September 2017 Issue of Wines & Vines
 
SUBSCRIBE   »
 

Top 10 U.S. Wine Distributors

An introduction to the 10 wine distributors and their executives, ranked by their importance to U.S. wineries

 
by Jim Gordon
 
 

This first-time ranking of the top 10 U.S. wine distributors is intended to help domestic wineries as they confront the ongoing challenges of distributor consolidation. Wines Vines Analytics, the data research arm of Wines & Vines, created this top 10 list using unique criteria chosen to emphasize the interests of wineries, including how many and which U.S. wineries a distributor represents, the percentage of population in the states they cover and other factors. Note that there is a significant break in size between the top four distributors and numbers five through 10. Distribution of imports, beer and spirits were not considered in this methodology.

 


Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits is by far the largest wine distributor in the United States. It serves 36 states and 1,178 wineries, according to Wines Vines Analytics. The firm generated revenue estimated by Forbes magazine at $16.5 billion in 2016. It sold 150 million cases of wine and spirits the same year to more than 350,000 retail and restaurant accounts—that’s more than twice the sales revenue giant producer Constellation Brands posted in 2016, including wine, beer and spirits.

Southern Glazer’s was formed by a January 2016 agreement to merge Southern (already the biggest distributor) and Glazer’s, which had revenues about a third as large as Southern. The two had acquired several other distributors since 2010 including Premier, Stoller, Odom, Olinger, Alliance, Sterling and Union.

Southern Glazer’s leadership stems from the two founding families: the Chaplins, one of the original families of Southern Wine & Spirits, and the Glazers, who founded Glazer’s Inc. Wayne Chaplin from Southern is CEO of the merged companies. He has been with the company since 1984 and holds a juris doctor degree from the University of Miami. His father, Harvey Chaplin, is now chairman. 

From the other side, Bennett Glazer is executive vice chairman of Southern Glazer’s and president of Glazer’s Inc., which is the parent company of all Glazer’s subsidiaries. He joined Glazer’s in 1968. Sheldon “Shelly” Stein is president of Southern Glazer’s and came to the Glazer’s firm in 2010 with a background in investment banking and law.

While celebrating its No. 1 position, Southern Glazer’s also currently faces lawsuits filed by New York and California bar owners who allege overcharging and other illegal business practices.

 

Republic National Distributing Co., known as RNDC to the wine trade, is the nation’s second-largest wine distributor, representing 751 wineries, according to Wines Vines Analytics, and bringing in an estimated 2016 revenue of $6.5 billion, according to Forbes, in 22 states largely in the East, South and Midwest.

The company’s roots go back to the N. Goldring Corp., a beer distributor in Florida before Prohibition. The present company evolved and grew via mergers and acquisitions to include the Block Distributing Co. and National Distributing Co. as well as many others. RNDC formed in 2006 when the Republic and National firms merged.

Forbes ranks RNDC as the 49th largest private company in the United States, moving it up from No. 85 in 2009. It counts 42 offices across the country and is the market leader in Texas, where it holds a 63% market share with $354 million in annual sales through the first quarter of this year, according to Wines Vines Analytics.

After serving at the helm of several predecessor firms including Magnolia Marketing Co., Tom Cole is now the president of RNDC. He is on the board of directors of the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America and its government affairs committee, and he is active in New Orleans business and civic organizations.

Robert Hendrickson is the executive vice president and chief operating officer, a position he assumed in 2009 after serving as president-western states. Hendrickson has been part of RNDC since the beginning when, in 1997, the former Tarrant Co. and the former Julius Schepps Co. were merged to create Republic Beverage Co. 

 


Breakthru Beverage ranks third among the top wine distributors in the United States, selling products from 691 wineries into 15 states from its sales force in 37 offices, according to Wines Vines Analytics. Breakthru is a relatively new company in its present form, being the result of M&A activity that brought the Charmer Sunbelt and Wirtz distribution companies together as of early 2016, along with 15 other companies they had gathered in recent years.

Operating in mostly central, eastern and southern states, Breakthru has headquarters in both New York City and Illinois. Its 2016 revenues were estimated at $5.4 billion by Forbes.

“By working as an efficient and collaborative wholesaler across multiple markets, we can improve speed to market for our partners and better coordinate and activate brand marketing strategies,” now-president and CEO Greg Baird noted at the time of the merger. “We can make investments in both our markets and our people.”

Baird previously was president and COO of Charmer Sunbelt Group, where he oversaw all aspects of the company’s operations. His résumé also includes being president of Reliable Churchill, a prominent distributor in Maryland.

Representatives from two long-time distributor families are co-chairmen of Breakthru: Charles Merinoff has worked for his family’s beverage-distribution business since 1980. In 1991, he became president of Charmer Industries, the family’s metropolitan New York beverage business. In 1994 he led the acquisition of Sunbelt Beverage Corp., and in 1997 the wholesale companies in which the family had an interest became known as the Charmer Sunbelt Group.

W. Rockwell “Rocky” Wirtz is the other co-chair, representing the third generation of his family in the beverage business. Wirtz also serves as chairman of Wirtz Corp., one of the largest privately held and family-owned companies in the United States. 


Of the companies on the “Top 10” list of wine distributors, Young’s Market Co. is one of only two based on the West Coast. It serves 663 wineries in 11 western states from its headquarters in Orange County, Calif. Young’s has completed its share of mergers and acquisitions, absorbing six other companies since 2010, including regional leader Columbia in Oregon and Washington.

The family-owned company reports annual revenue of more than $3 billion and has a staff of 3,000 employees.

Young’s was a retail market business when it began in downtown Los Angeles in 1888 and grew to include 60 retail locations by the 1930s. After Prohibition, Young’s got into wine and spirits and operated a Dr. Pepper bottling plant before focusing exclusively on beverage alcohol.

Chairman Vern Underwood began his career in the Young’s warehouse in 1955. He ultimately became the fourth generation to lead Young’s Market Co. and now serves as chairman of the board of parent company Young’s Holdings. Wilson Daniels, the Napa Valley-based marketing company with a portfolio of luxury wine brands, also is owned by Young’s Holdings.

Chris Underwood started with the company in 1996 and is now chief executive officer. He oversees all Young’s business operations. Underwood also serves as a member of the board of directors of Young’s Holdings.

As president of Young’s Market, Rick Gillis provides strategic direction and operations management for a multi-state distribution network. Gillis is a 20-year veteran of the sales and distribution divisions of some of the most well-known consumer packaged goods organizations in the United States. He worked 15 years with Coca-Cola Enterprises and was group vice president of Dean Foods Co.

 

Johnson Brothers Liquor Co. is a full-service beverage distributor shipping wine, beer, spirits, non-alcoholic beverages and water to stores and restaurants in 22 states, particularly in the upper Midwest and Southwest regions. Johnson Brothers entered the New York and West Virginia markets this year. 

Established in 1953 by then-24-year-old Lynn Johnson in a converted roller skating rink in St. Paul, Minn., the firm has grown to encompass 30 offices today. After beginning with spirits, the firm later expanded into wine and also helped Hamm’s beer become a popular brand in the 1960s. Michael Johnson, son of the founder, has been the CEO since 1984. His brother, Todd Johnson, joined the firm in 1988 and is COO.

In addition to distribution, Johnson Brothers provides sales consulting services that include shelf configuration, wine list consulting, staff training, tasting events and helping clients with their product mix. The company also offers printing services for wine and drink lists, menus and point-of-sale materials.

 

Heidelberg Distributing serves only two states—Ohio and Kentucky—but ranks No. 6 among the “Top 10” list of wine distributors in the United States, according to Wines Vines Analytics. Two divisions are based in Cincinnati and one is in Dayton, Ohio, which includes the company headquarters. Other locations include Cleveland, Columbus, Loraine, Toledo and Youngstown (all in Ohio), plus a Kentucky office and warehouse in Hebron, Ky.

Heidelberg distributes the products of 177 domestic wineries, many of them being among the highest volume brands from the biggest companies.

The family-owned company started with a German-born brewer Albert W. Vontz, who arrived in Cincinnati in 1907. After Prohibition he drove a truck for the Heidelberg Brewery in nearby Covington, Ky. He kept the Heidelberg name when the brewery went out of business and began distributing beer and wine. 

In the 1950s, wine represented a large part of the operation’s sales, but it also acquired an Anheuser-Busch franchise in Cincinnati and later the Budweiser distributorship. 

Today Al Vontz III is co-chairman and president, while Vail Miller Sr. is co-chairman and secretary. Miller’s son, Vail Miller Jr., is CEO. The company has 1,600 associates, 2 million square feet of warehouse and serves 26,000 retailers in the two states.


Wine Warehouse operates only in California, where it distributes products from 104 domestic wineries along with beer and spirits. It ranks as the No. 7 U.S. wine distributor, according to Wines Vines Analytics.
The company was established in 1973 as an importer by wine collectors Bob and Jim Myerson, who saw an opportunity to bring fine wine to a new and rapidly growing market. Their first wine arrival from overseas was a single container of Burgundy. By 1978 the company was an established wholesaler of premium wine from around the world and also represented nearly half the bonded wineries in Napa Valley.
The business that started between two brothers has grown to include more than 600 employees at locations in both southern and northern California. The second-generation owners are Jim Myerson (not the co-founder Jim Myerson, but the son of founder Bob Myerson who shares the same name) and his sister, Linda Myerson Dean. In 2012 they purchased the remaining stock in the company from Bob Myerson.
Wine Warehouse’s book includes domestic wines ranging from top-volume brands by E. & J. Gallo Winery to boutiques such as Au Bon Climat, Domaine Drouhin Oregon and Heitz Cellar. 

 

 


The Martignetti Cos. are the leading wine and spirits distributor based in New England and No. 8 among the Top 10 U.S. Wine Distributors. The third-generation family company has 1,200 employees and serves 22 states through various divisions and regional distributing companies. Carmine Martignetti is chairman of Martignetti Cos. and serves on the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America executive committee. 

Based in Taunton, Mass., the company operates in Massachusetts as United Liquors, Carolina Wine & Spirits, Classic Wine and Commonwealth Wine & Spirits, and in other New England states as Martignetti Cos. The firm runs Rhode Island Distributing Co. through a joint venture. Vision Wine & Spirits, a subsidiary of Martignetti, sells craft spirits nationwide.

After the repeal of Prohibition in 1933, the Martignetti family received the first retail license for beverage alcohol in Massachusetts. Through the years, they grew their retail business, and in the 1970s they expanded the distribution and wholesale business, focusing on fine wines. Martignetti grew its distribution businesses in New England through organic growth, supplier appointments and acquisitions. The portfolio now encompasses a broad selection of fine wines and spirits from unique artisanal producers to global leading suppliers.

In 2016 the company constructed a state-of-the-art, LEED-certified headquarters in Taunton, Mass.


Empire Merchants LLC ranks No. 9 in the Top 10 U.S. Wine Distributors, according to Wines Vines Analytics, calling itself the premier wine and spirits distributor in the metropolitan New York area. With roots dating back to the end of Prohibition, the company represents 124 wineries, has state-of-the-art facilities and more than 1,300 employees.

Empire Merchants was formed in February 2007 through the combination of Charmer Industries and Peerless Importers. The resulting company is a partnership between Bulldog Ventures, a company owned by the Magliocco family, and Charmer Industries, a company owned by the Drucker and Merinoff families.   

CEO John Devin is a 25-year industry veteran, having started his career as a supplier with Brown-Forman before moving to Schieffelin & Somerset in 1994. Devin joined Peerless Importers in October 2002 and remained through the Peerless and Charmer consolidation in 2007. He was appointed CEO of Empire Merchants North in April 2015 and CEO of Empire Merchants in September of 2016.

Tony Magliocco is Empire Merchants’ chief operating officer. He led the effort to consolidate Empire’s multiple warehouses with the implementation of a software system and a process-improvement plan that enables Empire to ship more than 8.5 million cases per year. 


The Winebow Group reaches nearly half of the U.S. wine-buying market and ranks 10th on the Top 10 U.S. Wine Distributors list compiled by Wines Vines Analytics. It operates in 20 states, including the major markets of California, New York, Illinois and Florida, and represents 81 U.S. wineries.

Winebow comprises 11 national importer and distribution houses that offer fine wine and craft spirits from around the world. The company represents some of the most established family-owned properties in prominent growing areas, as well as newer producers. 

The Vintner Group of Virginia and New York-based Winebow merged in 2014 to form the current company. Coming from The Vintner Group, David Townsend is now president and CEO of The Winebow Group. “With our investments in infrastructure and operations—and our long-standing dedication to quality, education and customer service—we are excited to offer top-notch service to the market,” he says. 

Notable among its distribution houses are Martin Scott Wines, which serves New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, and the Henry Wine Group in California. In June the company announced expansion of distribution into Rhode Island.

 

 

 
SHARE   »
Print this page   PRINTER-FRIENDLY VERSION   »
E-mail this article   E-MAIL THIS ARTICLE   »
Close
 
Currently no comments posted for this article.
 
CURRENT MONTH'S FEATURES INDEX ยป