You would think it would be hard to ship tens of millions of litres of bulk wine around the world and not be noticed, but unless you go looking the bulk wine industry operates very much under the radar of the mainstream wine trade. Which is why the International Bulk Wine & Spirits Show, that held its first event in the US last month and is coming to London in February, offers a fresh new debating and networking forum for those tasked in bringing those wines to market.
Bottling wine in market might fast becoming the go to solution for on-trade operators looking to maintain key price points, but to do so well needs specialist help and knowledge as the inaugural International Bulk Wine & Spirits Show in the US demonstrated.
Bulk wine has been in the news this week for all the right….and wrong reasons. Just as leading players from the US bulk wine industry were gathering in San Francisco to take part in the inaugural International Bulk Wine & Spirits Show, one of its biggest players in Europe, Raphaël Michel, was seeing its chairman arrested and charged on serious levels of fraud and for allegedly passing off up to 4m cases of bulk Rhône wine.
The scandal that has erupted around Raphaël Michel and its chairman Guillaume Ryckwaert has sent shock waves not only around the bulk wine industry, but the wider trade. It is also an uncomfortable reminder that not all the millions of wine being shipped around the world, or between producers in their home countries, is always exactly what it says on the label. A forensic examination of production, export, import and customs data would tell you that.
The situation regarding Raphaël Michel and Guillaume Ryckwaert is on-going and likely to take months to come to a conclusion. It only came to light following a routine audit of the winery’s records by French customs. But the fact the investigation covers a “great number of violations” over a period of four years, up to March 2017, and concerns wine classified as Vin de France as Côtes du Rhône, Châteauneuf du Pape and other AOC, will raise eyebrows amongst wine buyers everywhere.
Whatever the outcome it should also serve as a line in the sand for everyone involved in the shipping and management of bulk wine that this is still a relatively new industry with a few creases to iron out of its supply chain.
It is why events such as the San Francisco IBWSS conference are so important. It is to be followed in February when the IBWSS comes to London and gives operators, buyers, suppliers, distributors and producers the chance to take a serious, focused look at this now vital part of the industry.
It might not be for the wine purist, but bulk wine and bottled in market wines are here to stay and are going to be increasingly important, particularly in the UK, as both on and off-trade operators struggle with duty and currency to hit the price points that their customers want to pay.
We will have to wait until the new year until London gets the chance to put bulk wine firmly on the agenda. The Buyer has been working with IBWSS organisers, the US publishing group Beverage Trade Network, to ensure the right level of debate is had as part of a set piece conference over the two day show in February 26-27.
Top level debate
The line-up of speakers demonstrates how important bulk wine is to so many different areas of the UK wine industry, and increasing the on-trade in particular.
The latest big names to be added to the list include Neil Anderson, marketing director, and Paul Braydon, purchasing controller at Kingsland Drinks, one of the first and most influential players in handling, bottling and distributing bulk wine in the UK.
How far Kingsland has developed as a business shows how far bulk wine has come over the last seven to eight years. It now works with major groups across the on and off-trades and is now Tesco’s largest supplier.
Richard Leaver, founder of Twin Thieves, the bulk wine and sourcing consultancy business will also be joining a roster of speakers that includes, Mark Lansley, Broadland Wineries, Mark Roberts, Lanchester Wines, Andrew Shaw, Conviviality, Robin Copestick, Copestick Murray, Denys Hornabrook, VINEX, and other leading figures in the trade.
They will be following in the footsteps of the likes of Tim Hanni MW, Bobby Kock, the California Wine Institute, Nat DiBuduo, Allied Grape Growers, Bob Paulinski MW, Coles Liqour Group and Chris Mehringer, Park Street who all helped lead the debate at IBWSS in San Francisco.
Understanding bulk wine
For some bulk wine is their business, and always has been. For others it is still a new market to understand. Which is why IBWSS is such a relevant new addition to the conference calendar. As Malvika Patel of Beverage Trade Network explains: “Retailers, national wine and liquor chains, restaurants, hotels and other businesses within the hospitality industry are taking a closer look at how to leverage this important trend. It’s important to get out in front of this trend before your rivals do.”
Nat DiBuduo, president of Allied Grape Growers, for example, looked at current trends in grape supply and demand, citing Pinot Grigio as an example, and why it is essential all buyers distributors and retailers take bulk wine seriously.
But for Bob Paulinski MW an effective use of bulk wine in your wine supply can help improve margins, grow sales and generate customer loyalty with own label and exclusive brands. This was now as true for restaurant and bar groups as it is for grocery retailers. This, he argued, was now such a a powerful new dynamic that it had the potential to reshape the wine and spirits industry as we know it.
But it takes expert help and support to get it right, warned Steve Fredericks, president of Turrentine Brokerage. He offered advice on all the factors a business needs to consider when buying bulk wine and how you need to factor in and understand the cycles of supply and demand in this very different world.
The world of bulk supply is not just confined to wine. Chris Mehringer, president of US wine distributor, Park Street, explained how spirits companies could start a new brand using bulk spirits with even having their own distillery. Or what he called his “asset-light” strategy.
Arguably one of the reasons why more and more operators are turning to bulk wine is that it can deliver consistency and wines, if you like, made to a recipe. It was an issue picked up by wine and sensory expert, Tim Hanni MW who looked at the changing nature of consumer tastes, and how it was now possible with bulk wine to deliver brands and wines that are exactly what consumers want.
IBWSS San Francisco also looked at how the US wine industry can use bulk wine to capture larger shares of the international wine market. Jeff Hansen of AH Wines looked specifically at how wineries can now start targeting China with bulk wine. But with this caveat.“Sell it first, produce it second.”
But the further afield you go, the more disciplined you need to be in ensuring you are on top of all the necessary accreditation and certificates of analysis (COA), warned Gordon Burns of ETS Laboratories. They may, he said, seem a bit daunting at first, but should not be a reason to put aside global expansion.
- The IBWSS London event takes place between February 26-27 at the Royal Horticultural Halls. There are still opportunities for exhibitors to take out floor space and for members of the trade to register to attend. Full details can be found here including the growing list of top line speakers.