On-trade buyers have been urged to rethink the role bulk wine can play when building their ranges due to an overall improvement in quality and innovation.
Lanchester Wines is convinced that bulk is becoming less of a dirty word in the wine trade and believes it can fill several slots on a wine list. 'Four or five years ago you mentioned bulk and people were sceptical,' says head of sales Mark Roberts. 'Now we are winning multiple awards for our bulk wine. It’s really bringing it back into line, as are most of the UK bulk guys: they are really stepping the game up.'
To help speed up efforts to improve the perception of bulk wine, Lanchester set up an agency called Vintrigue, which specialises in what the company calls 'boutique bulk'.
This is designed to 'premiumise' the process of shipping bulk wine to Britain by working with smaller, quirkier producers than is the norm for bulk. Lanchester is well placed for such a venture, as it is part of a group that also includes Greencroft Bottling.
For the on-trade we are really looking to bring in more interesting varietals, Mark Roberts
This is one of the world’s largest and most modern bottling facilities, capable of filling up to 90,000 bottles and boxes of wine an hour. Lanchester Wines represents around a half of the group’s turnover and supplies the UK trade with roughly 3,000 wine SKUs, and it sees bulk as the way forward.
'One of the reasons we set Vintrigue up as a company was to premiumise the idea of bulk,' says Roberts. 'Bulk has always been fairly relevant to the on-trade. People are becoming more accepting to the fact it’s bulk and having proactive conversations around that.
What it means for the on-trade
'For the on-trade we are really looking to bring in more interesting varietals. In the past the bulk thing would have been a tank of Shiraz, a tank of Chardonnay, but these days we are working with a lot more interesting blends, whether it be Shiraz-Mourvedre, Chenin-Sauvignon, these really quirky, on-trade-driven varietals that people are getting behind now.
'We wanted to work with more premium varietals to mitigate the perception. One of the first programmes we ran was a Shiraz-Viognier from Currency Creek and a straight Viognier, wines you would not automatically and logically link to bulk, but very interesting varietals, directly targeted the on-trade, and it was ever so good because it was packaged and targeted in such a way that everyone didn’t automatically go, bulk. We have continued that. Our strategy for the UK on-trade is to bring more interesting varietals to the market to allow the consumer to have access to that.'
The guys are realising that structuring them stylistically is a lot better. You can up-sell, Roberts
Lanchester has been selling bulk wine to everyone from independent retailers and regional wholesalers to national brewers and small restaurants, and Roberts says, 'I’ve not had anybody baulk at bulk.'
'In the on-trade the big thing is consistency, and that’s something we really try to over-deliver on,' he adds. 'We want to push up to plus-two, plus-three level positions on a wine list, so bulk might be a challenge for that, but I can’t for one second see it being an issue, because the quality is there. The innovation is there, which was not necessarily there five years ago.
'The obvious reasons are that it has a commercial benefit to what we can do. But it has to be the right quality. Because there were previously naysayers, we had to over-deliver on quality. We didn’t really want to give people any room for manoeuvre. With Greencroft being the most modern bottling facility in the UK by a long shot we can over deliver on quality. We are driven by quality and we can find consistency.'
Roberts is also buoyed by developments in the on-trade market, where he believes the restructuring of wine lists is really helping drive sales. 'It has got a lot better,' he says. 'The guys are realising that structuring them stylistically is a lot better. You can up-sell. Everybody would love a sommelier in every restaurant, but you can’t, so the old stance was that people would go in and look at house wine, not because of the cost necessarily but because they felt comfortable with it.
'The great thing about the structure of a wine list now is the way the structure has developed, mostly around dividing it stylistically, and there are now medals next to the wine, which gives a huge amount of consumer confidence at purchase.'