I fell in love with a wine from California about a year ago and my desire to enjoy this wine and to share this wine (Masut Vineyard & Winery) with my friends and colleagues in Japan, made me acquire all of the necessary importation licenses to make this desire of mine possible. That very wine, 280 cases (3360 bottles) is now about to be loaded into a 20 foot refrigerated container at the estate of the wine maker and will leave California soon, heading to Japan. Pretty exciting stuff!
Our company has been handling both imported and Made in Japan medical consumable products for years and recently acquired the ability to import and distribute medical class one items as well. So we have a Class One Medical license which is a fairly respectable designation, but until now, we've never traded in the area of wine and spirits. So to start, I had to learn what the requirements were to import and distribute alcohol related products and I had to get all of the necessary documentation in place so that I could apply for the necessary licenses.
It seemed that first we would need to get a license to handle alcohol related products. There are two types of licenses depending on whom you do business with and how you intend to sell the products, i.e., a wholesale license and or a retail license.
We also needed to find a temperature controlled warehouse and register it as a bonded warehouse, all so that I could bring in my first bottle of wine. Okay, let's get them!
One of the requirements for the wholesale license, in case any of you reading this are interested in doing this on your own, is that you need to set up relationships with at least two businesses who are already established in the wine and spirits trade, in order to have the necessary players (partners) in place to do the alcohol business with. In my case, a wine maker (Masut) (Partner No. 1) who would promise in writing to sell his wine to us and a liquor shop (Partner No. 2) that would be willing to buy this particular wine from us, at wholesale, and put this intention in writing to us, for the purpose of our application for the license. The hard part in any business seems to be to find someone who will buy your products. Since I didn't know any liquor shops to sell to, I decided to first obtained a retail license so that I could get started right away selling to the general public in Japan, or at least my friends. We have three (3) internet shops through which we can sell wine and so it became my intention to sell the wine we would bring in though the internet at retail. This was fairly simple to set up. The sales volume would be small, but at least we could get started and the wine could be made available.
The tax office controls liquor licenses in Japan. It's odd considering that alcohol usually belongs to the Ministry of Agriculture in most countries but in Japan, the law of tax was established first and liquor is subject to taxation so this is why the tax office controls the licenses.
As soon as I submitted the application for the retail license, I started to see how we could get the wholesale license as well. At this point, we started to think about what it would take to export SAKE to the United States. But again, finding a business (partner) willing to purchase Japanese alcohol in a foreign market was the challenging part. Luckily we have some friends in the USA.
So, with the right help and some luck, we were able to put together all of the contacts we needed to acquire the Import and Export Wholesale Liquor Licenses. When I think back to the time when we first got started, it seemed that to get these licenses in place was a sort of mission impossible. But we didn't give up. We kept our hope and faith that we could do this, had to make a few detours along the way, but eventually found the correct path. Then a few miracles happened and here we are ready to import and sell wine! At the same time, we are also in the position now to export and sell Japanese SAKE and Shochu! It all came together.
Two days ago, the sake maker in Matsumoto we visited in January contacted me, telling me that he liked the Masut wine I brought to him as a gift, and wanted to order it, so that he could sell it at his shop! My possible export supplier became my first wholesale customer! I thought I'd cry when I read his email.
My next goal is to export Sake and Shochu to the United States within this year (2016) and these two makers below, will be my first offering to the world. They are beautiful and elegant products that I know will be enjoyed immensely.