Florida Is the Hot New Market for Premium Wine

The Sunshine State sailed through the pandemic and has been partying ever since. As salaries are high, reports Sarah Phillips, there’s a need for a supply of premium wine.

Reading time: 6m 30s

A need for premium wine in the Sunshine State (Photo: Balint Radu/stock.adobe.com)
A need for premium wine in the Sunshine State (Photo: Balint Radu/stock.adobe.com)

In February 2022, the Financial Times declared Miami “the most important city in America”. It was only half joking. As most of the country shuttered its doors during the Covid pandemic, Florida threw its wide open. Most restaurants and hotels were up and running by late spring or early summer 2020, making the state a magnet for people seeking sunshine and refuge from lockdowns.

Miami Mayor Francis Suarez was quick to capitalize on the situation, marketing the city as America’s next technology hub. “How can I help?” he’d ask on Twitter when founders discussed migrating to the Sunshine State. At one point, he sponsored a billboard in San Francisco. It displayed a tweet: “Thinking about moving to Miami? DM me.”

And they did. In the year from July 2020, more than 220,000 people moved to Florida. From 2021 to 2022, Florida gained 417,000 new residents, making it the fastest-growing state in the country. At the time, the most visible subsection of migrants were technology workers. Less affectionally known as ‘tech bros’, these now-remote workers took advantage of the ability to work from home. In the sun.

Wine sales are booming

Others saw new business opportunities. In April 2022, Frenchman Matthieu Yamoum arrived in Florida. He’d spent 11 years in the hospitality business in New York, culminating with the role of Wine Director at the famous Baccarat Hotel.

“Miami was on fire during the pandemic, and we were stuck in New York and New Jersey,” he said. In December 2022, along with his business partner Philippe Vasilescu, he opened Maison Mura, a 2,500-square-foot (232m2) luxury wine and spirits store in Downtown Miami. It has been a flying success.

Patrick Cassidy says that sales surged in 2020. He’s the Executive Vice President & General Manager of Florida for Southern Glazer’s, the world’s largest wholesaler of wine and spirits, which is headquartered in Miami, and said things were similar in 2021. “The hotels were open, the pool services were open. We benefitted greatly because of other markets taking a more stringent approach to the Covid protocols.” The year 2022, he says, was static, but the tide turned in 2023. “It was a bit of a difficult year because of the economy, because of inflation.”

Restaurants keep opening

Many newcomers are from New York, but they’ve also been arriving from the West Coast, and even the UK. Major Food Group famously opened a Miami outpost of Italian Carbone in January 2021. It now has seven outlets in the city. Gordon Ramsay has been on a more recent opening spree, launching Hell’s Kitchen in Downtown Miami in September 2023, and Lucky Cat on Miami Beach earlier this month. Local groups such as Groot Hospitality are also multiplying outlets, with much fanfare. When Casadonna, their joint venture with New York-based Tao Group, opened its doors in October, none other than David and Victoria Beckham were spotted on its doorstep. These openings have been a boon to sellers of high-end wine.

This is not to say that Florida was a wine desert beforehand. In August last year, I launched the first Wine Talks Miami event for our local wine trade. One speaker at this panel discussion on the past, present and future of wine in Miami was Allegra Angelo of Vinya Wine, a restaurant and retail concept with two outlets in the city. Angelo has been a key figure in the Miami wine world since long before the pandemic. She pointed to the likes of Jacqueline Pirolo of Macchialina restaurant, Amanda Fraga of Genuine Hospitality Group, and Zach Gossard who was formerly of Faena Miami Beach & Thomas Keller’s Surf Club, as pioneers in developing Florida’s wine scene. The implication that what’s happening is more of an evolution than a revolution was met with nods of agreement in the audience.

“The buyers of Miami are starting to get a little bit jaded. They’re busy. We need people to go outside of Miami and to the rest of Florida.”

Demand for wine education

Demand for wine education has also been rising according to Alessandra Esteves, who co-founded Florida Wine Academy with her husband Guilherme de Macedo in 2016. The school offers courses from WSET and The Wine Scholar Guild, as well as other events and conferences such as Miami Champagne Week, and the VinoSummit wine conference. “We used to run classes for four people,” she said. “Now we have 20-24 in our WSET classes and we have to tell people to register for next month because we’re always sold out.”

This evolution has not gone unnoticed by wine producers. “Every supplier I have wants to come to Miami,” says Erin Jolley MW, Portfolio Manager for Maverick Beverage Company of Florida, an independent distributor of wine and spirits. “The buyers of Miami are starting to get a little bit jaded. They’re busy. We need people to go outside of Miami and to the rest of Florida.”

There’s more to Florida than Miami

Each of the separate markets within Florida has its own personality and buying preferences. “In Orlando, you need name brands and a fighting variety to do well. It needs to say Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay. The panhandle is the same, except it also needs to be expensive,” says Jolley, the latter being a reference to the northwest of the state. “For Naples, it’s high-end Italian, and St Pete is interestingly becoming the natural wine hub of Florida.” But ultimately, there is opportunity across the state: “Every city in Florida has someone pushing the needle,” she says.

“Connect with people before you come in, so that when you walk in the door they already know you and have the carpet halfway rolled out.”

Producers hoping to enter or grow in the market are also faced with a distribution challenge. It’s a fact that the three main distributors, Southern Glazer’s, RNDC, and Breakthru Beverage, dominate wholesale. There are no official figures available, but some estimates place their combined market share at 80-90% of the beverage alcohol market in Florida. As a result, lists in chain or corporate-owned restaurants are often dominated by the big three, as are wine sections in grocery stores.

Miami Downtown (Photo: beatrice prève/ stock.adobe.com)
Miami Downtown (Photo: beatrice prève/ stock.adobe.com)

Jolley has advice for producers hoping to succeed in Florida. First, choose a handful of markets and focus on them. Then think about establishing your network from afar, for example through social media and by having a clear and updated website. “Connect with people before you come in, so that when you walk in the door they already know you and have the carpet halfway rolled out,” she says.

Growing media scene

Competition for media space is also tight. Jacqueline Coleman has been writing Miami’s only dedicated wine column, Vino, for The Biscayne Times since 2017. She is excited to see rising interest in Florida but points out that event schedules are becoming crowded. “This brings more opportunities for us as local wine writers, which often means our schedules can be quite full,” she says.

She’s not alone in having a full schedule. “I remember when you had one main event in town. Now there are trade events every week,” says Esteves, who observes growing competition for the attention of both the trade and consumers.

But there remains a receptive audience for the right event. “People have wide eyes, people are excited, people are eager to learn,” says Jolley. “I’ve been in the business for 20 years and I think Florida is the place to be in the US for wine right now, hands down.”

The wine trade is moving in

James Suckling has taken notice, with his two-day Great Wines of the World walkaround event in Miami Beach taking place in late February. He reported via email that more than 6,000 people have signed up. “I see Miami as the unofficial capital of Latin America and a vibrant premium wine market, different than New York which is strongly linked to Europe,” he said, explaining why he chose Florida for his flagship event. The list of exhibiting producers reads like a who’s who of the global fine wine world. And it’s fun.

Maison Mura’s Matthieu Yamoum also uses the word “fun” plenty of times in conversation. “It’s not just retail and events, it’s fun,” he says, explaining the store’s ethos. “We’re having fun, drinking good wine, helping people out. If you want to have fun, Miami is the city.” The well-heeled collectors and celebrities that flock to the store’s events and informal tastings seem to agree. But if you hear “fun” and think pink Prosecco, think again. In this corner of the city, fun revolves around First Growths, Burgundy, and vintage Champagne.

“People come to Florida to get on a boat and drink very expensive wine,” says Jolley, who is keen to dispel the myth that this market is all about rosé and cans. “Nobody’s drinking rosé unless it’s one of two to three big brands. And people don’t want alternative packaging like cans or bag-in-box. All of these things that sound exactly what Florida wants? It’s not really the case.”.

Yamoum sums it up: “Miami is this: It’s fun. And it’s attracted a lot of huge companies. And there are big salaries, and people who want to have fun. But it’s a different fun. It’s not $3k of Tequila on a club table, it’s $25k of White Burgundy and stone crabs on a yacht on a Sunday afternoon. This craze of fine wine and rare products is only getting stronger.”

By the end of his 2022 Financial Times article, journalist Joel Stein was exhausted: “If it turns out I do have to join the new Miami Movement, I’m going to need some of its old cocaine,” he wrote. Perhaps he could enjoy a nice glass of Raveneau instead.

Who's Who in Florida

Masters of Wine:

  • Eric Hemer MS/MW, Southern Glazer's Wine and Spirits (Miami)
  • Nick Jackson MW, President, Crescendo Wines (Jupiter)
  • Erin Jolley MW, Maverick Beverage Company of Florida (Miami)


Master Sommeliers:

  • Mariya Kovacheva, Pernod Ricard (West Palm Beach)
  • Roland Micu, World Equestrian Center (Dunnellon)
  • George Miliotes, Wine Bar George (Orlando)
  • Brian Koziol, Palomar Beverage Company (Winter Garden)
  • Andrew McNamara, ACE Wine and Spirits LLC (Tampa)
  • Juan Gomez, HMF @ The Breakers Resort (Palm Beach)
  • Laura DePasquale, Artisanal Wine & Spirits Southern Glazers Wine and Spirits of Florida (Miami)
  • John Blazon, The Spire Collection - Jackson Family Wines (Orlando)
  • Eric Hemer, Southern Glazers Wine & Spirits (Miami)
  • Matthew Citriglia, Southern Glazers Wine & Spirits / WineMentor Ltd. (Miami Shores)
  • Virginia Philip, Virginia Philip Wine Shop & Academy/The Breaker (Palm Beach)

Two giant retailers are proposing a merger. If it goes ahead, it could have a significant impact on the American wine market. Jeff Siegel reports.

Reading time: 5m 30s




Latest Articles