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5 Best Wine Distributors in the US

Selecting a distributor is a major decision for winemakers; here are some of the top wine distributors and what to look for when selecting one.

Selecting the right distributor is a consequential decision for wine makers and importers. The wine distributor is the face of the supplier, building relationships with retailers and managing sales and distribution. Because there are so many options, the choice of which wine distributor to partner with a challenging one. Here are some of the best US wine distributors and what to look for when selecting one.

Benefits of Using a Wine Distributor

For wine suppliers, including wineries, vintners, importers, and others, choosing the right distributor is essential for running a successful business. A distributor can help you implement your business plan and get your products in the locations you’re targeting. By selecting a distributor that aligns with your market footprint, goals, and values, the process of growing your business will be much simpler. 

Working with a distributor allows you to focus on the aspects of your business that are within your areas of expertise. With a distributor, you don’t have to manage complex relationships with retailers and collect payment — your distributor will handle this for you. Additionally, each state has its own laws regulating the sale of alcohol, and it’s the responsibility of the wine distributor to navigate state regulations, tax laws, and other requirements for sale to retailers.

What to Look for in a Wine Distributor

Because of the significance of a distributor’s responsibilities, the decision of which one to choose is an important one for wine suppliers. Here are the top things to look for when making this decision.

  • Financial stability — Is the distributor reliable with paying on time? Will they agree to your terms regarding up-front payments and payment timing? Do they have a good reputation? 
  • The right footprint — Does the distributor have relationships where you want to sell your wine? This may be a geographic area or with certain types of retailers like fine dining restaurants or convenience stores. If you’re looking for a large geographic area, you may need to consider larger distributors.
  • Solid market understanding — The wine distributor you choose should thoroughly understand the market environment, competition, and economic conditions. If there are any gaps in their knowledge, they should express an interest in bridging it with a plan and timing to do so.
  • A long-term view of relationships — Wine distribution isn’t easy. Success requires establishing relationships over time. If you see a lot of staffing turnover, it may be a sign that it’s not the right distributor for you.
  • Commitment to partnership — Relationships are where it’s at for a successful supplier-distributor partnership. Make sure the distributor is as committed to your business as you are to the joint success of your partnership. 
  • Opportunity to stand out — Check the distributor’s book to see how your brand will fit in. Do you offer wines that are a little different from their existing book? If so, it may provide a mutually beneficial opportunity.
  • Cultural and value alignment — Any partnership needs a solid foundation to be successful. Choose a distributor that aligns with your values and culture. This will be especially helpful when you have any challenges.

5 Top Wine Distributors in the U.S.

Wines Vines Analytics recommends these five wine distributors. The top distributors on this list have remained largely consistent over the last few years.

1. Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits (SGWS)

The largest spirits and wine distributor in the U.S. for the last several years, SGWS operates in more than 35 states (both controlled and open). They are making investments in technology to continue offering value to their partners while continuing to expand into new markets.

2. Republic National Distributing Co. (RNDC)

Nipping at the heels of SGWS, Republic National Distributing Co. is also maintaining a focus on market expansion. Similarly, they are also investing in technology and expanding their e-commerce platform to new states.

3. Johnson Brothers Liquor Co.

This St. Paul-based distributor offers professional sales consulting services along with design and printing services in addition to being a full-service distributor. 

4. Breakthru Beverage Group 

Created by the 2015 merger of Charmer Sunbelt Group and Wirtz Beverage, Breakthrough remains a top contender in this space. They are poised for growth with the appointment of a new CEO with demonstrated experience leading organizations, so it will be interesting to see what they do next.

5. Winebow

This Virginia-based distributor specializes in family-owned wineries and fine wine importing. Winebow also is investing in technology with a B2B e-commerce store while expanding in the Pacific Northwest.

Is Bigger Always Better When It Comes to Wine Distributors?

Sometimes going with the larger distributors makes sense, especially if their footprint aligns with the markets where you’re interested in selling. Trying to navigate this decision can be challenging, and services like SevenFifty can help you to identify potential distribution partners. 

Another option to consider is innovative distributors like LibDib that support small wine suppliers by handling orders. Winemakers can manage relationship building and marketing of their wines, while LibDib handles the behind-the-scenes work of product distribution. This gives suppliers control of their brand and autonomy to scale for growth.

Alternately, suppliers can go the self-distribution route, selling wine directly to consumers. By leveraging marketing tactics like social media and email marketing, there’s a low-cost and effective marketing opportunity to raise brand awareness and increase sales. However, the distribution costs and associated time requirements can be high with this model, and navigating state requirements, shipping, and billing can be complex. Making this work at scale effectively can be challenging for small, growing wine producers and suppliers.

Which Wine Distributors Are Right for My Business?

There are many ways for winemakers and importers to distribute their products effectively. No matter which direction you take, if you’re clear about your brand, target customers, and where you want to sell your wines, you’ll make the right decision for your business.

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Eric Kunisawa

Founder & CEO

Eric Kunisawa is the founder of Grappos. He's been successfully helping businesses connect customers with their products since 2008.

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