It may come as a surprise to some that the Tenth World Bulk Wine Exhibition (WBWE) takes place this November 26 & 27 in Amsterdam, a country with one of the most historically active wine shipping ports in the world. But the event is the largest of its kind devoted to the worldwide bulk wine market.
When it began, the bulk wine exhibition attracted mainly wine brokers and the giant wine producers who offered bulk product. Today, however, small producers and even some exporters and importers use the exhibition as a way to forecast the destination of their future crops and products. The bulk wine market appears to have shifted from a market to get rid of product to a market where products are planned in advance to meet certain segments . There’s even an online international bulk wine exchange, Vinex.
One innovation attributed to the WBWE is that rather than ship pallets upon pallets of bottled wine across the seas, the practice has taken hold to ship in bulk tanks, then, to bottle the wine at its destination. Proponents of this method claim it is both good for the environment—a better carbon imprint by being lighter and space-saving—and it maintains wine quality during shipment, as methods of preserving bulk product are greatly improved.
According to figures provided by WBWE’s Bulk Wine Club, bulk wine shipments grew 4.5 percent in volume and 9.4 percent in value in the first quarter of 2018. Today, valued at almost $3 billion, bulk wine shipments account for about 40% of all wine exported. In 2018, Spain surpasses Italy as the leading bulk wine exporting country: Spain at $579 million to Italy’s $357 million. Astonishingly, the average value of Spanish bulk wine is about 2.17 per gallon, and Italian bulk wine averages just above $3.20 per gallon. Now you know why there’s so much inexpensive wine on the retail shelf.
For a complete picture of the global wine market, take a look at Wine By Numbers.
The U.S. is the fourth largest bulk wine importer, and why not? According to wineindustryinsight.com, 62 percent of U.S. wine buyers spend between $8 and $15 per bottle; that’s the kind of wines supplied by the bulk market.
The bulk market produces turmoil, too. Imports from one of the biggest suppliers to the U.S., Argentina, dropped last year by 50 percent, as did U.S. imports from the third largest global bulk wine exporter, Australia, down 48 percent. Another major importer to the U.S., Italy, lost almost 15 percent in bulk wine value. But during the year, the value of Chilean imports rose 15 percent and Canadian pre-tariff import value rose 23 percent. The U.S. also exports bulk wine. The country’s top five bulk export markets last year were Germany (up 138 percent) , Denmark (up 108 percent), U.K. (up 72 percent), Belgium (up 30 percent) and Japan (down 34 percent). China is absent from the “top” U.S. list; it happens to be the top bulk wine export market for the Australians.
Despite the claim of many wine clubs which have sprung up in the past few years, not all their wines are specifically produced for them. A large volume of bulk wine imported into the U.S. and produced on the West Coast goes through wine clubs.
One way to possibly tell the difference between specific lot production or bulk is to read the label: wines fermented, aged and bottled specifically for a wine club by a particular licensed winery or winemaker ought to read, “Estate Bottled,” or “Produced & Bottled By …” Phrases on a wine label like “Vinted & Bottled By ,,,,” Cellared & Bottled By …” and just plain “Bottled By ,,,” may indicate bulk product blending.