The latest MW Perspectives essay, by Master of Wine Rob MacCulloch, unpacks the essential factors that bulk winemakers must consider when making bulk wine and preparing it for export. Read an excerpt below, and find the whole thing in our MW Perspectives section (members only).
Exporting wine in bulk has been one of the growth areas of the wine industry in the past two decades. While bulk wine can be traded and transported in many volumes and types of vessels—for example, traditional négociants buy barrels of wine—bulk wine made for export is more easily defined by the state of the wine, and the volume and container used for transport. More definitively, bulk wine made for export markets is wine at a prebottling stage, transported in large-volume vessels, such as flexitanks of 24,000 liters, for bottling and packaging in overseas markets. The cost and environmental savings of exporting wine in this fashion have been two reasons why bulk wine has experienced such steady growth. The opportunities that bulk wine creates for importers and retailers to market exclusive brands have been another reason for its popularity.
It should be noted that bulk wine defined in this context does not include packaged large-volume formats, such as bag-in-box or kegs. These are finished, individual formats, ready for sale and consumption, whereas bulk wine still requires final bottling and packaging. In terms of volume, while smaller-volume vessels for exporting modest parcels of wine are available (such as Intermediate Bulk Containers and Spacekraft®), the use of these vessels to export wine is comparatively rare—primarily because the cost benefit of exporting bulk wine is harder to achieve with smaller volumes, negating that primary factor for choosing to export in bulk. Moreover, smaller bulk formats are less practical to fill anaerobically in comparison with the vacuum sealing of empty flexitank bags. Because of this, many of these vessels are also less effective than standard larger-format vessels at preventing dissolved oxygen from accumulating in the wine.
The key factors that a winemaker needs to address when making bulk wine and preparing it for export can be divided into three categories. The primary factors are wine quality and authenticity. Bulk winemakers must also contend with myriad operational factors to produce wine on time, and to the correct specifications for the intended market. A third set of factors that a winemaker needs to address are the intangible, human, and unexpected: thinking ahead with respect to the many people and stages involved in the winemaking and export process.
For any winemaker, at any level of price and volume, quality is the key winemaking factor. That may seem surprising when discussing low-price-point bulk wines without the same qualitative reputation as wines in other categories, but qualitative standards are contextual . . .