The 2016 Wine Growth Brands Awards: Dominant Trends and Best-Selling Bottles

Social Media Matters

Social media continues to play a major role in the wine industry. Producing content and connecting with fans in these digital communities was a core component of many brands’ marketing in 2015.

14 Hands won a Fast Track award for its steady growth. Rebekah Gunderson, marketing manager of supplier Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, attributed this in part to a win-win relationship with the Kentucky Derby.

As a sponsor of the legendary horse race, 14 Hands was the featured wine at the Churchill Downs concessions and suites during Kentucky Derby week. This partnership is great for “providing content for social media as well as fantastic retail displays leading up to the May race,” Gunderson says.


New Zealand brand Kim Crawford had such success with online advertising that it has “nearly doubled our investment and are optimizing creative to be even more digitally dynamic,” says Chloe Pfeiffer, spokesperson for supplier Global Imports & Spirits.

Promoting hashtags was a popular way to increase online engagement. Another Ste. Michelle Wine Estates brand, Motto, launched a social media campaign called #WhatsYourMotto. The hashtag “encourages people to share their mottos as it relates to wine and their lifestyle,” says Gunderson.


The first wine brand to enter our Growth Brands Hall of Fame last year, Chateau Ste. Michelle kept up the growth last year through its #mychateau campaign. This “drove targeted consumer engagement,” says Jan Barnes, vice president/group brand director.

Chateau Ste. Michelle also benefitted online and through in-person promotions from content created via successful partnerships with Alaska Seafood Marketing, Food Lifeline, Alaska Airlines, Camp Twin Lakes and the Washington State University Wine Science Center.

Mark West, an Established Growth Brand winner from Constellation Brands, effectively used social media as a “proud supporter of the men’s health movement,” says Sylvia Bronson, Mark West director of marketing. “Mark West spread the word about healthy eating through the Healthy Grilling platform and Ultimate Marinade Challenge on Facebook,” she adds. “We also ran a set of targeted ‘Dating 101’ ads on Facebook to remind consumers that having fun is part of a healthy lifestyle.”

Line 39 won a Fast Track Growth Brand award this year, and hopes to carry that growth through 2016 with a digital focus. “2016 will mark the first year that we invest in a fully integrated media campaign, heavily weighted in digital,” says Alex Parra, director of marketing for supplier O’Neill Vintners & Distillers. “Our goal is to reach over 65 million impressions across digital, mobile and print.”

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Millennials and Variety

All Millennials are now of legal drinking age. And, as Parra points out, a recent study by the Wine Market Council reported that the 79 million consumers in the U.S. age 21 to 38 drank 159.6 million cases of wine in 2015.

The wine industry is still figuring out the ramifications. One thing seems to be certain, though: Experimentation is IN for this group.

“We see that younger Millennial consumers are interested in trying new varieties and wines from regions they may not have heard of,” explains Jordan Sager, vice president of Winesellers, which supplies the La Fiera wine brand.

La Fiera earned a spot on the Comeback Brands list for posting increased for the past two years after a dip in 2013. Winesellers positioned La Fiera, which includes wine varietals from all over Italy, as “providing a vehicle to experiment at value-driven price points,” Sager says.

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POS and In-Person

Even with the near-universal expansion of digital strategies, POS and in-person marketing remains critical for success.

“We very much appreciate articles in periodicals or blogs on the web, but sometimes that can be counter-intuitive,” says Tony Leonardini, partner/winemaker of BNA Wine Group. “In the end, the consumer speaks with their purchase, and focusing on their trends is most important.

BNA Wine Group’s Butternut wine became a Rising Star after growing nearly 40% to 58,000 cases sold in 2015, compared to 42,000 last year.

“We are still heavily into social media and online promotions, but the face-to-face interaction is more important than ever,” Leonardini says.

Cava producer Freixenet won a Comeback Brand award as the brand continues to grow after a 2013 dip in sales. The Spanish sparkling wine brand is big on social media, but also sponsored the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival, says Danielle Fritz, brand manager, import brands for Freixenet USA, and offered a value-add option in-store to allow consumers to “Costumize” their Halloween-themed bottles.

Fast Track Award winner Nobilo from Global Imports & Spirits also benefitted from physical connections. “The quality is in the bottle—consumer events and sampling is a key area of investment,” says Pfeiffer.

Global Imports & Spirits also carries the Italian wine Ruffino, which in 2016 is “thrilled to partner with Italian icon San Pellegrino on a nationwide at-retail promotional program,” Pfeiffer says.

Ruffino won an Established Growth Brand Award for its consistent growth during the past five years, climbing from 713,000 cases sold in 2011 to about 1.13 million last year.

The Roscato fizzy red wine brand by Palm Bay rocketed up sales charts in recent years. A Rising Star in 2015, Roscato has grown from 45,000 cases sold in 2011 to half a million last year. One part of their success? A focus on tastings, according to the Palm Bay team.

Chilean wine brand Epica was a fellow Rising Star winner that relied on in-person marketing. “Tastings played the greatest role in achieving this status,” says Rod Simmons, brand manager at supplier Shaw-Ross International. “The feedback from tastings was that the consumer loves the style of the wine, being fruit forward, with the range covering almost all major varietals.”




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