Stand long enough by the side of any major highway that traverses one of California's major wine regions and you'll see them: bright, shiny tanker trucks filled with wine. As visible as these trucks are on the roads, their loads represent a part of the wine world that everyone seems content to keep mostly invisible to the consumer.
Consisting of transactions between producers for as little as a few dozen gallons to volumes that would require a convoy of these tankers for delivery, the bulk wine market has become central to the economics of American wine, to the point that many wine producers simply could not exist without it. Yet transactions by the tankload remain quietly behind the façade of romance and family projected by most wineries.
What is bulk wine? Simply put: any amount of wine that some producer wants to sell instead of putting it into a bottle with their name on it. And from the bulk buyer's perspective, it's any amount of wine you can purchase, put into a bottle, and slap your own name on.
This article is my monthly column at JancisRobinson.Com, Alder on America, and is available only to subscribers of her web site. If you're not familiar with the site, I urge you to give it a try. It's only £6.99 a month or £69 per year ($11/mo or $109 a year for you Americans) and well worth the cost, especially considering you basically get free, searchable access to the Oxford Companion to Wine ($65) and the World Atlas of Wine ($50) as part of the subscription costs. Click here to sign up.
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