The shrinking number of wine distributors across the United States is troubling to wineries large and small. As the volume of wine production in Washington increases, wineries will have to work harder to find a home for the product.
"Unless the Washington State population doubles in the next twelve years, wineries are going to have to look outside the state’s borders to sell their wine," said Matt Mabus of Cordon Selections, a wine distributor in Seattle.
"This market [Washington State] can’t take that much more wine," he added. "Wineries are not going to be able to sell all their product through the tasting rooms, mailing lists, and wine clubs."
Mabus noted that distributors play a key role in getting product to markets, particularly to those markets that are outside major East and West Coast metropolitan centers. Trucking only a few cases of wine to a retailer in markets like South Carolina is cost prohibitive.
Consolidation is also a big issue for smaller wineries like Leonetti Cellars. In the last few years, larger companies have acquired seven of Leonetti’s distributors, said Leonetti’s Chris Figgins of Walla Walla, Washington. "Our wine still gets placed, but we’re not getting the same attention. Consolidation is a big deal to us and a big frustration."
Doug Gore, Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, added that distributors have an important function for big wineries. Ste. Michelle produces around four million cases of wine annually. "To be our own distributor would be a huge issue. We would need to hire thousands more people to handle sales. Direct sales only work for high value, luxury wines. Wine weighs a lot to ship."