Corks are popping all over, filling flutes both on- and off-premise, as sparkling wine sales effervesce.
“More people are drinking sparkling wines now, especially at the value price points,” observes Elizabeth Gregg, general manager at Applejack Wine & Spirits, a Denver retailer.
“Customers want value these days—Prosecco, Cava, inexpensive Champagnes and California sparklers,” adds Applejack’s wine buyer Dave Anderson. “Prestige Champagne still does well, because we promote bubbly all year long.”
Sparkling wine sales are booming, thanks to a confluence of trends and factors. First, consumers have wider range of price points and styles to choose from than ever before. That includes approachable, sweeter and frizzante alternatives for novice drinkers. The current craze for still rosé is lifting sales of that sparkling style as well. Plus, the category is finally tapping that desired dichotomy of everyday quaffs and celebratory cuvees as consumers see sparkling wine as a quotidian option as well as a special-occasion splurge.
As somms and retailers are ready to point out, sparklers are super food-friendly, and sparkling wine-based cocktails are popular at bars and easy to replicate at home. Nonetheless, sparkling sales are strongest in the fourth quarter as holiday celebrations and gift-giving get a push from enticing holiday promotions.
“The sparkling wine category is demonstrating significant growth across multiple price points, in both value and volume,” says Gary Heck, president and owner of Korbel California Champagne. As expanded usage occasions, consumption options and consumer segments are contributing to the popularity of the category, sparkling wines have enjoyed success year-over-year with an increase not only in new consumers entering the category, but also existing consumers enjoying more sparkling wine than in previous years, he adds.
Korbel is the number-three domestic brand in terms of volume at 1.5 million cases in 2016, according to The Beverage Information & Insights Group. It’s right behind E&J Gallo’s Andre/Wycliff brands and Constellation’s Cook’s. E&J has three brands in the top 10 American sparklers, with Barefoot Bubbly and the Italian Ballatore Spumante. Also among the leading brands are Constellation’s J. Roget and Arbor Mist Sparkling, the latter growing 20% in volume.
“It’s clear that over the last five years, the sparkling wine category has experienced significant growth,” says Anna Bell, senior director of marketing for Barefoot Bubbly at E&J Gallo Winery. “We don’t see this as a trend that will spike, but instead, as the establishment of an enduring category in the wine industry.”
An Easy Sell
“I definitely am selling more sparkling wines. Moscato is a monster; it’s the number-one selling grape in the store,” says Tim Fowler, general manager at Shaker Beverage Shoppe in Harrison, Ark. “And, it’s not a big percentage but there is definitely a market for $50-plus Champagnes,” he adds.
While the leading domestic brands rose a respectable 5.0% in market share, the “other brands” segment popped nearly 11%—likely due to an influx of new entrees into the sparkling category in the U.S. market growing off small bases.
Earlier this year, Constellation Brands launched Clos du Bois Lightly Bubbled Chardonnay. “It is the ultimate crossover product, delivering all the sophistication of still wine with broader appeal,” says Jennifer Evans, vice president Strategy, Wine and Spirits Division.
Domaine Chandon California aimed at creating a more approachable style with its new Sweet Star. “We certainly realize this is a trend, especially with female millennials,” says managing director Arnaud de Saignes. Chandon’s millennial winemaker Pauline Lhote crafted the new sparkler in the traditional method, from Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir. “But its flavor profile is just a bit more lush and easy-to-drink,” de Saignes adds.
E&J Gallo Winery brands have also expanded portfolios. In early fall, J Vineyards & Winery added a Demi-Sec sparkling wine, made with a 4% dosage from vintage reserve wines. “Though we’ve offered a variety of Brut and Extra Brut cuvées at J, this is the first time we’ve offered a wine in the sweeter Demi-Sec style,” says winemaker Nichole Hitchcock. Over the last 18 months, J has also added Vintage Blanc de Noirs and Vintage Brut Rosé to the portfolio. “The increasing number of sparkling wines we produce, the array of styles and the time we’ve dedicated for these wines to rest en tirage all point to J’s commitment to producing luxury tier California sparkling wines,” Hitchcock says.
Barefoot Bubbly launched a Brut Rosé in select markets in both standard 750-ml. and 187-ml. formats. “Brut Rosé is the category’s fastest-growing segment, and we’re thrilled to add this to Barefoot’s outstanding selection of sparkling wines,” Bell says.
Apothic Sparkling is a new seasonal sparkling wine available in select markets; it’s a blend of red and white California grapes, crafted in the charmat method. “We’ve seen that millennial consumers are seeking out less traditional products in the wine space. The Apothic brand, including its seasonal releases, appeals to the millennial consumer’s sense of adventure, and we’re continuing that legacy,” says Christine Jagher, director of marketing for Apothic. The wine boasts a jet-black bottle and a bright-white, iridescent geode-inspired graphic.
In the U.S. market, sparkling wines are enjoying double-digit sales, according to Nielsen 2017, with Prosecco leading the charge at 17% of the category. The Italian sparkler appeals to Millennials because it is lighter and sweeter than Champagne, not as intimidating and less expensive.
“Prosecco is growing tremendously, up 24% in volume over the last year,” says Bell at E&J Gallo. “We’re seeing buzz around sparkling across the category, in both sweet and dry styles and across all price points.”
“Prosecco is leading the way in sparkling,” says Ralph Bonavist, co-owner and buyer for All Star Wine & Spirits in Latham, N.Y. “Customers are more price-conscious for sure. They’re buying more Prosecco, Cava, Spumante and Moscato than Champagne.”
“I sell way more Prosecco than I ever thought I would,” Fowler says. Shaker Beverage Shoppe carries eight brands of the Italian sparkler. “It’s mostly younger consumers buying them,” he adds.
“Prosecco continues to drive strong growth within the sparkling wine category,” says Evans at Constellation. “Over 30% of Prosecco drinkers today purchased Prosecco for the first time in 2016, helping to grow the category tremendously. We continue to see high-quality Prosecco offerings under $15, like Ruffino’s Prosecco, bring younger consumers to the category.”
“La Marca Prosecco is our number-one item in units sold,” Gregg says. Other movers on the value end at Applejack include Ruffino Prosecco and Moscato, Korbel, as well as Cavas from Segura Viudas and Cristalino.
All Year Round
By the numbers, sparkling wines still get a big bump in fourth-quarter sales thanks to holiday celebrations and gift-giving. Bars, restaurants and retailers all report that consumers consider bubbly an anytime quaff all year round, especially at affordable price points.
“Consumption patterns are definitely changing,” reports de Saignes. Domaine Chandon California’s summer program continues to grow since it started six years ago with a red, white and blue limited-edition bottle targeting the Memorial Day to Labor Day season. The program has grown to include both Brut and Rosé in 750s and minis, and both on- and off-premise accounts. This year the promotion included a Chandon Summer party in New York welcoming 800 guests, and a similar event at the winery hosting 2,000.
“Some producers, especially of Prosecco, have done a good job of trumpeting the idea that you can get an affordable sparkling wine that is pleasant and tasty at an everyday price point,” says Bonavist at All Star Wine & Spirits. “People realize they don’t need to wait for a holiday or special occasion to pop a bubbly.”
“The most impactful trend has been the shift from drinking sparkling wine only for celebratory occasions to everyday consumption, and even as a meal pairing,” says Danielle Fritz, brand manager for Freixenet USA. “This has been driven by Prosecco, but has also positively impacted Cava and domestic sparkling wine.”
“As a whole, Champagne consumption is becoming deformalized and de-seasonalized, as consumers are finding ways to celebrate more often and all year long,” says Renaud Butel, vice president of Champagne House Moët and Chandon. With new packaging offerings like Moët Minis Six Pack, Champagne can readily be enjoyed at everyday occasions like picnics and backyard barbecues, Butel adds.
The huge fashionability of still rosé wine seems to be translating to sparkling rosé.
“Sparkling rosé is on the rise. It has benefited from the hot rosé trend, which is making rosé a year-round choice for consumers,” says Evans at Constellation.
“We’re seeing Gruet Brut Rosé sparkling wines fly off the shelves,” says Chantelle Lusebrink, public relations manager for Gruet Winery. The company’s sparkling rosé is up 21.5% in dollar volume. “This seems to be trending directly in-line with the both rose and sparkling categories across the board. It’s the best of both worlds for what consumers are looking for and are interested in drinking and experimenting with today.”
“Rosé has definitely moved beyond a fad or trend. Sparkling rosé, like all rosé wines, is becoming a part of the consumer repertoire not just in the summer, or on Valentine’s Day,” says de Saignes, citing increased demand for Chandon California Rosé. “Of course, enjoyment of rosé is still concentrated in spring and summer, but we are seeing it continue into the fall as well.” That’s why the company decided to offer a rosé version of its Winter Collection limited-edition bottle for holiday in addition to Brut for the first time this year.
“One of the biggest trends we are seeing is around pink,” says Bell at E&J Gallo. “Barefoot Bubbly Pink Moscato continues to grow, and we’re excited to have launched Brut Rosé in November.”
Although most sparkling wines are white or rosé, there are a few red-hued variations, such as Lambrusco and Brachetto d’Acqui from Italy and sparkling Shiraz from Australia, to name a few. Proponents say these wines are more food-friendly and also have novelty appeal.
Fourth Quarter Benefits
During the last week in December, Applejack holds a major sale on sparkling wine. “Customers are willing to go for the higher-end wines,” Anderson says.
“Women are buying luxury sparkling; it’s a status symbol thing,” Gregg adds. “They want their friends to know they are drinking Veuve Cliquot, Mumm Cordon Rouge, Pierre Jouet, Moet Chandon—and Dom Perignon is a huge seller for us.”
“Customers tend to reach higher on the shelf for special occasions,” says Keyport at Dolce Vita Wine Shop. “They will step up from domestic sparklers to French.” As the holidays approach, the retailer holds sparkling wine tastings to prime sales.
Constellation is planning a number of holiday programs and displays for Cook’s Champagne and Ruffino Prosecco, including shelf talkers with tasting notes, recipe cards for Ruffino Prosecco Clementine cocktail, holiday gift bags and increased on-premise and in-store sampling events. There will also be Valentine’s Day programming for Ruffino Sparkling Rosé in February.
Domaine Chandon California has offered a limited-edition bottle for the past five seasons (last year and this year partnering with fashion designer Rebecca Minkoff). This year’s Winter Collection debuted during New York’s Fashion Week.
For its part, Freixenet is offering a fun sticker VAP for the holidays, Fritz says. “Taking inspiration from the iconic black bottle, it works just like a blackboard and can be customized with a gold marker; you can use the stickers to decorate the bottle.”
Korbel will engage through a variety of marketing initiatives and promotions, Heck says. Off-premise initiatives include eye-catching display activations. Holiday promotions will be complemented by a $5M national media plan featuring Korbel’s ‘Celebrate It All’ campaign through TV, digital and print media advertising. In addition, Korbel’s ‘How-To Holiday Entertaining’ campaign will be supported by a combination of digital marketing, social media and press-related initiatives on a national level.
E&J Gallo’s sparkling brands plan a number of promotions for the holidays. Barefoot Bubbly is the Official Bubbly of New Year’s Eve Times Square. Consumers will see that partnership promoted at point of sale and through social media platforms, many incorporating the iconic Times Square New Year’s Eve Ball.
La Marca’s signature blue POS displays will sport holiday themes, including straw dispensers for 187-ml. La Marca Minis, as well as gift tags or bows. BD
Thomas Henry Strenk is a Brooklyn-based freelance writer with over 20 years experience covering the beverage and restaurant industries. In his small apartment-turned-alchemist-den, he homebrews beer kombucha, and concocts his own bitters and infusions. Read his recent piece: How Long Will the American Whiskey Boom Last?