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Robert Mondavi, Simi Drive High-End Growth For Constellation

May 23, 2013

The above-$15 California wine segment has been providing solid growth for Constellation of late, with its upscale Robert Mondavi, Simi and Franciscan brands all on the upswing. This year, the company tells SND, it’s unveiling several new luxury-level products and staging a number of festivities to celebrate Robert Mondavi’s 100th birthday on June 18.

The Robert Mondavi Winery brand rose 19% to 284,000 cases in the company’s last fiscal year (through February). “Robert Mondavi Napa Valley Cabernet is leading the charge,” says Michelle Perry, Constellation’s marketing director, luxury wines. “But Napa Valley Fumé Blanc also saw a nice bump last year through a focus on reintroducing it to on-premise buyers.” The upcoming Robert Mondavi Napa Valley Cab vintage (2011) will be on allocation by market, owing to that year’s short harvest, but Perry says the brand should get a boost from the release of its 2012 Napa Chardonnay later this year, which will have significantly more volume.

Meanwhile, Constellation is extending Robert Mondavi with the June 1 launch of a new Oakville-appellation Fumé Blanc, situated between its Napa Valley and Reserve levels and priced around $35 a bottle. Also, among other ceremonies to mark Robert Mondavi’s 100th birthday, Constellation will be dedicating a special vineyard parcel as “Robert’s Block,” and plans to release a corresponding wine in the future.

In addition to Robert Mondavi, Constellation’s Simi label, an Impact “Hot Brand” retailing around $15-$20 a bottle, is also providing momentum at the luxury tier, especially with its Sonoma County Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc offerings, which are being targeted to on-premise by-the-glass programs. The Sauvignon Blanc recently moved to a Stelvin closure, which has yielded great results, Perry says. Overall, Simi was up 16% to 480,000 cases last year, according to Impact Databank, and continues to show growth across all varietals.

Portfoliomate Franciscan slowed a bit last year owing to a strategic decision to raise the price of its Napa Valley Cab from the high teens to the low $20s about 15 months ago, although it still rose 8% to 320,000 cases. “With the 2010 and 2011 vintages of Franciscan Napa Cabernet very short, we opted to make a stand and take price on that particular wine so as not to run out of stock,” Perry says, adding that Franciscan’s Napa Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc wines have been showing nice growth. Just last week, Franciscan began shipping a new Stelvin-closed Sauvignon Blanc-Chardonnay-Muscat blend, Equilibrium, which is positioned at $23 at retail and around $11-$12 a glass in the on-premise.

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