Bulk wine gets a bad rap. It is associated with plonk in a box purchased by impoverished college students and parsimonious parents of the bride.
That stereotype has some truth—stereotypes usually do—but is not the whole picture. In the wine world, “bulk wine” is wine products shipped in large containers and bottled at a destination. You drink it all the time without knowing it.
Major retailers like Sam’s Club, Costco, Target, Trader Joe’s buy bulk wine, bottle it, sell it under house brands. It is used in canned wine and wine-based products such as hard seltzer. It is purchased by mainline wine producers to top off their supply when bad weather or other calamities mean they don’t have enough of their own juice to meet production quotas.
Bulk wines are involved in almost all mass-market brands. The top 50 U.S. wine producers make 90 percent of the domestic wine by volume. There are, however, more than 11,000 wineries, and many buy bulk wine from the big producers to augment the production of their brands.
Wine experts predict a bright future for bulk. There is sustainability, ease of process, and a broad range of products bulk can serve. In 2020, the U.S. imported 383 million liters of bulk wine, up 62 percent in a decade. U.S. production of bulk wine accounts for 65 percent of the wine our country exports.
Still, there is the bad rap. And clever ways to get around it. One winery, for instance, imports bulk wine from France in 20-liter kegs. They contend it is not bulk wine. To be “bulk wine” the exact same juice would have to be shipped in 60-liter kegs.
Négociant wine merchants enjoy a long tradition in the industry. Négotiant means “trader” in French. Négociants buy grapes, grape juice, or fermented wines from growers and wineries then bottle it and sell it under their own labels. Yep, they are bulk buyers, and some of them produce some of the mostly highly rated wine in the world.
• Dourthe La Grande Cuvée Sauvignon Blanc, Bordeaux 2019: Tasty, tart, food-friendly from quality négotiant. $14-15 Link to my review
• Bouchard Père & Fils Beaune du Château Premier Cru 2016: Seriously good Burgundy for the price. Good fruit, right oak, easy drinker from noted domaine/négotiant maker. $42-46 Link to my review
Last round: A man walks into a wine bar with a piece of tarmac in his hand: “A glass of wine for me—and one for the road.”
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