Monday, June 27, 2022

Where does the USA get all of that imported bulk wine?

Obviously, the United States of America produces a lot of wine, some of it for purchasers of bottled wine and some of it for bulk wine purposes. Bulk wine is never treated with much respect by the wine media, as it usually disappears into the ‘private labels’ of wine clubs and retail stores (An insider's guide to the US bulk wine market). However, it is allegedly now coming into its own (How bulk wine is shedding anonymity for celebrity status). Apparently, market dynamics are currently skewing in favor of bulk wines, so that the bulk and bottled parts of the wine industry are overlapping more and more.

Many of you may not realize, however, that the USA also imports a lot of bulk wine. Indeed, it is allegedly the world's fourth largest importer of bulk wine (Bulk wine importation in the U.S.). Even worse, though, some of you may be quite surprised about where it comes from. For that reason, I will discuss it here.

I will start by illustrating the increasing volume of  bulk wine imported into the USA over the past 16 years. The data come from Statista, and cover the volume imported from 2006 to 2021, inclusive. This first graph, in millions of liters per year, shows you that the amount of bulk wine imported has continued to increase until today, although there was an unusual peak in 2012.

Importing more than 400 million liters is an awful lot of wine. Indeed, according to Statista, in 2020 the USA imported 372 million liters of bulk wine but exported only 228 million liters of it, so that 63% more bulk wine was imported than exported. Which wine business is the USA in? [Note: financially, the USA is a net importer of wine in general; see: The monetary value of bottled wine imports versus exports]

Annual imported bulk wine for the USA

The data I will use to explore the source of the imported bulk wine come from the Bulk Wine Club (set up by The World Bulk Wine Exhibition), via Vinex (Bulk wine imports into the United States). The next graph below shows the data for the top 10 import countries for the 12 months up to March 2022. The horizontal axis represents the total volume imported from each country, while the vertical axis represents the total cost of the wine imported. The red line gives an indication of a cost of $US 1 per liter — countries above the line are getting more than $US 1 per liter for the wine they supply, while those below the line are getting less.

Obviously, the wine came from the usual culprits, when considering wine production, notably Argentina, Australia, Chile, France, Germany, Italy, New Zealand, South Africa, and Spain. However, the biggest amount, by far, came straight across the border from Canada.

In terms of pricing, those countries located near the red line, such as Australia and Italy, got roughly $US 1 per liter for their bulk wine. However, France and especially New Zealand did much better than this (NZ = $3.26 per liter). On the other hand, Chile and especially Canada did much worse than this. Indeed, Canada got $0.26 per liter, while South Africa got $0.70, and Chile got $0.79. So, that Canadian stuff is pretty cheap, which may explain its apparent desirability.

Bulk wine imports into the USA during 2021

Just in case you are doubtful about all of this, the final graph below shows the same data for the prior 12 months, up to March 2021. The numbers differ, but the pattern is roughly the same. Canada was out in front by a country mile.

The Canadian wine industry is not all that small, especially in Ontario (in the south-east) and British Columbia (in the south-west). Canadians rightly tout their bottled wines, of which icewine is a specialty. Mind you, more of it goes to China than to the USA.

However, bulk wine production in Canada is rarely mentioned (except as an importer). Presumably, it is trucked across the western border into California, where it ends up blended with the local stuff. * [Check out the Comment at the end of the post for more information.] This then makes an anonymous North American wine, equivalent to an anonymous European wine. The wine media do not write much about the latter, either.

Bulk wine imports into the USA during 2020

You can find out more about the current Bulk Wine Revolution through The World Bulk Wine Exhibition. They recently (June) had a get—together in the USA (Sonoma), and their next one will be in Amsterdam in November.

* Mind you, Canada is also reported to be the top export market for California wine (2020:  US$ 424 million), well ahead of the United Kingdom (US$ 236 million) and the European Union (US$ 191 million). So, both the biggest export market and the biggest import market — now that is a trading partner!


  1. I looked into this several years ago and was surprised by the Canadian bulk export. It turns out it is not “table wine” but a fortified base that is used in cordials. Because of tax laws it is a cheaper form of fortification. If you check where the “wine” is shipped to you’ll find Louisiana and Illinois at the head of the list. This “wine” is NOT being blended with US produced table wine.

    1. Thanks for sorting that out. I wondered about it, but could find no useful information.

    2. Thank you for sharing this information. I was so puzzled!

  2. Indeed, the Canadian numbers are very strange. Canada makes less than 1.9 million hectolitres of wine. It's not on the list of the world's top 19 wine producers (check on BKWine Magazine or with the OIV).

    I would be interested to know the source of the info that Anonymous mentioned in another comment.

    1. Indeed, the data are odd, which makes a perfect blog post. I, also, would like to know more about the "cordials", since I found no online reference to them when researching the post.