The top five U.S. wine and spiritswholesalers now command 33.1 percent of total wholesaler revenues, up from 23.1 percent in1990, according to an exclusive report published May 1, 1999 by Impact Newsletter, a NewYork-based news and research publication.

Projected 1999 revenue growth for the toptier wholesalers (7.4%) is double the industry figure (3.3%). The top 10 wholesalers'market share has rocketed to 45.3 percent in 1999, according to Impact.

Impact Newsletter's ranking, by projected1999 sales revenue of wine and distilled spirits only, plus change versus 1998, follows:

1.  Southern Wine & Spirits ofAmerica      $2.820 Billion (+7.6%)
2.  Charmer Industries/Sunbelt Beverage     $1.575 Billion(+2.3%)
3.  National Distributing Co.               $1.370Billion (+7.5%)
4.  Young's Market Co.                      $1.090Billion (+4.3%)
5.  Glazer's Wholesale Distributors         $1.085 Billion (+19.2%)

"Wholesaler consolidation is thekiller of consumer choice. Many fat cat liquor wholesalers would rather jail a winemakerand deny a wine lover than let a bottle of Chardonnay bypass their coffers," saidJeremy Benson, executive director of Free the Grapes!, a national, non-profit coalition ofwine consumers and wineries seeking to ensure consumer access to fine wine. "Withjust two or three wholesalers in each state, it is logistically impossible for even thesebehemoths to stock and sell 10,000 labels produced each vintage by 1,800 U.S.wineries," he added.

"Over 1,700 of America's wineries aresmall, family-run farms. Many of these winemakers cannot fulfill demand from adult winelovers  living in states where wholesalers have, first, supported laws prohibitinginterstate direct shipments to adults, and second, refused to represent them in themarket," Benson added.

Even wholesalers admit that consolidationraises prices. In Illinois, one of the few remaining states with a competitive wholesalertier, wholesaler supporters of a pending bill that could prevent consolidation argue that"if the bill doesn't pass, Illinois consumers would likely face higher prices becausea monopolistic distribution system would be created (by consolidation)," reportedImpact.

A national wine war is pitting consumerswho want the option of having wineries ship directly to them against wine distributors,who are threatening winemakers with jail time if they bypass the middlemen. Consumers maysign-up at www.freethegrapes.org and will becontacted when their legislators are considering direct shipping legislation.