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Top Wine Importers in the US and Current Trends in Wine Importation

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02/03/2024 Navigating the Ever-Evolving Landscape of American Wine Preferences

The United States boasts a vibrant and diverse wine market, thanks in large part to the efforts of its top wine importers. These companies play a crucial role in bringing wines from around the world to American consumers, enriching the wine landscape and providing a wide range of options for wine enthusiasts. Let's take a closer look at some of the top wine importers in the US and the current trends in wine importation. 

Winebow

Winebow, headquartered in Glen Allen, Virginia, stands as a prominent figure in the US wine importation sector. Since 1980, the company has been a national importer and distributor, offering a diverse selection of wines, spirits, and sakes from various regions worldwide. Winebow represents both established properties in prominent growing areas and a new generation of innovative winemakers and distillers.

Winebow's national distribution platform covers 18 markets, accounting for 60 percent of wine consumption in the U.S. Their import services span all U.S. states and territories, representing over 130 estates from Europe, the Southern Hemisphere, and emerging domestic areas.

Source: Winebow

The Heritage Portfolio from Winebow Imports features a distinguished collection of wines from renowned European producers, with some partnerships lasting over 40 years. This portfolio is characterized by a unique balance of category specialization and diversity, contributing to long-standing partnerships and market recognition.

Despite its impressive growth, Winebow Imports maintains a culture of specialization and excellence. The company has garnered a reputation for quality and a curated collection of products, earning praise from wine enthusiasts and connoisseurs alike. Winebow continues to evolve, leveraging its robust national platform and infrastructure to best serve customers and suppliers across the country.

Dean Ferrell, President and CEO in 2019, noted the company's significant growth and unparalleled position. "Over the past several years our company has grown significantly, achieving an unparalleled position as a national importer and distributor focused on fine wine and spirits."  This upward trend reflects Winebow's steadfast commitment, since its inception, to delivering fine wine and spirits, fostering personal relationships, and providing exceptional service.

Empson

Another influential company in the wine importation landscape is Empson, a leading Italian wine specialist for fifty years. Founded by Neil and Maria Empson, the company's mission has always been to import Italy's beauty and culture through its finest wines. Neil and Maria were pioneers in the industry, establishing Empson & Co. in 1972 after a year working as wine brokers. Their success led to the establishment of Empson USA in 1991, representing wineries from Italy, New Zealand, Chile, Spain, and the USA.

Empson specializes in growers who emphasize quality and value, celebrating their longstanding relationships, some lasting up to fifty years, with many top wineries. Neil, Maria, and their daughter Tara are considered leaders in the wine industry, with Tara now leading the company and continuing their legacy of excellence and innovation. Empson's commitment to showcasing wines that express their unique terroirs aligns with their core values of family, integrity, and constant innovation.

In addition to Winebow and Empson, other importers have made significant contributions to the wine market. Kermit Lynch, for example, is widely regarded as a pioneering figure in the wine trade.

Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant

Founded in 1972 by Kermit Lynch, this importer focuses on French and Italian wines, representing nearly 150 wineries in France and close to 50 in Italy. Lynch built a portfolio that included some of the most iconic names in wine, introducing Americans to many of the greatest wines that Europe has to offer. His focus on quality and his ability to identify emerging regions and talented winemakers have helped shape the American wine landscape.

In the early 1970s, reported Town & County, “the wine business was in a slump. California was still producing bulk wines with faux-French names, and the American market for French wines was largely restricted to the top growths of Bordeaux. Lynch created a niche by visiting the less celebrated regions of France and Italy and importing distinctive regional wines, then proselytizing from his Berkeley store front.”

He said, “I felt like Columbus discovering the New World.” His clients included Charles Joguet of Chinon as well as Henri Jayer, Gérard Chave, and Vieux Télégraphe. “Imagine you walk into a cellar no one has ever heard of and you have a glass of Raveneau or Coche [Dury] or de Montille or Gentaz...in your hand. Your nose descends and, my god—magical. That’s what it was like.”

With a commitment to quality and a passion for artisanal wines, Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant has become a respected name in the US wine importation scene.

Louis/Dressner is another importer that has made a mark on the industry. Specializing in "un-spoofulated" wines, Louis/Dressner works with artisanal producers who farm organically and vinify with minimal intervention. Their portfolio includes wines from across France and Italy, showcasing the diversity and quality of these regions.

Dalla Terra

Founded in 1990, Dalla Terra specializes in importing small, family-owned Italian wineries to the US. With a focus on quality and direct connections to distributors, Dalla Terra has built a reputation for bringing high-quality Italian wines to American consumers.

Ethica Wines

Founded in 2016, Ethica Wines focuses on importing wines from Italy, representing 25 wineries and bringing in 1 million cases of wine in 2022. With a strong emphasis on quality and a diverse portfolio, Ethica Wines has established itself as a key player in the US wine importation scene.

These importers, along with others like Jenny & François Selections, Jon-David Headrick, and Liz Willette of Willette Wines, have played pivotal roles in introducing American consumers to a diverse range of high-quality wines from around the world. Their dedication to quality, innovation, and showcasing the unique characteristics of each wine region has helped shape the wine market and elevate the appreciation of fine wines among consumers.

Source: Unsplash

Current Trends in Wine Importation

The era of Kermit Lynch’s discoveries has passed, but wine importers remain constantly on the lookout for new and exciting wines to introduce to the American market. They seek wines that offer excellent quality for the price, have compelling backstories, and provide consumers with a unique and memorable experience. Importers are also looking for wines that are different from what is currently available in the market, but not too offbeat to appeal to a broad audience.

One trend that has been gaining traction in recent years is the increasing popularity of wines from niche regions and lesser-known grape varieties. These wines offer a sense of discovery and adventure for consumers, providing them with an opportunity to explore new and uncharted territory in the world of wine.

Regions such as the Etna region in Sicily have been garnering attention for their volcanic wines, which are prized for their minerality, depth, and elegance. Similarly, wines from Georgia, with its rich winemaking history and unique traditional varieties, have been making waves in the US market.

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Another trend that importers are noticing is the growing interest in wines from Eastern Europe. Countries like Slovakia, Hungary, and Slovenia are producing wines from indigenous grape varieties that offer a distinct and authentic taste of the region. These wines are gaining recognition for their quality and are finding a place on the shelves of wine shops and restaurants across the country.

Today, the US wine importation scene remains vibrant and dynamic, with importers constantly seeking out new and exciting wines to introduce to American consumers. From niche regions to traditional grape varieties, there is a wide range of options available for sommeliers looking to enhance the world of wine enjoyment.

Header Image Source: Reuters

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