Sparkling wine was once mostly a special-occasion beverage — reserved for weddings, New Year’s toasts and birthdays.
No more. It’s still the wine of celebration, but more consumers than ever consume bubbly as an every-day pleasure. Its growth is led by the white-hot trend of prosecco, though other types of sparkling wines are also seeing healthy sales.
Consumers have “graduated, if you will” to drinking bubbly more regularly, says Marina Velez, manager of information services for the Beverage Information and Insights Group. “Consumers are willing to spend on Champagne or sparkling wine on a daily basis . . . We don’t see that changing.”
In its Wine Handbook 2018, the group calls Champagne and sparkling wine consumption a “key driver of growth in the overall wine category,” noting that bubbly sales were up 56% in 10 years — and nearly 6% last year.
In addition to the continued popularity of prosecco, and the consumption of bubbly throughout the year, the increases are also driven by the habits of younger drinkers; the popularity of rosé wines; and the proliferation of single-serving packages. A few retailers reported devoting more shelf space to sparkling wine, although that’s not always possible. (One retailer likened allocating shelf space to a game of Tetris.)
1) Prosecco Leads the Way
Sales have been strong for domestic sparkling wine, especially for a few brands. Mumm Napa, for example, was up more than 10%, while Scharffenberger increased nearly 9%. Imports, as a group, are doing even better. That’s largely due to prosecco, which now accounts for 17% of U.S. sparkling wine sales — though Champagne is also experiencing healthy growth.
The only major imported category that’s largely stagnant is cava, the traditional-method sparkling wine from Spain. Although some retailers report success with cava, others speculated that prosecco’s success has eaten into cava’s market share. The wines tend to be similarly priced, and Brian Gelb, director of import wine for Total Wine & More, thinks prosecco’s rounder, more fruit-forward flavor profile is seen as more accessible.
Within most of the categories there are success stories that stand out. That’s particularly true with prosecco, where La Marca continues to dominate. Its 2017 sales were up almost 25% over the previous year, according to the Beverage Information and Insights Group.
That increase has followed a string of healthy years. La Marca, the top-selling brand of imported sparkling wine, has the benefit of being imported by E. & J. Gallo, with its marketing and distribution muscle. La Marca winemaker Fabrizio Gatto offers his own reason for the brand’s success: “La Marca has the charm to stand alone as an aperitif, but it also has the body and the acidity to pair beautifully with a variety of foods.”
There’s another prosecco that has also seen solid growth: Mionetto, which is up about 13%. “We’ve been riding the positive trend of prosecco,” says Enore Ceola, CEO and managing director of Mionetto USA. Ceola also says the company has been marketing its products aggressively, especially its Prestige tier.
Both La Marca and Mionetto are outpacing the overall category. The Prosecco DOC Consortium reports that exports to the U.S. grew about 4% in 2017. The smaller Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco DOCG Consortium says exports grew more than 7%, although that increase is on a much smaller base.
At the Wine House in Los Angeles, the growth in bubbly sales has been “prosecco, more than anything,” according to General Manager J.B. Severin.
Prosecco has gotten so popular that some consumers are starting to use the word as a generic term for sparkling wine — as many do with Champagne. Scott Crestodina, owner of Independent Spirits in Chicago, said customers often ask for prosecco when they just want something with bubbles. (Interestingly, he says, “we don’t sell a ton of prosecco.”)
2) Champagne Also Sparkles
The Champagne Bureau, USA, reports that shipments in 2017 were up almost 6% over 2016, marking the fifth consecutive year of growth. Jennifer Hall, the bureau’s director, says Champagne is benefiting from the overall interest in sparkling wine, especially as people trade up.
The No. 1 Champagne brand in the U.S. is Veuve Clicquot, best known for its non-vintage brut bottling, Yellow Label. According to the Beverage Information and Insights Group, imports of all bottlings of Veuve Clicquot in 2017 were up more than 8% over the previous year. That slightly outpaced Veuve’s sister brand, Moët & Chandon (both are owned by Moët Hennessy).
Champagne consumers, says Aygline Pechdo, vice president of Veuve Clicquot, “are going after brands they trust.”
One Champagne brand that’s been on fire is Piper Heidsieck, imported by Terlato Wines. Piper sales were up nearly 27% in 2017. Dave Lane, president and COO of Terlato Wines International, attributes much of that growth to a focus on on-premise sales, although he adds that retail growth has also been strong.
3) Sales Beyond Winter Holidays
Sales of all sparkling wines spike in November and December. But nearly everyone agrees that prosecco paved the way for consumers to drink more bubbly in the non-holiday months. Its generally modest price made sparkling wine affordable enough for every day. Luca Giavi, director of the Prosecco DOC Consortium, says producers “traditionally see an increase in consumption during the summer, particularly during the start of the traditional wedding season.”
“We built our business by pushing the sales outside the holidays,” Mionetto’s Ceola says. He estimates that about one-quarter of sales are in spring and summer, when consumers are looking for something light and refreshing. Instead of, say, a glass of pinot grigio, prosecco “makes everything more exciting.”
Gelb of Total Wine also cites the Pinot Grigio comparison. People can buy good prosecco for $10 or $11 a bottle, about the same price as many Pinot Grigios. “It’s an easy tradeoff,” he says.
Inevitably this has increased non-holiday sales of other types of bubbly. “Prosecco made sparkling wine something people are more comfortable with year-round,” says Terlato’s Lane. “Champagne was the beneficiary.”
Pechdo of Veuve Clicquot adds that Valentine’s Day and Father’s Day are becoming “Champagne holidays.” In that vein, sister brand Moët & Chandon launched a campaign about celebrating memorable moments – “the small, special moments throughout the year,” as Renaud Butel, vice president of Moët & Chandon USA, puts it.
One winery that does heavy promotion throughout the year is Korbel, the best-selling domestic traditional-method sparkling wine and No. 3 U.S. bubbly brand overall. In addition to promoting Korbel’s use in occasions like brunch, the company offers seasonal-themed wrapped bottles – like a Valentine’s Day wrap for its brut rosé and a “poolside” wrap for summer.
4) Millennials Love Bubbly
Younger wine drinkers appear to be the most willing to consume sparkling wine throughout the year. They’re also helping to drive the overall growth of the category.
The Wine Market Council found that significantly larger percentages of people in their 20s and 30s report regularly drinking sparkling wine sometime during the year, compared with older age groups.
“Millennials have attached themselves to the (sparkling) trend,” Velez says.
The conventional wisdom is that younger people might balk at spending $40, $50 or more for a bottle of bubbles. However, some retailers report that Champagne sales are strong in that age group. “The younger crowd drinks a lot of Champagne,” says Tim Alberdi, owner of the Redneck Wine Co. in Tampa, Fla. He cites the success of so-called grower Champagne in his store.
Still, most retailers see brisk sales in the lower price categories. Alberdi, for example, says, “We sell a lot of the under-$20 California stuff.” Less expensive French wines, like Crémant d’Alsace, also sell well in his store. Meenu Singh, manager of the Wine Specialist in Washington, D.C., calls $20 the “sweet spot.”
5) Rise of Sparkling Rosé
The rosé trend in still wines has also extended into sparkling wine.
“I’m seeing a lot more sparkling rosé come across my desk,” Gelb says. And the wines are performing so well at Total Wine that store displays have been reconfigured to group all the sparkling rosés together, he says, instead of putting, for example, rosé Champagne with the other Champagnes.
“Rosé has been booming,” says Xavier Barlier, senior vice president of Maisons, Marques & Domaines USA, Champagne Louis Roederer’s U.S. sales and marketing arm. He says MMD has sold out all of the Roederer rosés it carries, both French and domestic, including the version from Roederer-owned Scharffenberger.
Rosé, Pechdo says, has “helped us … get more consumers to Champagne.” Rosé Champagne is more expensive, but consumers are willing to pay for it, she adds.
The power of rosé is such that the Prosecco DOC Consortium is considering certifying a Prosecco Rosé DOC, starting in 2019. The wine would be a blend of Glera, the traditional white grape and pinot noir. A number of prosecco makers, including Mionetto, make rosé, but it can’t be called prosecco under the current regulations.
6) Single-Serving and Other Innovations
Yet another factor driving growth is the introduction of new products, especially single-serving packaging.
Although some of the more traditional bottle shops don’t deal much with the small bottles, Gelb estimates that Total Wine has seen 20 to 30% growth in sales of single-serving bubbly for some months. (Admittedly, that’s on a small base.) “If I open up a 750 of sparkling, I’m committed to drinking the whole bottle,” he says. Single-serving bottles (and cans) “make sparkling wine that much more accessible.”
Mionetto’s Ceola agrees. “We see more consumers appreciating the single serving. They don’t have to open the whole bottle.” He says the format is “growing probably faster than the regular 750s.”
Mionetto is just one of the prosecco producers that have found success with the so-called minis. La Marca is the leading producer, according to the Prosecco DOC Consortium, which also notes that minis are sold only in the U.S. La Marca’s Gatto says the minis’ “inviting size” attracts new consumers.
Moët is one Champagne producer that has wholeheartedly embraced the small format. Butel calls the Moët mini “another opportunity to go beyond the traditional occasions” for Champagne. The company has even developed vending machines for the minis for a few on-premise accounts, as well as a device called a “sipper,” a conical insert that allows consumers to drink directly from the small bottle.
“New products bring new consumers to Champagne,” Butel says.
One of those new products is Moët Ice Imperial: a sweeter, more condensed bubbly that’s meant to be served over ice. A rosé version was recently introduced. Veuve Clicquot has its own versions: Rich and Rich Rosé.
With new products, younger drinkers and its growing popularity throughout the year, sparkling wines’ growth shows no signs of going flat. The Beverage Information and Insights Group projects that consumption of sparkling wine will continue to grow about 6% a year, compared with 2017 figures, through 2021.
“Across the board, the sparkling category is very healthy,” Gelb says.
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. Read her recent piece South American Wines Continue to Surprise.