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Domestic Sparklers Thriving, As Barefoot Bubbly Races Toward Top Of Category

June 11, 2015

While imports have driven much of sparkling wine’s U.S. growth lately, domestic offerings are also flourishing, increasing 7% to 9.35 million cases in 2014, with their total about 2 million cases higher than the import segment. Seven of the top 10 domestic sparkling wine brands showed gains last year, according to Impact Databank. Both established brands like Cook’s and relative newcomers like Barefoot Bubbly are benefiting from the uptick in interest in sparkling wine, with the category gradually moving outside the celebration space and into everyday consumption.

Barefoot Bubbly has emerged as a strong player in the domestic sparkling arena, surging past the million-case threshold on a 22% gain in 2014. “While consumers are still choosing to pop open a bottle in celebration, they’re now recognizing bubbly’s versatility and simply pairing it with meals,” says Stephanie Gallo, vice president of marketing, E.&J. Gallo, pointing to the results of the 2014 Gallo Consumer Wine Trends Survey, which found that sparkling wine was among the top 10 choices for younger wine drinkers, with popular pairings including desserts (24%), brunch foods (26%) and lighter fare such as salads (27%).

E.&J. Gallo expanded its domestic sparkling portfolio this spring with the acquisition of J Vineyards and Winery, a prominent Sonoma County producer. While J Vineyards also makes still wines, its flagship sparklers are the company’s foundation. The winery produces 150,000 cases annually, with prices ranging from $15 to $90 a 750-ml.

Gary Heck, owner and president of Korbel, sees versatility as an asset in expanding the popularity of sparkling wine. “Mixology is a great way to reach today’s flavor-conscious consumers, especially Millennials, and it has definitely played a role in our recent success,” he says, noting that cocktails and sweeter offerings like Sweet Rose and Sweet Cuvée have helped drive brand growth. In 2014, Korbel grew by 3% to 1.3 million cases. Emphasizing the role of cocktails, Korbel has launched a “Flip It or Float It: Brighten Up Any Cocktail” campaign this summer. In addition, the company ran a spring television campaign for the first time under its “Toast Life” tagline, in recognition of the growth of sparkling wine consumption outside the holiday season.

Moët Hennessy USA’s Domaine Chandon is also innovating, tapping into the higher price tier with the recent release of its Delice extension, which hit national distribution in February. Delice, retailing at $20-$24 a 750-ml., is a Napa-sourced semisweet méthode Champenoise sparkler composed of 45% Chardonnay, 45% Pinot Noir and 10% Pinot Meunier. “We’ll be promoting it not only on its own but also possibly in cocktails,” notes Jean-Guillaume Prats, president of Moët Hennessy’s Estates & Wines division. “We expect to skew younger with the concept.” Chandon was up 7.9% to 429,000 cases in the U.S. market last year, and the company expects volume to near 500,000 cases annually with the addition of Delice.

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