In an office full of closet wine nerds (in our industry, being smug about wine is decidedly uncool – hence the closet), we’ve found consumer awareness of sparkling wine falls into one of two extreme categories: people whose Mom’s drank Riunite and who now turn to prosecco, or those with Krug in their glass since their 21st birthday.
For the wine professional, this chasm in awareness presents a rare opportunity: a clean branding slate that allows ownership and brand leadership in a category with few leaders and open waters. In the beverage industry, we salivate over these types of moments.
As Matt Kramer recently pointed out in Wine Spectator, the U.S. wine lover has more choices than ever before. And if the success story of prosecco evolving into many American consumers’ sparkling wine of choice is any indication (for example, the ubiquitous La Marca, who was depleting 5,000 cases just four years ago, reached a whopping 260,000 cases last year), our collective palates are ready for more. Brands that can deliver high quality and value should be poised to jump in. But how can these brands make sparkling more approachable and clarify the misconceptions, thereby growing the market? Five key elements could help pave the way:
1. Bubbly is a lifestyle: Wine is now a part of everyday life in the U.S., we are the largest wine market in the world and even Rupert Muroch is getting in on the action. Sparkling wine has long been synonymous with luxury, because of its French heritage and association with nobility. Sparkling brands moved into the lifestyle space quickly, even for occasional wine drinkers with brand loyalties unrelated to value or quality. Wines with the added benefit of both these qualities are at an advantage.
2. There’s more than just champagne: with a rich and diverse group of selections from regions beyond Champagne in both the Old World and the New such as Cava, sparkling wines produced in the often-superior méthode traditionnelle of secondary fermentation in the bottle should tout this fact at every opportunity.
3. A great sparkling doesn’t have to be expensive: as with still wines, there’s a rampant misconception that you have to spend a lot to get a great bottle of bubbly. This is simply not the case, and leaves great opportunity for brands to dispel the myth.
4. It’s something you can drink anytime, with almost anything: just ask your favorite sommelier. Those impossible-to-pair spicy, salty or vegetal flavors typically work beautifully with sparkling wines, even Indian food, asparagus and artichoke. When in doubt, think bubbly. It’s hard to go wrong, and as far as occasions, sparkling wine is perfect for any moment, event outside of celebrations. Just ask Lily Bollinger!
5. Look to Millenials: it’s no secret that Millenials (myself included) crave what’s best and what’s next. Those of us on the older end of the millennial spectrum may bring more disposable income to the table to spend on beverages. Do you have a fantastic and authentic bottle in that $30-$40 sparkling sweet spot that outshines one of those everywhere-brands for the same price? We want it, so tell us about it.