by Jeff Miller of Artisan Family of Wines (Seven Artisans, Sly Dog Cellars, Red Côte)
When you give it a moment’s thought, you realize that many a time a winery will find itself with wine that it can’t use. There can be many reasons for this, but the most common and obvious is simply that there is more wine in inventory than the winery is able to bottle and sell.
Another winery is in precisely the opposite situation. It needs more wine than it is able to produce.
Yet another winery is in the situation where it has no particular problem of over or under supply, but it does need to do a blend and finds itself in need of “blenders” to flesh out the wine that it has.
All of these wineries are in need of a market where they can buy or sell wine. That’s where the bulk wine market comes in.
There are a number of firms that specialize in the purchase and sale of bulk wines. They broker sales from one winery to another. They stock samples of bulk wines that are available from their customers who need to sell, which they provide to potential buyers.
In most cases, the broker ships the sample to the customer, but the customer can also go into the broker’s offices and taste the wines there, even doing blending trials there in order to select the blenders he wants.
When a buyer finds a wine he wants, the broker will conduct the negotiations over the price of the wine and the terms of sale. Once a deal is struck, arrangements are made to transport the wine from the seller to the buyer. The broker gets a commission on the sale, usually 2%.
Most bulk wine brokers also broker grape sales. Some brokers also specialize in the sale of “shiners”, wine that’s bottled without a label. The buyer of a shiner will then label the bottles and sell them as his own product.
It is also often the case that the buyer in the bulk wine market isn’t a winery at all, but a negociant. A negociant doesn’t produce wine in the first instance, the way a winery does, but instead buys up and blends bulk wines. The practice is common in Europe, less so here. Cameron Hughes is a label that is relatively well known, and conducts its business as a negociant.
Bulk wine also often gets sold without the aid of broker. Once you’ve been in the business for a while, you make contacts with both buyers and sellers, so that the broker isn’t always necessary. Instead, the transaction is made directly from winery to winery.
In California the two largest brokers are Ciatti and Turrentine, and I’ve done business through both. Ciatti is located in San Rafael, though it has offices all over the world. Turrentine is in Novato. Both are very professional in my experience, and I have nothing but good to say about both of them. There are many smaller brokers as well, many of them having some niche specialty. My experience with other brokers is minimal, so I can’t say much about them.
It a side to the wine business most consumers have little knowledge of, but the bulk market is an essential part of the business, one that allows wine to go from one winery to another to meet both parties needs, one the need to sell, and the other need to buy, bulk wine.