selling worth buying.
- Knowing sales techniques that work for small shops and large stores-from wine display ideas to pouring wine for demonstrations.
- Having marketing skills that work, both in general and for wine specifically.
- Having personal enjoyment in some part of the wine process, whether that’s the creation of the wine or the taste. Something personal to talk about is a vital touch of the distribution process.
Beyond those traits, a wine distributor needs to be flexible with sellers and buyers. The wine industry is just as much about the people as it is about the wine.
10 Best Wine Distribution Companies
There are wine distributors across the globe. Some are positioned for global reach, while some are more situated for local sales. The right wine distributor for you and your winery will depend on the reach you hope to achieve. That’s something you’ll want to have a general idea of before you start searching for a distributor.
That said, there are some distributors that are excellent for everyone. There are also some that are important to be familiar with, even if they’re not the ones you’re going to hire. The following list of the 10 best wine distributors will give you a well-rounded view of what you’ll find in the wine distribution industry:
10. Wine Warehouse
Wine Warehouse California Distributor of Fine Wine, Beer & Spirits started out in 1973, and it’s been a leader in California wine distribution ever since. Some of the largest names in California wine work with Wine Warehouse, and for new California wineries, they’re a great option.
9. Martignetti Companies
Martignetti Companies handle the wine distribution needs of New England, and they’re the sixth-largest distributor in the US. The Martignetti family has been in the wine and spirits business since Prohibition came to an end.
They expanded into distribution in the 1970s. If you’re on the East Coast, check out Martignetti’s.
8. Opici Family Distributing
Opici Family Distributing has been bringing family values to the wine distribution business since 1934. Headquartered in New Jersey, with locations across the East Coast, Opici employs over 600 people. They bring great wine throughout the East Coast and beyond.
7. Heidelberg Distributing Co.
Heidelberg Distributing Co. has been a firm part of the beer, wine, and spirits distribution chain in Ohio and Kentucky since 1938. These days, the company has nine warehouses. With that space comes 2 million square feet of warehouse space, 717 suppliers, and 26,000 retailers across Ohio and Kentucky.
6. RNDC/Young’s Market Co.
Republic National Distributing Company (RNDC) and Young’s Market Company are a combined force of distribution companies. RNDC was formed back in 2007, though the base of the company began in 1898. Young’s Market Co. was founded in 1888. Together, the companies distribute across the entirety of the US.
5. Breakthru Beverage Group
Breakthru Beverage Group was founded back in 1944. With more than 7,000 employees and over $6 billion in annual sales, Breakthru brings distribution expertise across the US and Canada. From Arizona to Wisconsin–and many places in between–Breakthru supplies beer, wine, and spirits in breathtaking numbers.
4. Empire Distributors
Empire Distributors, in business since 1940, are the definition of a substantive distribution company with their name representing how much ground they cover. They started with just two trucks and one warehouse, and these days they cover the distribution needs of Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Colorado.
3. Johnson Brothers
Johnson Brothers, in the distribution business since 1953, are based in Minnesota, but they have locations in an additional 20 states. From the name, you’d guess that Johnson’s is a family company, and you’d be correct. To this day, they’re owned by members of the original Johnson family.
2. Winebow Group
Winebow Group, with the original Winebow company founded in 1980, brings unique wines and spirits to states from the East to West Coast. Winebow imports wines and spirits from across the world, and they’re constantly on the lookout for unique brands to add to their portfolio.
1. Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits
Southern Glazer’s Wine and Spirits, in business since 1968, also shows up in the FAQs of this article. It's the largest distributor in the US. Southern Glazer's has operations in over 44 states. If you’re hoping to get your wines to the maximum amount of sellers, Southern Glazer’s is definitely a distribution group to talk with.
Frequently Asked Questions About Wine Sales
There’s always more to learn about wine sales and wine distribution. The wine market has been shifting in recent years as new wineries have opened up and reached new buyers.
These changes show that there will continue to be growth in wine sales, even with wine being such a longstanding industry. If you’re looking to learn more and prepare for working with a distributor to boost your wine sales, our answers to these frequently asked questions will help.
Who Is the Largest Wine Distributor in the World?
Southern Glazer's Wine and Spirits is the largest wine distributor, covering the US and Canada. Across the world, it’s hard to find one wine distributor with a substantial amount of reach. So many places have their own particular distributors.
However, finding a distributor with the majority of reach in the US and Canada takes the cake for this question. A large number of US wineries work with Southern Glazer’s.
Can You Buy Wine Directly from a Distributor?
Technically, you can’t buy wine directly from a distributor in the sense of walking into a store to buy a case of wine. For legal reasons, distributors can only sell to stores, bars and restaurants, and similar establishments. That said, you can buy wine directly from wineries, so there are ways to purchase wine outside of liquor stores.
Are Wine Sales Up or Down?
Looking specifically at the US, wine sales went up by 16.8% in 2021. This gives hope to wine sellers for 2022. Wine sales have been trending up since before 2021, and there aren’t any signs of enjoying wine less no matter the wine bottle price. Different wines are becoming popular, but the sale of wine isn’t declining. Even working at a winery is looking up as far as profitable and fulfilling careers go.
What Type of Wine do Millennials Drink?
Millennials, and other younger wine drinkers, have been enjoying wine list options that are sustainably made, and that are upfront about the winemaking process. Millennial and Gen Z wine drinkers are interested in wine companies that are mindful of the Earth and quality business practices in general. The parts of a wine bottle the younger generations look for are the facts around the making of the wine.
Wine Sales: The Sale Is On
As you produce your first bottles, you’ll find a wine distribution practice that works for you. Your winery business plan depends in many ways on successful wine sales. Finding the right distributors is one facet of reaching that success.