The “Import”ance of The Wine Importer

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The “Import”ance of The Wine Importer

Bringing the world’s wine to the shelves of your local wine shop, or to your favorite restaurant’s wine list, involves a myriad of steps and people to make it happen.

The regulation of alcoholic beverage being brought into the United States falls under the jurisdiction of four government agencies: The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA,) and Customs and Border Production (CBP). Importers will have to abide by the rules established for import of alcoholic beverages by all these agencies, in addition to holding proper licensing in the state(s) where the wine will be sold.

When a person or group of people decide to become an importer, they have much work to do. The importer will have to get an EIN (employer identification number) from the U.S. government, in addition to coming up with business and marketing plans and financing. It will have to complete and submit compliance paperwork, and file for a federal import permit. The importer will also have to submit a COLA (certificate of label application), because there are federal guidelines regarding what ingredients are in the product and how much; sulfite declarations are proper or, if not listed, meet the appropriate guideline; and that the tax and production classifications on the label are clearly noted.


CBP is interested in the Certificate of Origin, which states where the alcohol was produced, how long it has been aged, and the percent of alcohol, as this all helps determine the duty rate. A Natural Wine Certificate may be needed from TTB stating that the wine was made from sound or ripe grapes, and that the wine was produced with proper cellar treatment. European Union-produced wines within 05.-22 percent alcohol are exempt from this requirement as are 7-22 percent alcohol wines from South Africa, New Zealand, Georgia, Chile, Canada, Australia and Argentina.

Both the importer and every foreign supplier from which they import wine will have to have a registration number from the FDA, in compliance with the guidelines from the Food Facility Registration Regulation. Luckily for both importer and supplier, this is a one-time registration.

In addition to all of this, importers will likely provide a customs broker with a power of attorney to work on their behalf, to make sure that the shipments of wine come into the country and clear customs, and that all U.S. Customs and Border Protection laws are followed. Depending on the value of the shipment, a customs bond may be paid and this ensures that the taxes and duties are paid.
Importing wine, as a whole, is often referred to as a three-tier system, where the winery or manufacturer works with an agent, called an importer, who acts on their behalf in the United States; and then the wholesaler, or distributor, purchases the wine from the importer; and finally, the store or restaurant buys the wine from the wholesaler or distributor. Sometimes, the importer also serves as a wholesaler or distributor

And of course, the importer will have to go out and find its suppliers and build relationships with them. The importer will have to determine the terms of sale as to when and how the supplier is to be paid.

The next time that you go into a wine store and pick up a bottle of wine made outside the United States, be sure to look for the importer’s name on the bottle. That is the name of the person or organization that accomplished all these tasks, and dealt with all these government regulations and certifications, in order to be able to bring that wine to you and your table. Take note of that importer’s name. If you find that you seem to really like wines from a specific importer, you may want to seek out more wines from its portfolio, and broaden your wine horizon.

Thank an importer today!


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