Author: Deborah Parker Wong

In the Spirit of Bulk

At O’Neill Vintners & Distillers in Parlier, Calif., a team of master distillers transforms bulk wine and grain into immature brandy (neutral spirits) and gin at the rate of 5 to 5.5 million proof gallons annually (approximately 4 to 4.5 million gallons). That’s enough spirits to fill 80,000 bathtubs—but it’s not bathtub gin that’s being produced here. “Ninety-five percent of our clients are the industry’s largest domestic brandy labels, but the artisanal and craft private label brands are growing,” says Mike Drobnick, O’Neill’s senior vice president of bulk wines sales. With the craft spirits movement gaining momentum—according to the American Distilling Institute, current growth is around 30 percent annually and market share has doubled in the past two years—smaller producers often rely on bulk spirits to meet demand. “We sell spirits to well-known brands and some craft producers who typically blend our products with theirs.” That means consumers who purchase artisan spirits may, in fact, be paying a premium for a brand that contains high-quality bulk spirits. Be it artisan or volume, distillation is a highly technical process. “Most of our master distillers are former winemakers who’ve fallen in love with distilling,” says Drobnick. “They’re very technical and passionate.” He points to record sales for Cognac as the beginning of a renaissance for the grape-based, wood-aged spirit that, by U.S. standards, must spend a minimum two years in oak...

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Incredible Bulk: The changing nature of the international bulk wine market is creating opportunities for brokers, retailers, and distributors.

It’s estimated that roughly 25 percent of the world’s wine production is sold as bulk wine, a segment that’s described by one broker as the industry’s “soft underbelly” and exists for most consumers in the form of virtual brands. With the rise in popularity of bulk wine-derived, private label brands (brands developed for retailers, hotel chains, and restaurants, which sell them directly to consumers) and more producers entering the market in recent years, bulk wine has shed its low-rent image and become a hot commodity. With a healthy 6 percent annual growth rate for the last six years—and no...

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March/April 2018

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