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I am seriously interested in becoming a wine broker. I have a very strong working knowledge of CA wines, and would like to work with smaller(boutique)wineries to help expand their reach to other markets outside of CA. How might I go about this legally? Is there specific licensing I would need to obtain?


Hi Chris

The laws vary from state to state in terms of how this works, so I am going to have to refer you to your local Tennessee ABC to start.  But before you contact them, here are a few things you'll want to be able to answer:

1.  Are you a distributor?  A distributor buys the wine from the winery, ships it into the state, and then re-sells it to local retailers and restaurateurs.  I am assuming that this is NOT what you want to do, but if you did, you would certainly need local licensing, as well as warehouse capabilities. It takes a lot of capital to start a business like this, and a long time to get established.

2.  A broker is someone who works on commission for the winery, and sells the wines into accounts for the winery.  But a broker never takes possession of the wines---they are shipped directly from the winery to the retail and restaurant accounts--and so in some states brokers do not need to be licensed.  Brokers are not paid by the accounts, but are paid a commission by the winery after the wine is sold.  But SOMEBODY needs to be licensed in the state of Tennessee to sell the wines, and that usually means a distributor.  

3.  A sales rep/brand ambassador is a full-time or part-time employee of a winery who helps sell the wine into accounts, but the wine is delivered and billed through the local distributor.  If you could work out an agreement with a group of smaller wineries to represent them all, this sounds like the most likely choice for you---except that the wines you love may not already be distributed in Tennessee.  In that case, you will have to find a distributor who will offer to warehouse and deliver the wines that you are hoping to sell.  And they will probably resist doing this, because you will be competing with the wines they sell themselves.

It ain't easy.  The three-tier system is not the most efficient way to sell a product, and it is certainly not the easiest way for consumers to have the selection they want.

I wish I had better news for you.

Paul Wagner  


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Paul Wagner


Wines of the world, wine a food matching, wine and food service questions. I currently teach Wine courses at Napa Valley College, am an international wine judge, written many articles for publication, and have been a guest speaker at way too many wine conferences to remember. 25 years in the business. With Liz Thach and Janeen Olsen, I authored the definitive book on wine marketing: Wine Marketing & Sales, Strategies for a Saturated Market by The Wine Appreciation Guild, which won the Gourmand International Award in 2008 for the best wine book for professionals! With Rick Kushman of Capital Public Radio, I host a radio show and podcast called Bottletalk at, where I answer questions about wine and food on the air.


30 years in the business.

Society of Wine Educators, Academy of Wine Communications, American Wine Society

Vineyard and Winery Management Magazine, Fine Wine Journal, les Amis du Vin Journal, Society of Wine Educators Journal, and more.

I have taught at Napa Valley College for the last twenty years.

Awards and Honors
Spanish National Wine Fair: A lifetime dedicated to wine award. Espaderino della Castelania di Soave in Italy.

Past/Present Clients
Wineries include Caymus, Wente, Parducci, Shannon Ridge, Paul Dolan Wines, Vigilance, and others. Wine regions include the Union des Grand Crus de Borcdeaux, Union des Grands Crus de St. Emilion, Consorzio di Chianti CLassico, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Consorzio di Franciacorta, Rioja Alavesa, and others.

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