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Gallo, Constellation, Others Seeding Growth In Upscale Brandy

May 12, 2023

While brandy overall is a sleepy category in the U.S., as in other areas of the market, marketers are seeding growth at the high end, aiming to attract adventurous spirits consumers. Some are betting big on the category getting the same premiumization push that other spirits segments have been experiencing for years.

Spirit of Gallo is one big player invested in American brandy’s super-premium future with its Germain-Robin and Argonaut brands, having opened its standalone brandy tasting room the California Brandy House in November 2020 to focus on growing these brands. So far, it seems to be paying off. Argonaut is marketed for cocktails, with bartenders serving as key ambassadors, and while the brand took a hit during the pandemic along with the on-premise, it has rebalanced as restaurants and bars get back up to speed, notes Britt West, vice president and general manager of Gallo’s spirits division.

“Germain-Robin fills a different consumption occasion, most frequently poured neat,” West adds. “Introducing three Single Barrel expressions in California, Illinois, and New York has been exciting for brandy lovers and collectors, and we’ll continue to introduce new selections as our distillers find barrels that merit being released as a single cask.” These expressions included the Single Barrel Pinot Noir Aged 19 Years, Single Barrel Viognier, and Single Barrel Riesling (each $250 a 750-ml.).

“Innovation is extremely important to us, as it’s our opportunity to show off these brands and hopefully widen our audience of brandy drinkers by offering something that appeals to more consumers—which is why we’re excited to have a lot in the pipeline for both brands in the coming years,” West says. “For Argonaut, we plan to introduce our third edition of The Claim ($200 a 750-ml.) as well as our Saloon Strength expression, beloved by bartenders for its versatility in cocktails, into retail in 2023. We think the Saloon Strength, at 45.5% abv, appeals to American whiskey drinkers, and can welcome cocktail curious retail consumers into the California brandy category at a $38 price point.”

Constellation, with Copper & Kings, is making a bold move to claim the cocktail space in Wisconsin, where Korbel currently reigns supreme. In November the brand announced its three-year deal with the Green Bay Packers, including activation on-site at Lambeau Field, where the brandy will be available in concession and bar locations throughout the stadium, including in cocktails for $11.50. Additionally, the brand will offer brandy samples and small bites from the Copper & Kings Rooftop Bar and Restaurant. “We’re excited about this partnership and the opportunity to engage with brandy drinkers in the top U.S. brandy market, Wisconsin,” says head distiller Brandon O’Daniel. “We also hope to expand the partnership to the on- and off-premise that take it beyond the state and into other Copper & Kings markets.”

David Ballew, president and CEO of Oregon-based Hood River Distillers, producer of the Clear Creek brandies line (which averages $50 a 750-ml.), has been pleased with Clear Creek’s resiliency despite being impacted by the pandemic shutdown. “Over the past two years, performance has been solid with 30% growth over that time, and stronger retail performance paired with the on-premise’s rebound have built a strong foundation for future growth,” he says.

“I’m interested to see if Constellation Brands can turn top shelf American brandy into a real thing with Copper & Kings, and I’m also interested to see if Sazerac will shake things up now that they own Paul Masson—big corporations like them will have the resources to experiment,” Ammar Sheikah co-owner of retailer Joe’s Beverage Warehouse, which has two stores in the Chicago suburbs. “We might one day see words like single barrel, barrel proof, and uncut regularly used to describe American brandy. I see no reason why that can’t happen.”

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