Champions of bulk wine believe in it’s long-term outlook, thanks to the sustainability of the bulk wine process, the range of consumer preferences it can satisfy, and the ease of production.
These factors contribute to amazing industry growth in recent years. In 2020, the United States imported somewhere around 380 million liters of bulk wine, an increase of 62 percent over the past decade. U.S. production of bulk wine also accounts for about 65 percent of exported wine by volume, making the bulk wine market a healthy piece of the overall wine industry for the coming years.
As consumers are more mindful of the impact of manufacturing processes, they are increasingly looking for products that support the environment; and bulk wine is tough to ignore. Shipping large quantities by container and bottling at the destination has a markedly smaller carbon footprint than shipping physical bottles between locations. Plus, many bulk wine producers farm their wine grapes organically or at least sustainably, which only adds to the conservation value for the end consumer.
Bulk wine is wine that is shipped in containers, whether steel ISO tanks, Flexitanks, and other means, rather than shipping bottles or other wine packaging. Bulk wine is classified as any wine shipped in large containers that is repackaged at its destination as a branded product. Bulk wine is typically sold and bought in the US by one of three distinct channels.
The primary channel of the bulk wine market is that of wine brokers and negotiators. These brokers offer facilitation services from the sale and purchase of bulk wines and grapes all the way up to the global bulk wine trade, evaluation, and branding.
Wine brokerages also offer their services as contract manufacturers or private label contributors. This process involves a buyer providing the type and grade of the wine they require, which is made to order by a chosen winery. The bulk wine buyer usually provides bottles and labels and the winery handles the process to produce the bottled and branded wine.
Bulk wine classifieds primarily make up the second level of the bulk wine trade. These listings often appear in newspapers, industry publications or through various online channels, including websites and online classified platforms. The advertisements list available bulk wine and grapes, or the detailed specs of bottle-ready wines, so that potential buyers can directly contact the supplier. Numerous wineries will also list bulk wine and grapes for sale on regional association websites.
The third level of the bulk wine market is commonly referred to as the whisper market, where transactions are made between private individuals or businesses. 3rd Tier wine products are not listed and the transaction data is not public, however, the whisper market accounts for a significant portion of the bulk wine market. Typically, detailed information is relayed as to quantities and varieties of wine available for sale, as well as pricing. Sophisticated buyers with access to the information can arrange to taste the product and arrange a purchase.
Wineries often relay product information to wine brokers, trusting that the brokers will sell the product discreetly, without revealing the source winery or sale information. Wineries or other buyers seeking to buy bulk wine can also share their specific requirements with a brokerage firm, who will then connect the buyer with an appropriate winery.
Buyers of bulk wine often include other wineries, importers, exporters or bottling plants. Retail stores are also prominent bulk wine buyers, particularly if they sell their own private label wines. These are the store branded wines created and sold by many retail, supermarket, and grocery chains. One major advantage of private label wine versus retail chains is that it gives much more control over the end product, while also eliminating price competition from other retailers. If a retailer is the only store selling that specific brand of wine, they won’t feel pressure to offer discounts.
After harvesting the best wine grape varieties, wine producers and exporters take the time to analyze the best possible mode of transportation to successfully transport their wine. The two main options are to bottle the wine at the source, or send it in a bulk tank for it to be packaged by the retailer or private company.
When exporting wine instead of bottling at the source the preferred mode is what is commonly called a bulk tank. There are two types of bulk tanks used in the transport of bulk wine: Flexitanks, which are disposable plastic bags, fitted to a standard 20 ft long container; and ISO tanks, which are reusable
ISO steel tanks are able to fit in the back of a truck, or loaded onto a barge, tractor-trailer, or even a rail car. ISO tanks have capacities of 25,000 liters.
Flexitanks are flexible bags that are fitted into a container that has a capacity of approximately 24,000 liters. Flexitanks are typically only used just once. The component of the bags may vary, depending on the product it is being used to transport, and they also offer a significantly lower oxygen migration rate, which helps block organic materials like naphthalene that can contaminate the wine.
The two main reasons to import wine in bulk tanks are the complete control over the bottling process, which gives companies the ability to quickly rotate products based on consumer demand. Second, because the shelf life of wine begins when it is bottled, a company has the opportunity to extend a wine’s shelf life by keeping ideal stock levels and avoiding bottling quality issues.
By transporting wine in tanks to its final retail location, the retailer or company has the opportunity to package the product with their own branding that matches the demands and the expectation of their returning customers.
Bulk wine, shipped in large containers and bottled at its destination, is the basis of many consumer products. Major retailers use bulk wine to fill their 750ml glass bottles to sell under their private label brands.
Many companies source bulk for wine and wine-based products such as hard seltzers and different sangrias. Wine producers also use bulk varieties to top off their own supply for many reasons, such as a poor harvest or bad weather.
This is also how many private labels work, whether an amateur winemaker working in a collective space, an entrepreneur launching a new canned wine line, or even a restaurant that wants to offer their very own house wine. It is even possible for individuals to purchase wine to their specifications in bulk and bottle and label it to their liking.