Le Rosé Est Arrivé!

In early March, a giant bladder of pink wine landed on U.S. shores. But from whence did it come, and why? Megan Krigbaum on the arrival of this 22,000-liter, bag-in-a-box rosé and what it says about our thirst for pink wine.

ROSÉ EST ARRIVÉ! 20,000 liters of pure Provençal rosé goodness hit the mean streets of Kearny, New Jersey.

Lock and load: Curt Harris, director of production and operations at Gotham Project’s New Jersey facility, double checks the hose before unleashing a tidal wave of rosé.

The rosé is pumped from the bladder into two enormous tanks before making its way into kegs and off to restaurants and bars around the country.

This year, Gotham Project will bring in more than 50 wines from around the world to be shipped out in reusable stainless steel kegs (left). Schneider and Gotham Project national sales manager Denise Giraldo-Gordon converse amongst smaller crates, which range in size from 6,000 liters to 24,000 liters (right).

Rosé hosé.

Gotham Project partner Bruce Schneider pours a little of the rosé fresh off the truck (left). The wine was in surprisingly good shape having just been jostled around on a truck, a boat and another truck.

On Friday, March 4, 2016, at approximately 12:30 p.m., the 2015 rosé arrived, all 22,000 liters of it. And in what might surprise the throngs of rosé lovers across the continent, it wasn’t delivered by a pink Pegasus to the tune of 1,000 trumpets. Instead, it showed up in a massive food-grade plastic bladder (the biggest bag-in-a-box you can imagine), hauled by a Mack truck to a concrete warehouse in Kearny, New Jersey.

Is this peak rosé?

Since 2010, Bruce Schneider and Charles Bieler—the two guys behind Gotham Project—have been bringing in gallons upon gallons of wine from producers around the globe and using it to fill stainless steel kegs that are then distributed to restaurants and bars in 35 states, to be sold on tap.

In the past five years, wine on tap has become an all-out trend—how remarkable to be able to serve manzanilla sherry and Côte de Brouilly from a keg!—but the positive environmental impact that these wines can have is just as impressive. “Seventy percent of glass and plastic in the U.S. ends up in landfills,” says Schneider, “but stainless steel kegs are infinitely reusable.”

Bulk wine, if that’s what you’d call this, has long had a stigma of being not only tacky, but plain bad. This, on the other hand, is just about the best bulk wine money can buy. Schneider and Bieler are working with winemakers like George Skouras in Santorini, Laurent Dufouleur in Beaujolais and Giorgio Flessati in Sicily to make wines specifically for Gotham, rather than buying run-off that other wineries don’t want. They’re also making wine themselves in the Finger Lakes (their first Gotham keg was a Finger Lakes riesling), sold under the Empire Builder name.

So how does this all work? This is the question that inspired us to brave the Holland Tunnel at rush hour, en route to Kearny. In short, Gotham sends the wineries the plastic bladder and the recyclable cardboard shipping box, along with a video about how to properly pack up the wine and with the promise of phone consultation should anything go awry. The bladders are guaranteed to keep the wine for 90 days, plenty of time for it to come on freight ships into New Jersey. And thus far, there have only been a few mishaps.

“We had one runaway bladder—one that was sent from Portugal,” says Schneider. “It wasn’t strapped down the way it should have been, and the bladder got out of the box and was rolling around in the shipping container, spewing wine everywhere.”

Most of the time, the wine is delivered to Gotham’s 30,000-gallon capacity winery, where it’s then pumped from the truck into tanks, filtered, fed into kegs and shipped out within days. This spring, the company is moving to a larger warehouse in Bayonne that will have a 200,000-gallon capacity. And while Gotham will release more than 50 wines this year, two-thirds are shipped out between February and April—i.e., prime rosé season.

Riding the unendingly popular, burbling pink wave, this year Gotham will release six different rosés, touching on the “full color spectrum,” says Schneider. They’re from Italy, Spain, Washington State, the Finger Lakes and France. The truckload of wine we tracked to New Jersey was the 2015 Sabine by Bieler Père et Fils rosé that Gotham partner Charles Bieler makes with his dad in Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence—the spiritual home of pink wine. The two expect the Sabine to sell so well this year that they’re actually bringing in two 22,000-liter bags of it, which amounts to a total of 244,000 glasses of rosé—enough to keep the throngs satisfied for at least a week.

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