Sales of Spanish Cava are up about 9 percent in both dollars and volume, Nielsen reports. Cava, produced mostly in Catalonia, is made in the traditional method – which is particularly striking when you consider that the average retail price is about $9 a bottle.
The top-selling brand is Freixenet, whose best-known wine is Cordon Negro, in the distinctive black bottle (Freixenet is the largest producer of traditional-method sparkling wine in the world). Freixenet’s smaller sister brand, Segura Viudas, has seen particularly healthy growth, up 11 percent from 2014 to 2015.
Jane Scott, vice president of marketing for Freixenet USA, says both brands are being aimed at Millennials with social media and other digital marketing. Millennials, she says, are the target audience because they are adding bubbles to their “everyday repertoire.”
Because Segura Viudas is smaller and not as well-established in the U.S., Scott says, the company can experiment more with its promotional efforts. For example, it has partnered with vocalist and DJ Anna Lunoe on a video titled “Sip It.”
Because of similar pricing, most Cava goes head-to-head in the market with Prosecco. So part of the Freixenet message is what sets Cava apart – traditional method vs. Prosecco’s charmat method – without being “too wine-speaky,” Scott says.
The Cava Regulatory Board is working to promote a new, high-end category – Cava de Paraje Calificado – which was created in 2016. Pedro Bonet, chairman of the regulatory board, says such Cavas must be produced from a single vineyard and conform to other production requirements. “This new category,” he says, “is placed definitely at the tip of the qualitative pyramid of wine and gives visibility to the excellence of Cava.”
Prosecco accounts for 15 percent of U.S. sparkling wine sales, according to Nielsen. “I think it’s got more growth,” Brager says, although he adds: “Nothing can grow at those rates forever.”
Alan Tardi, U.S. ambassador for Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco DOCG, thinks the overall popularity of sparkling wine is one reason for Prosecco’s success, but there’s another element that makes Prosecco attractive: “While trends come and go, America has a long-lasting love affair with all things Italian, and Prosecco is perceived, rightly, by many as the quintessential Italian sparkler.” He adds that Prosecco is also the go-to sparkling wine for cocktails, a hot trend, and “younger consumers, especially the critical Millennial crowd, absolutely adore it.”
Tardi says one of the advantages Prosecco has over Champagne is that “people don’t feel they need a special occasion to enjoy a bottle. Many Americans have no qualms about popping open a bottle for a simple evening at home during the week.” He also says that, in contrast to Champagne, which is fuller-bodied and higher in acidity, “Prosecco is lighter, simpler, fresher and very user-friendly.”
Tardi speaks for producers of the more limited Conegliano Valdobbiadene growing region. Most of the Prosecco sold in the U.S. comes from the broader Prosecco DOC, which produces four times as much wine. But Tardi says the trends he describes apply to all Prosecco.
Brager notes that several of the big Prosecco brands are imported by large companies with good distribution. A good example is La Marca, imported by E&J Gallo, which is the best-selling Prosecco brand in the U.S. and is up 24 percent from 2014 to 2015, according to the Beverage Information and Insights Group. Rich Kranzmann, vice president and general manager, premium, for Gallo, says one reason for the growth is that La Marca “has the look and taste of a luxury-priced wine while still being approachable enough for everyday enjoyment.” The wine is also available in a 187-ml “mini,” which encourages new consumers to try it.
Is the growth in sparkling wine sales sustainable? Most people interviewed believe that it is, at least in the near term.
Take Champagne. Heitner notes that the United Kingdom imports more than 2.9 million cases a year, while the U.S. imports only 1.6 million. “We see lots of room for growth in the U.S.,” he says.
For European imports, the strength of the dollar against the Euro has been important. “Foreign exchange is very much in our favor right now,” Freixenet USA’s Scott says. Most industry people don’t foresee that changing soon.
And as more Americans view sparkling wine as an everyday treat, the growth should continue. “The trajectory of the category is going to continue,” Mumm Napa’s Lockwood predicts. bd
A Northern California resident, Laurie Daniel has written about wine for more than 20 years. Her wine column appears in several California newspapers, and her articles have appeared in magazines such as Wines & Vines, Food & Wine, Wine Country Living, Drinks and the Wine Enthusiast.