The U.S. wine market marked its 25th consecutive year of growth in 2018, reaching 348.8 million 9-liter cases. As with recent years, it was a modest increase—1.2%, according to the Beverage Information and Insights Group—but the category grew nonetheless.
What’s causing wine consumption to flatten?
For one thing, aging baby boomers are drinking less wine, says Robert Cavanaugh, a wine educator and founder of marketing firm Adventure Wines. And Millennials have not adapted to wine as much as expected, he notes.
On the upside, the category is booming with quality options from newer wine regions and unsung varietals to unique blends and barrel finishes. Long gone are the days when the wine category was simply “red and white,” Cavanaugh says.
Consumers today are also less intimidated by wine and they have more adventurous palates.
Innovation in winemaking and marketing is evident in this year’s Growth Brand winners. The wine brands that showed impressive growth illustrate a number of industry trends, from the popularity of rosé and anything with bubbles to interest in fresh whites and big reds.
The Beverage Information & Insights Group (research arm of Beverage Dynamics) selected this year’s winners using the following criteria, based on brands’ projected case sales for the 2018 calendar year:
» Established Growth Brands are top sellers in their category, at least five years old, and moved a minimum of 400,000 9-liter cases in 2018. They have also grown sales over each of the last three years.
» Rising Stars are less than five years old and have grown each year of their existence, reaching at least 20,000 9-liter cases in 2018.
» Fast Track Brands are at least five years old, and have exceeded 100,000 9-liter cases sold in 2018, with double-digit growth in each of the last three years.
» Comeback Brands are previous winners that have rebounded in sales to at least their previous winning level, following a recent decline.
Rosy Times for Rosé
When Cavanaugh was a corporate wine buyer with Ritz-Carlton in the late 1990s, he says that rosé sales barely went up each year. Some 20 years later rosé sales are booming, increasing 59% in 2017, says Cavanaugh.
“Rosé is still the strongest trending and fastest-growing varietal,” says Jon Guggino, executive vice president of marketing for Delicato Family Wines. The company’s Noble Vines 515 rosé is up more than 67% in dollar sales, he says, while Bota Box Dry Rosé is up 115%.
Established Growth Brand winner Meiomi launched its first rosé in 2017, which is made with a blend of California grapes from Sonoma, Monterey and Santa Barbara counties. The line from Constellation Brands increased 6% in 2018 to 1.27 million cases.
Winemaker Joel Gott told Cheers last spring that he had been making a little rosé—a Provence-style with fruit sourced from Monterey, Santa Barbara and Paso Robles—for a few years, but 2018 was the first year it did any real volume with rosé. Rising Star brand Joel Gott Wines, part of Trinchero Family Estates since 2009, surpassed the 1 million-case mark in 2018, growing 18%.
Pale pink, dry Provence-style rosés and those actually from Provence are particularly popular. Trinchero’s Bieler Pere et Fils rosé from Provence, a Rising Star, increased sales about 18% to 73,000 cases.
Provence rosé maker Château d’Esclans, which includes Whispering Angel, is on the Fast Track list once again. The brand from Shaw-Ross International Importers posted impressive growth of 33% to 420,000 cases in 2018. The company also launched The Palm by Whispering Angel last year, a blend of 89% grenache, 7% cinsault and 4% syrah.
Rising Star Âme Du Vin, a Provence rosé from Opici Wines launched in 2017, sold 21,000 cases in 2018. E&J Gallo quietly launched Fleur de Mer Provence rosé in 2017; the Rising Star winner sold 23,000 cases in 2018.
Deutsch Family’s new Provence-based rosé wine brand Fleurs de Prairie went from selling 20,000 cases in 2017 to 70,000 last year—a 250% increase. The Rising Star brand, which will serve as a partner salon blowout service company Glam+Go for its 2019 events, also this year launched its Seeds of Beauty campaign. The program offers Seed Grants of $2,500 to inspiring creative people looking to grow their passion.
The rosé trend has resulted in a number of line extensions. Rising Star Sangria Lolea from Bodega & Co. (a subsidiary in the U.S. of Zamora Co.) last spring expanded its line of Spanish sangrias with Lolea Rosé N5. The 8%-ABV wine cocktail is made from a tempranillo and garnacha blend.
Bold Reds Rule
Cabernet sauvignon is poised to soon take the top spot from chardonnay in terms of the most-popular varietals, Cavanaugh says. It’s already just edged out chardonnay in terms of dollar value. And winemakers have taken note.
Ste. Michelle Wine Estates in January 2018 launched Borne of Fire, a cabernet sauvignon sourced from a vineyard region in eastern Washington State known by locals as “The Burn.” The brand did 35,000 cases in its first year.
Constellation Brands in 2017 released 7 Moons Red Blend, which celebrates the seven phases of the moon by combining seven grape varieties sourced from California’s Central Coast and Lodi regions.
Delicato Family Wines in January 2016 launched the Z. Alexander Brown portfolio of Uncaged wines with a cabernet sauvignon and proprietary red blend. The portfolio of wines from Napa Valley winemaker John Killebrew and musician Zac Brown has expanded to a chardonnay, pinot noir and sauvignon blanc. Z. Alexander Brown’s sales increased 35% in 2018 to hit 158,000 cases.
Delicato is participating in several events to encourage consumer trial and trade visibility for Z. Alexander Brown, Guggino says. These include The Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, Austin Food + Wine Festival, Music City Food & Wine in Nashville, and New York City Wine & Food Festival. “We will also be executing VIP tastings at select Zac Brown Band concerts,” he adds.
Bourbon-Barrel Aged Winners
Several brands are aging wines in former bourbon barrels, a trend that started about five years ago and has gained steam. For instance, The Wine Group’s Stave and Steel is a bourbon barrel-aged cabernet sauvignon that came out in October 2017. The Rising Star brand increased sales 32% in 2018, to 33,000 cases.
The Robert Mondavi Private Selection bourbon barrel-aged wines, launched three years ago, have been a success story for owner Constellation Brands. The line sold 2.13 million cases in 2018, earning a Comeback Brand award this year.
Constellation also owns Cooper & Thief, launched as a dedicated spirits-barrel-aged wine in spring 2017. Cooper & Thief, which started with a red blend, and also now includes a cabernet sauvignon, made the Rising Stars list, up 54% to 77,000 cases in 2018.
The company also promotes the brand as a mixer for bourbon cocktails, such as the Cellarmaster’s Sour, made with bourbon, Cognac, vanilla syrup, lemon juice, topped with Cooper & Thief’s red wine blend. Cooper & Thief also released a sauvignon blanc that aged for three months in ex-Casa Noble Añejo tequila barrels in May 2018.
Modern Labels Help Sell Wine
Packaging has become increasingly important in the wine business. From eye-catching labels and unique, funny or appealing names to different sized bottles, cans and boxes, many winemakers seek ways to make their brands stand out.
Australian wine 19 Crimes gave customers a new way to experience the brand when it launched an augmented reality (AR) app in 2017. The app brings to life the criminals-turned-colonists depicted on the brand’s bottles. The Fast Track brand from Treasury Wine Estates grew a whopping 104% in 2018 and surpassed the 1-million-case mark.
Prophecy Wines from E&J Gallo, a line of six wines sourced from prime winemaking regions, has intricate and vibrant label artwork with tarot card imagery to bring to life the wine’s style. Prophecy tops the list of the 2019 Rising Star brands, with 405,000 cases sold in 2018—a 67% increase.
The name Ménage à Trois still stands out on store shelves and on restaurant wine lists, even though it’s been around for 23 years. The Established Growth brand, owned by Trinchero Family Estates, is considered a catalyst for the red blend craze. Ménage à Trois reached 3 million cases in 2018.
Rising Star wine Boom Boom!, a Charles Smith Washington State syrah from Constellation Brands, and Fast Track brand Freak Show from Michael David Winery are names that also tend to stand out. MERF, a Rising Star from Chateau Ste. Michelle, seems like an acronym, but it’s a collaboration with Northstar winemaker David “Merf” Merfeld. The line of easy-drinking, every-day wines launched in late 2017 and sold 48,000 cases in 2018.
Winners in Alternative Packaging
The first premium boxed wine, Black Box, was the top-selling wine of all the 2019 winners at 7.04 million 9-liter cases, up 7% from 2017. Launched by Constellation Brands in 2003, Black Box moves from the Fast Track to the Established Growth Brands.
The second-highest-selling wine and number one on the Fast Track list is Bota Box, which was up 14% over 2017 and reached 6.9 million cases. Alternative wine packaging—cans, 500-ml. bottles, Tetra, 187-ml., premium 3-liter boxes—continues to grow at more than 12%, says Guggino. “This trend has positively impacted Bota Box, and we are confident that Bota Box has impacted the trend.”
New and lighter-weight packaging is helping wine become a more feasible option for what had been primarily beer-drinking occasions, such as concerts, sporting events and picnics. For instance, Bota Box in 2018 ran a “Pairs Well With” campaign that took a spin on traditional wine pairings by showcasing Bota Box in unexpected everyday situations such as tailgating, Guggino says.
Several brands have are now offering their wines in cans. Ava Grace Vineyards released its rosé and pinot grigio in a 375-ml. cans last year. The Rising Star brand from The Wine Group, which also includes a chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, red blend and merlot, launched two years ago.
St. Clair Winery last spring unveiled a new canned format for Soleil Mimosa. The 375-ml. (12.6-oz.) cans feature the brand’s classic, mango and pineapple varieties. Soleil Mimosa, a Comeback Brand this year, increased 37% to reach 61,000 cases in 2018.
Single-serving packaging is helping to drive sparkling wine sales, as many brands are now available in 187-ml. bottles. Enore Ceola, CEO/managing director of prosecco brand Mionetto USA, told Cheers late last year that the small-format size is likely growing faster than the regular 750-ml. bottles. The Fast Track brand’s sales increased 10% in 2018 to reach 750,000 cases.
The sparkling wine segment was up 5.6% over 2017, according to BIIG, and a major driver of growth in the overall wine category. Champagne and sparkling wine consumers are drinking bubbly more regularly vs. only for celebrations and special occasions, says Marina Velez, manager of information services for BIIG.
Gallo brand La Marca continues to dominate the prosecco category: Its 2018 sales increased 29%, reaching 1.65 million cases. William Wycliff, Gallo’s “California Champagne” brand, increased 15% to 214,000 cases and also earned a Fast Track award.
We have five Comeback Brands this year, defined as previous Growth Brand award winners that have rebounded in sales following a recent decline. Comeback Brands must reach at least the previous award-winning level of case sales.
Gallo’s Ecco Domani, first released in 1996, saw sales slipped a bit in 2016, to 1.190 million cases, before rebounding to 1.195 million in 2007 and 1.210 million last year. The brand has raised its profile through the fashion industry, contributing more than $1.8 million to support up-and-coming designers such as Rodarte, Proenza Schouler and Prabal Gurung through the Ecco Domani Fashion Foundation.
Sales of Black Stallion, a Delicato Family Wines brand, had dipped to 41,000 in 2015, but have risen steadily in the past three years, up 15% in 2018 to 78,000 cases. Guggino attributes the success in part to Delicato luxury wines sales force.
“The sales team has done a fantastic job of selling this brand to on-premise decision-makers and relaying the history of 90-plus-point scores on the cabernet,” he says.
The higher sales also reflect the attention to detail in crafting Black Stallion, Guggino adds. “In a competitive marketplace with many Napa cabernets taking price increases, Black Stallion has proven to be a great value from this prestigious AVA.”