So, you’re thinking about importing wine in the U.S. Well congratulations!
You’re about to impart in a highly lucrative and rewarding business when done properly. First, you must acquaint yourself with the requirements to import wine in the U.S. The alcohol beverage industry is highly regulated on both the federal and state side. Therefore, importing wine generally need to comply with the requirements of both the federal and state government. To make matters even more convoluted, there are multiple agencies and government entities on the federal and state level in which you must comply to their rules and regulations. In an attempt to take out some of the confusion, we have gathered some general information from our experiences working in the industry to streamline the process. Kindly note that the information below is purely broad data with the intention of providing you with a general overview of the compliance considerations of what you must take into account when entering the wine importing business. We highly recommend that you consult with a professional importer who can provide insight to your specific business model, location, and products of import. (Contact us at for more information)
On the federal side, there are several agencies you will likely deal with:
The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (“TTB”)—the federal government agency, which is a division of the Department of Treasury, primarily responsible for regulating the production, importation, and distribution of alcohol beverages in the U.S. For importers, TTB regulates areas related to licensing, excise taxes, labeling, and formulation (not an exclusive list). For imported wines to be sold in U.S. commerce, all labels must be approved by the TTB prior to the importation of the wine. That is, there is a federal label approval process where the label must be submitted under the importer’s permit and the government will review the label and either approve, reject, or send the label back with “needs corrections.” The same holds true for formulas for many productions (i.e., this generally does not apply to table wines, however it can apply to some imported wines depending on their class/type. For more information, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org)
The Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”)—the FDA does have jurisdiction over alcohol beverages in some instances. For importers, the main aspect to consider is FDA food facility registration (i.e., 2002 Bioterrorism Act) requirement is satisfied. In the U.S., any facility that manufactures, processes, packs, or holds food for human or animal consumption within the U.S. needs to be registered with the FDA. If you are an importer and you own a warehouse where your wine will be stored before it is sold, your warehouse will need to be registered with the FDA. (For more information, contact us at ) If you’re working with a non-U.S. winery, there is a strong likelihood the winery will need to be registered with the FDA and have a U.S.-based Agent. (For more information, contact us at ) Additionally, Prior Notice is required to be completed and submitted to the FDA for all shipments of food and beverages to the U.S. (For more information, contact us at email@example.com)
U.S. Customs and Border Protection—Customs will be the place of initial arrival of the wine shipment. Customs works with TTB and FDA and will not release goods into U.S. commerce unless certain regulatory compliance requirements are met, such as a federal label approval (“COLA”) from TTB and an FDA-generated facility number from the FDA food facility registration from the corresponding winery.*
* Not an exhaustive list.
What Are Some Compliance Requirements I Must Follow to Import Wine?
There is a lot to consider when starting a wine importing business. Even from the compliance side, you must be well versed in federal, state, and perhaps even local agency requirements. Because there can be a lot to think about when starting a new import business, it is highly recommended that you hire an outside consultant to spearhead your compliance needs. Working with a consultant is often more expedient and more cost effective than handling many of these aspects yourself. Contact us at for more information about the types of services provided and how we can help you with as you get started with your wine import business. For your convenience, we’ve created a list of some of the compliance requirements that must be considered when starting a new wine import business:
You need an Employer Identification Number (“EIN”) from the IRS. This number is required even before you file your federal importer permit with the TTB. This is number is also required before you open up a bank account for your company (i.e., if other than a sole proprietorship.) You must obtain this from the IRS.
You need a federal basic importer permit with the TTB. You must apply to TTB for a federal basic importer’s permit in order to import wines to the U.S. The permit must be issued to your importing business, at the address which is your place of business. Usually, it takes about 60-90 days for the federal importer permit to be granted. You will need a letter from the winery (often called a Letter of Intent) indicating the promise on behalf of the winery to export wine to your company.
You may need to be the Primary American Source or Provide an Appointment Letter. This is usually a state requirement, and the necessity will depend on the individual state in which your business is licensed. Contact us at for more information about how we can help with the Primary American Source of Appointment Letter.
You need a label approval or COLA from the TTB for each wine you are importing into the U.S. The labels of each wine imported into the U.S. will need to comply with U.S. requirements (e.g., health warning statement, sulfites declaration, net contents in metric, etc.). Again, because label approvals can be timely (i.e., 30 days or sometimes more), we highly recommend working with an outside consultant who is familiar with TTB requirements and timelines. Please contact us at for more information about how we can assist with your label approval process.
You may need a state license to import, or meet other state requirements, but it varies by state. Contact us at for more information on how we can assist with state licensing or compliance requirements for importers.
You will need FDA Food Facility Registration Numbers. Generally, you will need this number from the supplier as well as for your own facility if you are storing or warehousing the wines
You will need a Customs Continuous Bond. U.S. Customs requires all importers to be backed by valid bond or surety.
You will need to pay duties and excise taxes on your imported wines. There may be state taxes or fees, too. *
* Not an exhaustive list.
How Can Sankofa Global Trading Consultants Help Your Importing Company?
Sankofa Global Trading Consultants regularly works with federal and state agencies that regulate food and alcohol beverages. We are familiar with the requirements for importing alcohol in the U.S. and can help walk you through the required procedures. We can also help you file your federal basic permit and any state required licenses. Further, we can assist with label submission, FDA food facility registration, payment of taxes or duties, and answer general compliance questions. We can also serve as U.S. Agent for any international supplier. For more information about how we can assist your company, contact us at for a courtesy, initial call.
Sankofa Global Trading Company provides trading services as well as consulting services. All posts are written for general informational purposes only and not intended to be relied on to constitute legal advice. For legal advice, please consult an attorney.
D Baylor, CEO
Sankofa Global Trading Company