Bulk wine, the two words that can send shudders down a wine connoisseur’s spine and spoil a Burgundian Vigneron’s appetite, is finding a new life in China, and growing at a speed that can marvel Bordelais even in a challenging climate like last year.
When the country’s overall imported wine scene was gripped by tepid demand, bulk wine was the only wine category that saw double digit growth.
In fact, China imported 160.6 million litres of bulk wine in 2018 worth about US$186.7 million, representing a 17.51% increase in value, according to figures released by China Association for Imports and Exports for Wine and Spirits.
The surest sign for wine trade’s interest in bulk was on full display when the inaugural edition of the World Bulk Wine Exhibition (WBWE) Asia attracted more than 4,000 visitors mainly from China over a two-day wine fair in eastern Shandong province’s port city Yantai from 30 to 31 May.
The choice of hosting city is strategic as Yantai is a main wine producing region in China and home to the country’s biggest winery Changyu Pioneer Wine Company, a bulk wine buyer as well. More importantly, the city is deemed as China’s de facto bulk wine capital as roughly 80% of the country’s overall imported bulk wines are destined here.
This certainly drew out main bulk players around the globe. According to the organiser, the wine fair represented 55% of the supply of the international bulk wine trade. “Taking into account that approximately 38 million hectoliters are sold globally, this figure gives some idea of the importance of this event for the Asian market,” according to WBWE.
Over 200 producers from 20 different countries took part in the fair, and some already reported brisk business with inked deals. The show floor sprawling over two exhibition halls teemed with producers and grape growers showing the latest samples of their wines including varietal wines and blends in both bulk and bottle ready for Chinese buyers to blend for the final product.
Prices of the wines on offer are aggressively competitive, with many selling below US$1 dollar per litre, with a few exceptions from France and Australia. Some samples are overtly green or unbalanced but none had been faulty or remarkably repulsive.
This is also a main message the organiser wants to get crossed, that bulk doesn’t mean low-end plonk and a main goal for the fair is to debunk the misconception.
With good quality bulk wine, costs can be spend on marketing and packaging to trade up products for higher margins. Successful examples include Australian wine giant Treasury Wine Estate’s 19 Crimes or the birth of Orin Swift in the US.
After all, as Otilia Romero de Condés, chief executive of WBWE, puts it, “We would say that all wine, including bottled wine, has been at some point bulk wine.”