Vrac [vrak] nm en – in bulk, loose, wholesale, pell-mell.Image at right courtesy of Bertrand Celce.
– from Putnam’s Contemporary French Dictionary
Travel through any corner of French wine country and you’re sure to see signs along the byways hawking wine en vrac – literally, “in bulk.” Locals drive up to the local cave cooperative or to their favorite private Domaine, haul their five liter plastic jugs out of the trunk and fill them up from a gas station style pump which taps directly into a concrete tank, steel cuve or old wooden cask. For a Euro or two per liter, sometimes less, they’re set for the week with a cistern full of their tipple of choice.
There’s a clear distinction at these wineries, regardless of size and intrinsic merit, between wine en vrac and wine in bottle. Bottled wines, even at the lowest levels, are representative of a producer’s “fine wine.” Wine en vrac, on the other hand, is bulk wine made up of leftovers, afterthoughts, the lowest quality fruit from the youngest, highest yielding vines, the poorest fringes of the property or the least ambitious members of the co-op. It is wine to be consumed without thought and without much if any expectation of quality beyond, hopefully, rudimentary drinkability.
So I responded with disbelief, which quickly transitioned into a wickedly satirical sense of glee, when an e-mail hawking a Côtes du Rhône and a Mâcon-Villages from a “winery” called VRAC landed in my in-box a few days ago. The wines have apparently been on the market for a couple of years but this was the first I’d heard of them. The message was from Gary’s Wine & Marketplace, a North Jersey shop which, following in the footsteps of neighborhood rival Wine Library, has become more and more aggressive in their Internet marketing efforts over the last couple of years.
I’m not sure what the marketing executives at the French company that manufactures these wines were thinking when they decided to call their wares “VRAC.” It seems the French equivalent of the self-righteously stupid American wine product called “Cheap Red Wine.” Did they think no one would get it? Or were they just hoping that people would line up to buy the wines to congratulate them for their brutal honesty? In either case, at $10-12 per bottle, they’re certainly not being sold at en vrac price levels.
What I really don’t get is why a “fine wine” merchant that wants to be taken seriously would carry these wines, much less trumpet their availability to thousands of e-mail subscribers, complete with ratings assigned by a shop employee. Just because someone out there will buy just about anything doesn’t mean you should sell it. Does it?