How Do I Become a Wine Distributor?

Patrick Roland

If you want to become a wine distributor, there are a great number of skills needed. Being an expert on wineries and wines is essential but is far from the only talent you will need. The job is a combination of wine knowledge, sales, logistics and accounting. To break into this exciting career, you will need to dedicate many years to learning about wine and wine distribution and to studying the art of wine making.

Wine distributors must first learn about wine production and making.
Wine distributors must first learn about wine production and making.

A wine distributor purchases stock from a wine wholesaler or from vineyards and distributes the product to restaurants, liquor stores, wine shops and other outlets. Distributors must make and maintain relationships with these vendors in order to ensure that they continue to purchase wine. Many distributors specialize in a particular type of wine, region or vintage in order to have a sales niche.

Wine distributors should have a strong palate and be able to distinguish subtle flavors that are present in the wines they sample.
Wine distributors should have a strong palate and be able to distinguish subtle flavors that are present in the wines they sample.

There are no educational requirements if you want to become a wine distributor, but that does not mean you shouldn't be knowledgeable in many fields. The biggest necessity for making your career in wine is having a strong palate. This means you can taste the multitude of subtle flavors in a glass of white wine or red wine. Much of this talent is something that people are born with, but you can prove your palate by taking the test for a sommelier's certificate, which works as proof of your expertise. There are a variety of wine tasting classes at colleges and community centers to improve your palate, but you also could find a sommelier and ask him to be your mentor.

Wine distributors may host wine tasting events.
Wine distributors may host wine tasting events.

Strong communication skills are a must if you want to be a wine distributor. A wine distributor must continually make sales to stay in business, and one of the primary keys to selling is communicating. Knowing how to talk to customers, meet their needs and nurture that relationship takes a great deal of interpersonal skill.

It may be advantageous to acquire a sommelier's certificate as proof of one's finely tuned palate.
It may be advantageous to acquire a sommelier's certificate as proof of one's finely tuned palate.

Understanding logistics also is necessary. A distributor seeks out wines to buy and researches markets to sell the wine, so you must understand the channels through which these products travel. Knowing how to negotiate good prices, ensuring a timely delivery and maintaining a stock are all important logistical elements you handle if you become a wine distributor.

An individual who is interested in becoming a wine distributor should spend many years learning about wine.
An individual who is interested in becoming a wine distributor should spend many years learning about wine.

A great way to acquire all of the necessary skills to become a wine distributor is to first work as a wine representative for another wine distributor. Working for someone else gives you a chance to experience many types of wine, to sharpen your sales skills and to see how the industry works from the inside. These jobs also are great ways to make contacts for buying and wholesaling, so when you strike out on your own, you will have a long list of people with whom you can work.

Wine distributors work closely with restaurant owners to help determine which wines will best suit their menus.
Wine distributors work closely with restaurant owners to help determine which wines will best suit their menus.
Many distributors specialize in a particular type of wine, region or vintage in order to have a sales niche.
Many distributors specialize in a particular type of wine, region or vintage in order to have a sales niche.

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Discussion Comments

Soulfox

@Logicfest -- if one distributor controls the entire sales of a brand and essentially freezes out people wanting to compete for distribution contracts, how is that not a monopoly?

Logicfest

It would seem that finding a niche is also important. In my part of the world, various distributors have the market almost completely locked down. If you want to buy a certain brand, then, you can only get it through a distributor that has negotiated a deal with the winery. Might one have a better shot at first working out a deal with a smaller winery that is just starting up, establishing a presence in the market and then competing for more lucrative contracts from larger wineries?

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