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Bollinger Showing Strong Growth Under Vintus

June 27, 2017

In 2015, Champagne Bollinger changed its U.S. importer, moving from Terlato Wines to New York-based Vintus Wines. The shift involved some major changes, Bollinger’s U.S. commercial director Cyril Delarue tells SND.

“When you switch importers, you’re not just changing one partner—we had to change distributors in all but three states,” Delarue notes. “But the transition has gone smoothly. Vintus has very good relationships, and we hold a strong position within their portfolio.” The move’s success became clear in the fourth quarter of 2016, when Bollinger’s sales rose by 30% from the year-earlier period, Delarue adds. The fourth quarter accounts for more than half of Bollinger’s annual business. According to Impact Databank, Bollinger ranked 11th among all Champagnes in the U.S. at 25,000 cases last year.

Bollinger’s relationship with Vintus actually began in 2013, when its Ayala Champagne brand moved into the Vintus portfolio. Ayala previously was handled by New York City-based importer Cognac One, and was mainly present in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Under Vintus’s stewardship, Ayala’s footprint expanded significantly. “Vintus did very, very well with Ayala, so when our agreement (with Terlato) expired, we decided to move Bollinger over to Vintus too,” says Cyril Delarue.

Having Ayala and Bollinger in the same portfolio has brought focus to differentiating the brands. “We emphasize that,” says Delarue. “Bollinger is all about Pinot Noir, barrel fermentation, creaminess and complexity. Ayala is about Chardonnay. It’s aged in small stainless steel tanks to create freshness and a very clean style.” The price positioning is also complementary: Bollinger’s flagship Special Cuvée, which represents around 80% of its sales, retails at $79, while Ayala’s core Brut Majeur label is at $55.

The rest of the Bollinger portfolio includes a Rosé ($110), which is aged three years on the lees, and the La Grande Année vintage line—whose 2007 vintage ($155) is debuting this summer—as well as a few higher-end marques. For Ayala, other labels include a Rosé ($65), Brut Nature ($63), Blanc de Blancs Vintage ($110) and Perle D’Ayala Vintage ($175).

About 75% of Bollinger’s sales are in the off-premise, according to Delarue. “We want to increase our on-premise share,” he says. “High-end accounts are important, but some of our biggest venues are very trendy. That’s a bit new for us. With Vintus, we’ve changed our target a bit.”

California is Bollinger’s top U.S. market, followed by New York, Florida, Texas and Massachusetts. “Our new distributors are very pleased to be handling Bollinger,” says Delarue. “It’s a big deal for them, and they do incredible work.” Vintus has emphasized training, trade and consumer education and increasing the brand’s presence.

As a sixth generation Bollinger family member, Delarue notes the importance of that legacy. “Our vision is not short-term profit, but to give the winery to the next generation,” he says. “Vintus is of the same mindset.”—David Fleming

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