When you mention the World Bulk Wine Exhibition (WBWE) to an Aussie, they automatically think of cask wine because “bulk” is synonymous with “cheap and nasty” here. However, when you mention the same thing to a European, they think of the plethora of co-operatives that are flourishing around Europe, producing pretty darn good wine which is sold in bulk to the supermarkets and other institutions.
The co-operatives in Europe were established a very long time ago, so that small acreage grape growers could have their wine made. Over time as the volumes grew they began to sell the resultant wine in bulk to interested parties. A typical co-operative can have anywhere from two/three hundred members/owners up to well over one thousand for the really big ones.
For a long time the wines these co-operatives made were the “lowest common denominator” of quality, as they accepted all of the grapes from all of their members with no significant rules or standards. However, in more recent times over the last two decades, in order to survive, they have started to have input into the viticultural practices of their members.They have introduced quality and hygiene standards and wine grading systems so that as a result they have significantly raised the quality of their wines.
Sure there are still mega-litres of cask-quality wine for sale on the bulk market around the globe, but there is also a significant quantity of premium and super-premium wine available for sale in bulk.
Saving carbon footprint
Today,(in an ever changing world that is becoming increasingly environmentally conscious) a growing proportion of wine is being shipped from producing countries in bulk and then being bottled in the country of destination so as to lower its carbon footprint by not shipping heavy glass bottles most of the way across the world. Some of Australia’s biggest commercial brands are being shipped to Europe in bulk and then bottled either in the UK or Strasburg, for distribution throughout Europe.
In mid-November each year, the WBWE is held in Amsterdam. The 2018 exhibition was the tenthand largest event held so far, with 200 producersexhibiting from 22 countries and it was attended by 6,500 wine industry buyers/executives hailing from 60 different countries.
The CEO of the WBWE, Otilia Romero de Condés, stated that the tenth edition of the show was more, “diverse than ever before hosting not only large, bulk wine operators but also new producers and medium-sized companies in pursuit of very specific quality wines for their businesses.” and went on to say that, “Over the course of these past ten years, the WBWE has shifted from beingjust a trade fair to a complex business and discussion platform that provides many opportunities thanks to the multiple alternative activities which have been implemented.”
International Bulk Wine Competition
An integral part of the WBWE,is the annual International Bulk Wine Competition (IBWC),which is judged by a panel of twenty-five international judges from eighteen countries. We were divided up into five panels of five judges each and for the first time the judging was done using iPads rather than paper scoring sheets. WBWE is the only competition in the world for bulk wine and is open to any winery that produces more than 10,000 litres of wine for sale in bulk.
Apart from the competition, the WBWE also includes a number of seminars over the two days of the event, covering a raft of topics such as a round table discussion on “The new bag-in-box market-and expanding market”. Some of the other topics covered by seminars this year were:
- Trends in the wine market of the Scandinavian Countries
- New trends in wine consumption in the USA marketplace
- The South-East Asia market and consumption trends
- Trends and changes in the Japanese wine market
One of the seminars on the final day was a very topical session on,“Opportunities for resistant varieties in the Languedoc-Roussillon region”. With a growing concern(particularly in France) about over-sprays and chemical residuals in grapes, this presentation was about the developments that have been undertaken over the last few decades into the creation of mould resistant grape vines that could reduce or actually eliminate the need to spray the vines against moulds. When eventually released wide-spread, these “new” varieties will taste pretty much the same as their original variety but be significantly more environmentally friendly.
The WBWE also conducts practical workshops, such as the tasting masterclass on blending bulk wines so as to enhance the wines sensory appeal.Another session was on the impact of oaking wines.
The Silent Room
My favourite feature of the WBWE is that they have what they call, “The Silent Room”. This is an area where you can taste most of the wines that are at the Exhibition, in peace and quiet, without the presence of any salesmen or marketers.The wines are lined up by variety/blend on long trestle tablesfor you to taste in relative peace and quiet. Althoughit is not really possible to stop people/buyers from using their phones, even in a quiet zone.
The great advantage of this “room” is that you can try and compare wines of the same variety, from different producers and different countries. I found that in general the emerging variety wines were better with more varietal definition than many of the mainstream varieties.
The varieties that stood out for me in this line-up were: Monastrell,especially those from Yecla in Spain(Monastrell is also known by the French as Mourvèdre),Marselan (which is a cross between Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache created in the 1960s) from France, Carménère from Chile and Tannat from Uruguay.
East Europe and Georgia
Turning to the Eastern European and lesser known wine producing countries, at least one or two of the exhibitors from each country had some wines made from their native/emerging varieties, which stood out for their difference. Whereas, mostly their wines made from the usual “classic or mainstream” varieties like Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Shiraz were good commercial wines but nothing to get excited about, that is, “same old same old”.
The big disappointment to me was that the only Georgian presence was with their gold medal winning spirits. Unfortunately there were none of their excellent wines made from Saperavi or Rkatsiteli there at all.
Australia was represented by eight traders: Kingston Estate Wines from the Riverland, Austwine (Adelaide-based wine brokers), SalenaEstate, CW Wine Coonawarra, LCW from the Limestone Coast, Winegrapes Australia, Qualia from Sunraysia and the South Australia Wine Group also from the Riverland. Well actually nine, as Ciatti Wines Australia was there as part of its larger global stand. I must say that all the Ciatti wines on offer from around the world were pretty good, especially the 2018 Argentine Premium Malbec and the 2017 Paso Robles (USA) Cabernet Franc.
All the Aussies had very good quality wines, but the standouts for me were, firstly, the consistent quality of all the Austvine wines. Next, the Shiraz from McLaren Vale, Langhorne Creek and Barossa Valley examples from Salena Estate, followed by Kingston Estate Wines with all of its South Australia and Riverland appellated wines which were very good, especially noteworthy was its Petit Verdot – to me they are one of the best producers of this variety in Australia. The Grand Finale was the gold medal winning, LCW 2018 SEA Chardonnay, which was superb and would fit comfortably in $20-$25 labelled bottle of Chardonnay on the bottleshop shelf back home.
Bulk may not mean cheap
These are just some of the wines at the exhibition that disprove the old image that bulk wines are “cheap & nasty”. Yes, there were some ordinary wines there, but with 67 per cent of entries in the IWBC scoring a medal, the majority are pretty darn good wines.
The WBWE is an awesome event that is attended by a majority of the wine industry’s leading bulk wine sellers, shippers and buyers from around the globe.
On to Yantai China
It has become so successful that as the world’s bulk wine focus goes shifting from Europe to Asia (especially to China), WBWE has just announced that it will be conducting an Exhibition in the city of Yantai in China, on May 30-31, 2019. This will be the first ever bulk wine exhibition to be held in Asia. I can’t wait to check it out – it will be spectacular.
Dan Traucki is a wine journalist in Australia and a wine industry consultant specialising in assisting with exports to Asian markets. He also specialised in alternative grape varieties and occasionally writes for delWine. You may contact Dan at firstname.lastname@example.org