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Fladgate Partnership Touts 2009 Vintage, Toasts Port’s Trend Toward The High End

November 23, 2011

The Fladgate Partnership, which owns three of Port’s most renowned labels—Croft, Taylor Fladgate and Fonseca—says that while times are tough at the lower price points, high-end Port, which is Fladgate’s focus, has seen increasing consumer interest and growing sales.

The group, which produces 16 million bottles annually, is seeking to cultivate that interest with 2009 vintage offerings for each of its brands. Vintage Ports typically appear about three times a decade, but the 2009s mark the fourth vintage release in the 2000s for the Fladgate brands, following those of 2000, 2003 and 2007. Most Port houses didn’t declare a vintage in 2009, but Fladgate harvested later than many of its rivals and was able to bottle a massive vintage Port that some observers have hailed as the greatest since at least 1994 or perhaps even 1963. Fladgate’s 2009 vintage segment includes Fonseca ($99 a bottle), Taylor Fladgate ($99) and Croft ($70).

Port shipments were up 7% to 374,000 cases in the U.S. market last year, and volumes rose 3% to 282,000 cases in the nine months through September 2011, according to the Institute of Port and Douro Wines. Still, shipments remain well below 2006 levels, which numbered 469,000 cases. Fladgate doesn’t break out its brand numbers, but claims roughly 28% of the U.S. market by volume across its three brands. The group’s labels are handled by Kobrand Corp. in the U.S.

Some 80% of the Port category’s global volume is in the more mass-market Fine Ruby and Fine Tawny segments, which have been under pressure. But the remaining 20% of the category is comprised of reserve offerings and has been gaining ground, says Fladgate Partnership export and sales manager Robert Bowers. The 20-year-old Tawnies and older are growing by around 15% in the U.S. market this year, he notes. “In the U.S., the gatekeepers think only the cheapest Ports will sell, but there’s growing consumer interest in higher-end items like aged Tawnies,” Bowers says, insisting that there is opportunity to win new, and younger, consumers.

At the highest end from the group is Taylor Fladgate Scion, with production of just 1,400 bottles and a retail price of around $3,200 a bottle. The 150-year-old Port is made of pre-phylloxera grapes and was discovered in two long-forgotten casks in the village of Prezegueda in the Corgo Valley of Portugal by Taylor’s head winemaker, David Guimaraens.

Fewer than 100 bottles of Scion are available for the U.S. market. At a recent tasting jointly sponsored by the Pantheon Wine Shoppe of suburban Chicago and Taylor Fladgate, a dozen of Pantheon’s elite customers were treated to the release of the new 2009 vintage Croft, Fonseca and Taylor Fladgate opposite Scion, which was offered in individual 1.5-ounce vials at the end of a six-course, $300-a-person dinner at the elite Carlos’ restaurant in Highland Park, Illinois.

Pantheon’s owner Johnson Ho believes that Port’s 2009 vintage—just now arriving in most U.S. markets—might in time be ranked as a vintage of the century. “I’m advising Port collectors to stock up on these bottles,” he said.

While maintaining the category’s high-end tradition, Port producers are also attempting to expand its consumer base. One way is through cocktails. Fladgate is playing up this angle with a newer release, Croft Pink ($20 a bottle), a light ruby Port recommended to be served on the rocks with lemon and soda in a concoction called a “Pink Diamond.”

 

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