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Seeing the light: Meet the bulk wine converts

With more brands making the switch to bottle their wines in market, the drinks business speaks to some new recruits to the category and the people making the change happen at Encirc Beverages.

ONCE UPON a time, bulk wine, or wine transported in large volumes and bottled in the market in which it will be sold, was seen as a bit of a dirty secret in the wine world; a skeleton in the attic, or an unsavoury relative whom you try to keep away from your other half during family gatherings.

Brands that employed this kind of business model didn’t exactly shout it from the rooftops, but times have radically changed and now some of the world’s most successful wine companies are lauding the merits of bulk, causing a spike in the number of brands wanting to lap up its many advantages.

In 2024, there is simply not the same association between bulk wine and lesser quality. Major advancements in oxygen barrier control when shipping bulk wine have enabled wines to keep their freshness throughout long voyages, making the transition to bulk increasingly viable.

One prominent brand to make the move to bulk this year is New Zealand wine producer Villa Maria.

“Over the past year we’ve worked with our UK bottling partner Encirc Beverages to transition a selection of our top-volume wines, with Villa Maria Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc the first of our products to be bottled in the UK,” reports Gareth Insley, chief supply chain officer at Villa Maria. “These bottles left Encirc in late January 2024 and we’re thrilled with the result.”

According to Insley, the move has “reduced Villa Maria’s CO2 emissions by 27% for each shipment bottled in the UK, and improved our ability to be more agile and respond faster to UK orders”.

Instead of taking more than two months to transport wine to the UK from New Zealand, Villa Maria can now deliver “within three days”, confirms Insley. Once Villa Maria has proven the concept in the UK, “there may be potential to build on this in other markets”, he adds.

Encirc Beverages managing director Richard Lloyd helped to guide Villa Maria through the transition.

“It was all about listening to the team at Villa Maria – from their winemakers back in New Zealand to their operational team based here in the UK – so we could understand the key elements that mattered most to them,” Lloyd says.

“Throughout the process it has been critical to share data and historical performance information so that Villa Maria could build their confidence and trust in us.”

Another brand proudly championing bulk wine is fellow New Zealander Invivo, with a portfolio that includes celebrity wine brands GN (Graham Norton) and Invivo X, SJP (Sex and the City’s Sarah Jessica Parker). Founder and winemaker Rob Cameron tells the drinks business that “the options for bottling and packaging in the UK are of such quality and scale that it would be difficult to achieve the same result if we were to do so in New Zealand”.

Invivo currently bottles all its GN and Invivo X, SJP wines in the UK with Encirc Beverages, apart from its Prosecco and frizzante wines, which must be bottled at source. Cameron says that the company has gained “a huge amount of savings through this efficiency”.

By shipping wine in bulk, he adds: “We effectively move two-and-a-half times the volume of wine [versus] if we’d bottled in New Zealand. This vastly reduces the emissions per bottle and saves us a great deal of cost.”

Top of the leaderboard

Why is Encirc Beverages at the top of the leaderboard when it comes to helping brands make the leap to bulk?

“It comes down to our passionate and skilled team,” says Lloyd. “We also ensure that our sites receive continual investment, so that we have access to the latest cutting-edge technology. What makes us stand out from other operators is that we are vertically integrated, with glass manufacturing as well as glass filling capabilities.”

Lloyd reveals that the wine loss and dissolved oxygen pick-up rate at Encirc Beverages are at “world-leading levels”, meaning the wine that leaves its facilities tastes just as good as when it left its home country.

Dr Chris Borman MW, winemaker for Encirc Beverages, explains how, by bulk shipping and packing at Encirc Beverages, “we are able to assess the wine prior to bottling and make minor adjustments to improve the overall freshness and vibrancy of the wine, giving the best possible experience when the bottle is opened”.

According to Dr Borman, his team has “carried out a number of blind tastings with MWs over the last few years, and we consistently see that wine bottled here in the UK tastes just as good as, if not better than, the same wine bottled at source.”

Furthermore, the company’s “total commitment” to sustainability in the drinks industry means that Encirc Beverages will play a key role in lowering Scope 3 emissions for many of its customers. With wine brands increasingly shining a spotlight on their green credentials, converting to bulk could be the key that opens the door to their broader environmental goals.

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