Peak season for sparkling wine sales in the United States falls between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve. Demand for bubbly usually picks up again around February 14th, then once more in June when folks are toasting their weddings and graduations. But the summer months have traditionally seen sparkling sales fall a little flat. In recent years, however, consumers have started to seek out bubbly year-round. In the summertime, in particular, refreshing frizzantes make leisurely brunches more scintillating and bring a touch of splendor to evenings on the patio. Plus, bubbles can be the perfect pairing to everything from barbecue to picnic fare.
According to California’s Wine Institute, sparkling wine and Champagne imports to the U.S. reached 17.7 million cases in 2012, the highest level since 1987. The fastest-growing sub-sector in the world of bubbles is prosecco, with shipments of the Italian spumante nearly doubling between 2007 and 2010. Domestic sparkling wine is on the rise, too, driven largely by the booming category of gently fizzy moscato. And the trend doesn’t seem to be fizzling out anytime soon.
The Prosecco Effect
‘The consumer is clearly warming up to sparkling wine in the summer,’ muses Diego Avanzato, director of brand development for Palm Bay International in Boca Raton. No pun intended: he’s noticed a slight spike in sparkling wine sales already this summer. The uptick may be driven by prosecco, he says, but other value bubblies are reaping the benefits ‘ especially those from Italy. Palm Bay imports Ferrari, a metodo classico Trento D.O.C.
‘Many people don’t know what Trento D.O.C. or metodo classico means,’ admits Avanzato. ‘But what we believe is that once you get wine into people’s mouths, you can make an incredible connection.’
The other effect of prosecco’s popularity is people warming to the idea that bubbly isn’t just for special occasions. Ferrari’s approach is to showase itself as part of a stylish everyday lifestyle. The brand hosts a series of rooftop parties at chic boutique hotels around the country, including the Thompson LES in New York and the Fountainbleau in Miami. Not that it’s abandoned the image of bubbly as a festive drink. It has a new retail gift box display that is ideal for celebrations like weddings and anniversaries, and partnered with The Knot to help reach newlyweds planning their big toast. But the message is that any day can be celebrated in style with bubbles.
Dinner and Drinks
‘The great thing about the rise of prosecco is that it’s opened people’s eyes to other value sparkling wines,’ says Brad Mayer, marketing director at the Montvale, N.J.-based distributor Winebow. ‘It’s a great oportunity for retailers to introduce their customers to something new.’
Winebow’s portfolio includes Zardetto, a top-selling prosecco and one of the first to be imported to the U.S. The family-run brand has embraced the growing trend for prosecco cocktails, especially popular in the warmer months. It runs a campaign promoting the bellini, a classic aperitif made with with prosecco and peach puree, pairing point-of-sale materials on how to make the drink at home with coupons for fresh peaches. On the brand’s well-trafficked Facebook page, it features a new cocktail recipe every week during the summer. It also teamed up with Martha Stewart Weddings to develop a line of color-coded cocktails that brides can match to their wedding color scheme. ‘The summer is popular time for parties. A prosecco or cava doesn’t just dress up a gathering, it also goes really well with barbecue,’ claims Mayer. ‘Those scrubbing bubbles cleanse the palate, which is great for spicy or glazed foods. Sparklers are also a good match for grilled fish or chilled seafood. And let’s not forget sparkling rosé. Consumers already associate summer with rosé, so it’s a great opportunity to push those wines, too.’
Winebow also brings in Juvéy Camps, the official cava of Spain’s royal family, which includes a pinot noir-based brut rosé in its lineup. Mayer also points to the malbec-based Alma Negra Sparkling Misterio Rosé in the portfolio as a potential match for grilled meats, given that malbec is already so widely enjoyed with such dishes.
‘It’s a shame that sparkling wine is still seen as just a celebratory drink in the U.S. But that’s already changing,’ says Doug Jeffirs, director of wine sales at Binny’s Beverage Depot, a Chicago-area retail chain. ‘It’s just such a universal pairing. You can match according to body and flavors with lighter fare, like poultry and seafood. But you can also contrast it, using it as a foil against bigger foods, like, yes, barbecue.’ Binny’s has a strong focus on staff training to help customers better understand and select sparkling wines. In addition to staffers regularly recommending bubblies as food pairings it also dedicates certain employees to event and wedding planning. The key, says Jeffirs, is to have a wide range of sparklers to fit every need and budget.
‘What champagne lacks is an affordable entry level for consumers. For someone new to sparkling wine, $20 to $30 as a starting point is tough to take,’ remarks Jeffirs. ‘If they start with a prosecco, we know from past trends that they might move up the ladder.’
And champagne isn’t necessarily where everyone ends up. It may be the most famous of French sparklers, but it’s certainly not the only one. Binny’s ran a promotion throughout June highlighting crémant d’Alsace that included discounts, Twitter tastings and Facebook outreach. The hope is that those who discovered the traditional Alsatian bubbly for the first time in June will keep coming back for more. Because the summer sparklers category is so broad, there is a lot of crossover potential. Binny’s is now seeing its sixth year of strong growth in still dry rosés. So, staffers are emboldened to introduce customers to sparkling rosés. Moscato is still booming as a category; these gently effervescent, often sweet wines are ideal for introducing new consumers to other fizzy wines.
Of course, champagne is the most iconic of the sparkling wines ‘ and Krug is one of champagne’s most iconic brands. It doesn’t experience the market’s seasonal volatility as other bubblies do, according to Krug business director Carl Heline. But even Krug may benefit from consumers embracing fizzy wine as an everyday indulgence.
‘At the end of the day, it will benefit all of us,’ says Heline. ‘When I see people in a restaurant ordering prosecco, I hope they will discover it to be entry level to a whole new style of wine.’
Like so many drinking trends, the surge of sparkling can be traced to on-premise behavior. As restaurateurs are increasingly willing to open full-size ‘ and better ‘ bottles of bubbly to serve by the glass, consumers have a greater exposure to these wines. Eventually, they seek them out on their own.
Sparkle and Shine
If Melanie Pyre, Spanish brands marketing director at Avená, had her way, the cavas would be kept with the still whites from Spain. She believes integrating the sparkling wines with the still increases their visibility.
‘Consumers have wines they are comfortable with,’ she explains. ‘People love sparkling wine. But they forget it when they go to the store. It’s out of sight, out of mind.’
Luckily, a number of producers are making sure their wines are not so easy to overlook, regardless of placement in the store, by overhauling their packaging. It’s a healthy sign that they don’t see the trend fading, says Pyre. Anna de Cordoná will launch its new bottle in the fall, featuring a fresh and playful design. Ferrari also recently traded a subdued, formal label for a brighter, more contemporary look.
For Atwater Vineyards, in the Finger Lakes, an eye-catching packaging was part of its sparkling wine strategy from the beginning. Its Riesling Bubble and Pinot Noir Bubble feature minimalist colored dots on the label, evoking effervescence. Both wines have been well-received, with production doubling annually for the past three years, according to winemaker Vinny Aliperti. He believes the bottle, clear and sealed with a crown cap closure like a beer bottle, has a lot to do with it.
‘We try not to pigeonhole our wines,’ says Aliperti. ‘We want people to understand that they’re fun, they’re food-friendly. You can take them anywhere.’
- Don’t hide the sparkling in the summertime. Pull bottles to create an eye-catching display.
- Highlight sparkling rosé along with still rosés. People already associate rosé with the warmer months, so bubbles can be a welcome suggestion.
- Keep a few bottles of bubbly with still wines of the same region or varietal. Consumers who rarely frequent the bubbly section will get to see them this way.
- Sparkling wine is food friendly. Recommend it as a pairing wine for everything from sticky, spicy barbecue to chilled seafood.
- Going on a picnic? Bubblies make great picnic wines: there is usually no corkscrew required.
- Sparkling wine cocktails are hot in the summertime. Top your mimosa, bellini or French 75 with prosecco, cava or – god forbid! – champagne.
- Dedicate one or more of your staff members to event planning, including weddings. Your customers will thank you.