Dear Jo,

My name is Sally [not real name]. I am a 23 years old and live in Columbia South Carolina. I ran across your website today and was wondering if I could pick your brain a little. I finished college about a year and a half ago with a degree in Finance. I currently work for an employee benefits consulting firm. My father introduced me to wine, and my passion began immediately. I have been trying to learn as much as possible over the last 2 years. I believe my calling is in the wine industry. I have talked to several importers, distributors, and restaurant owners. After talking with everyone I really want to import wine from Europe. I spent 6 months in college in Vienna Austria, and traveled all over Europe. My problem is I really do not know how to get started. I am trying to network and talk to as many people as possible. I have contacted a few people from Vienna that I met over there, and they are keeping their eyes open for opportunities. Would it be better to find a winery and purchase grapes and have them bottled in a separate place or is it better to buy wine that is already bottled and simply place my label on it? Or do you think it would be better to stay within the US and try and focus on picking up American Wineries and simply distribute? I could really use as much guidance as possible. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

Dear Sally,

When I entered the wine business, I had 11 years established in PR, and I wanted in to the wine business then, just as you do now. My resume was strong, like your degree in Finance is solid. The one thing I lacked then, which you now do, is an understanding of the wine business.

We both share that we knew we could do it. We also both share that we didn’t know where to start, and that we must follow the passion and curiosity.

The one thing that I now have, that you need to get, is the experience.

After just helping my Portuguese client Enoforum Wines find its importer Value Vines, I have some guidance for you, if you’d really like to have it.

Three options; and of course, there will be others that I just can’t think of right now that make the most sense:


  1. Focus on brands that are already established.
    1. Otherwise your learning curve will be too steep. One cannot climb the Himalayas as a first mountain climbing experience. It takes a lot of skill to do that.
  2. If you are only going to distribute, you’ve got a lot to set up.
    1. Wholesale house.
    2. Learn marketing (pricing in the three-tier system; POS support materials, how to use them)
    3. How to place your products with On and off-premise accounts (sales).
    4. I know I’m missing things, but you begin to get the point.

What I recommend, in order to live your IMPORTER DREAM, which is what I’d do if I had your aspirations, because you’re on the right track:

  1. Work for an importer for a couple of years. There’s lots to learn, and then you’re better prepared to step out on your own:
    • How to get your license.
    • Import rules and regulations.
      • Constructing labels that are compliant with the TTB.
      • Correct ways to ship into the US.
    • Conversions of money in another country to what will work in this country.
    • Distributor relationships.
    • Accounts
      • On-premise accounts (places where wine is consumed, like restaurants, what do they want and need?)
      • Off-premise accounts (places where wine is purchased, what do they want and need?)
    • Etc.
  2. Or… Hire a  right-hand man or woman that has a lot of history in the wine business as an importer.
    • Use the person as a consultant.
    • S/he will teach you all that you need to know.
  3. Or… Bring on a partner with the same qualifications as above.
    • Share the joys and angst.

Do I believe in you? Yes… you remind me of me when I wanted to get into this business. What I’ve learned along my 19 year journey is that I had the heart and had to learn about the soul. That takes time and experience, and it sounds like you’ve the time you need to get it all done.

I wish you the best in your quest, and thanks for asking. It was a good question to get my writing juices flowing.

If anyone else out there has any advice. please chime in.

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