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First 365 Days of a Wine Importer in Business


The first 365 days can be a game changer for your Wine importing business, and their significance cannot be taken for granted.

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“If you are starting as a wine importer, the first thing you need to do is, you need to go to, its not gonna cost you any money” 
– Kevin Rapp, Co-Founder and President, Rapp Wine 
(At the conference for alcohol and beverage import and distribution 2018, hosted by Beverage Trade Network)


Until you get your importer’s licence which does not take long and is very much an online process now, under no circumstance would you as a wine importer be legally in a position to move wine into the country whatsoever. This is certainly the first step since it is a mandate to have an importer’s licence, something which does not expire and stays indefinitely with you for your lifetime.

Producer Hunting Season!

Although many modern methods don’t believe in flying and visiting a place to get produce, it can prove critical at building a relationship with your manufacturer by visiting him/her personally. This can be a chance to be a little more empathetic towards your producer, and to eventually reach to a conclusion from the meeting where you wrap up when you feel you both are truly on the same page. Working with a producer is always expected a more of a long term relationship and it is best to work with producers that you are excited about when they come to your town, and ofcourse those that add value to your business.

Under no circumstance can anyone break the cardinal rule of supply going out of stock. This is true for the new producers that you bring on on-board to work with you. It will be very significant to you that you make sure you work with a producer that does not leave you hanging in times of peak demand for your wine at any of your restaurant or retail outlet accounts.

Shipping Quotes

“The total dollar value of the US wine market in 2018 was $70.5 billion, with $23.3 billion (33%) derived from imported wine” - Wines & Vines Analytics, 2019.

The findings of Wines & Vines Analytics clearly indicate that there are way too many shipping companies that move around this much wine. Two most critical things that you’ll need here are: 

  • The confidence to pick up that phone, call and ask for a quote to ship a lower quantity (not the lowest) in figures to move wine from point A to point B.
  • Recommendations and comparisons

Anyone beginning as a wine importer, especially in an extremely wine competitive country like  USA will not receive a good quote from any shipping company, since their representatives easily figure out very fast about how old you are in business. Your best bet would be to call recommendations that you’ve received from your circle and begin to compare their quotes. If one is indeed giving lower than that of the other, then maybe try conveying that to the shipping company that quoted higher, and maybe if you are lucky you might just get an even lower quote. Ofcourse you do not need to be extremely aggressive about quotes in any way, but comparing back and forth between multiple shipping companies will help you understand the various shipping prices on the market, since you starting off as a new importer wouldn’t necessarily receive an advantageous price.

Checkout 2019 Checklist On How To Pitch a Distributor

COLA Process

COLA stands for Certificate of Label Approval, and “can be very frustrating”, says Rapp. 

As much as Rapp finds it frustrating, it is certainly something without which he wouldn’t have been able to sell his wines.

These are statutory requirements that you can’t work your way around. The TTB has registered more than 125,000 wine brands up until 2019, and each brand importer has had to acquire a COLA for their labels.

COLA Waivers – You may visit the TTB website, find the standard cover letter, and place details of your import to be used as samples which will then unlock a waiver for you to import only those imports even if you don’t have a COLA for those wines.

Newbie in the Wine World

A secret that Kevin Rapp shares in the same speech is how he befriends everybody on LinkedIn. And it may have seemed a little strange, but the fact is when you are someone new in the wine world, there is no way for you to be recognized as a part of the industry. LinkedIn is certainly the best free platform for people to register you even while scrolling through your profile that you exist in the wine world. Here you aren’t just marketing your wine, but are indeed marketing yourself and enabling any potential buyer to research about you in order to consider factors like reliability, approachability and business values.

Although completely contradictory to that, your wine brand being unheard of is actually a good thing in a jungle where the moment someone has heard of your wine, judgements, may they be positive (which they rarely are) or negative begin to roll and ends up becoming a complete turn off for a business deal (if judgements are negative). It is very easy to sell your wine when they have not a clue about your wine, rather than selling a wine to one who already feels negatively about.

Get your wine out to tastings

It is always advisable to not try hard to schedule tastings, rather gently place a thought about how you would be open to conduct a tasting for anyone interested, and allow the buyer whom you are pitching to take the call. Getting your wine out there is indeed extremely important. You could always enter wine competitions like Decanter World Wine Awards judged by great influencers like wine journalists, or the upcoming London Wine Competition to get your wines judged by the big buyers of the market. There are several advantages involved on winning such competitions, but keeping your bottle right in front of head buyers of a Belmond Hotel, and Heston Blumenthal for a few dollars is absolutely worth it. Either of these highly prestigious competitions have competitions all over the world and have thousands of entries each other.

Hiring the reliable

As you move forward a good number of months into the business, you will soon realize that you are now looking for new people to work with you, especially sales reps and delivery drivers. If your imported wine has good sales numbers within the first year, this thought will most definitely arise since you’d now want to grow the number of sales reps and delivery drivers within your venture. Recruiting the right sales reps and the reliable delivery drivers is absolutely crucial since they are going to be an integral part of the supply chain, apart from the sales reps having further responsibilities. Once you find a sales rep that you believe in it is important to provide him/her with everything that he/she might need like a motivating compensation and tools to close accounts. You making your sales reps finances easier will motivate him/her to make your finances easier.

“The most important thing that you can do to propel your company after the first 365 is to bring those other people who are going to get you from a 150 accounts to 250 acounts, from being able to operate as an importer in 2 or 3 states to 10 states” – Kevin Rapp

2021 USA Wine, Beer & Spirits Ratings results announced. Check out the full winners' list here.

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