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Dear Dr. Vinny,

I was told that box wine is made from already processed grapes, as in, a second use of the grapes. Is that true?

—Bertrand H., South Africa

Dear Bertrand,

Just because a wine is sold in a box, you really can’t make any assumptions about how the wine tastes or how it was made. There are many more options for packaging wine these days outside of a bottle, and box wines are convenient, take up less space and weigh less than glass bottles. Some box wines are just as good as bottled wines, and in some cases, the same wine goes into multiple types of packaging. I’ve been known to bring wine in a box to a picnic.

I think what you may be referring to is bulk wine, which is actually a pretty big part of the wine business. While most people think of wineries making wine from grapes they grew themselves, there are plenty of wineries that don’t own land and instead purchase grapes. But grapes can be pretty fragile, and when they’re ready to be picked they have to be turned into wine rather quickly. So there’s this other part of the wine business where grapes are turned into wine, but then sold to another party. The party who buys this wine might blend it with other wines, or age it in a barrel, or just package it and sell it. So much wine is made this way, it’s really not fair to think of it as “second-hand” grapes. There’s even a French term for someone who does this professionally: négociant.

It’s a good guess that some wines sold in boxes are made from bulk wine—there can be good deals on bulk wine, especially in a bumper crop of a vintage or from a grower that needs some fast cash. But not necessarily—I know of boxed wines made by large companies that own or control many acres of grapes.

—Dr. Vinny

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