As sparkling wine’s year-round popularity continues to increase, producers are taking notice and promoting their bubblies for the summer months.
Special bottles. Recipes for summer cocktails featuring their products. Partnerships with summer events. All reinforcing the notion that Champagne, Prosecco and other sparkling wines are bright and refreshing, the perfect beverage for warmer months.
Nielsen figures show a modest increase recently in sparkling wine sales from Memorial Day to Labor Day. In 2018, that period accounted for 28.9% of the year’s sparkling wine sales in dollars, versus 26.7% in 2015.
In its “Wine Handbook 2018,” the Beverage Information and Insights Group found that yearly bubbly sales were up 56% in 10 years and nearly 6% in 2017. The group called Champagne and sparkling wine consumption a “key driver of growth in the overall wine category.” The same report found that although sparkling consumption spikes in December, it’s spread fairly evenly through the rest of the year, with consumption in May, June, July and August each roughly equal to, say, February, when bubbly is popular for Valentine’s Day.
A number of the producers contacted says they had seen at least modest growth in summer, although they didn’t provide specific sales figures. Renaud Butel, vice president for Moët & Chandon USA, says the Champagne-maker has seen double-digit growth in summer. “The style of our wine is very summery,” Butel says, because of its “dry fruitiness” and vibrancy. It also helps that the Moët portfolio includes styles and products that are well-suited to summer, from four rosé bottlings to a cuvée made to be served over ice to single-serving bottles.
Like Butel, other producers sing the praises of bubbly’s refreshing qualities for summer consumption.
“Prosecco is perfect for the summer,” says Stefano Zanette, president of the Prosecco DOC Consortium, which represents many Prosecco producers. “It is refreshing, light, very easy to drink and pair with multiple types of food.”
“La Marca Prosecco is bright, accessible and food-friendly,” says Joyce Chen, marketing director for La Marca, the top-selling brand of imported sparkling wine. She touted the wine’s “bright, refreshing taste profile,” and added, “In the summer months, we see La Marca being enjoyed poolside, used in cocktails or at picnics and backyard barbecues.”
One promotional approach is to release special bottlings for summer. That’s a strategy that Korbel, the best-selling domestic traditional-method sparkling wine and No. 3 U.S. bubbly brand overall, uses throughout the year. This summer, the Sonoma County winery is releasing a limited-edition “Aloha” version of its extra dry, which is scheduled to hit retail locations in June.
This is the eighth year that Domaine Chandon in the Napa Valley will release its special “American Summer” bottles for both the Chandon brut and rosé. The wines will be available from Memorial Day through Labor Day.
The Prosecco producers promote their category with a National Prosecco Week, Zanette says. In its second year, the event will take place June 3-9 in multiple cities and includes master classes for trade and media, as well as consumer parties.
Barefoot, a brand in the E. & J. Gallo portfolio that produces sparkling and still wines as well as spritzers, is a participant in Pride events across the country. “One of the annual highlights of our Barefoot summer promotions is our holistic Pride campaign focused on local, regional and national events, creative content production and LGBTQ-focused engagement platforms,” says Barefoot winemaker Jennifer Wall. “In 2019, we plan to March Onward with a custom Rainbow Route onsite experience at Pride events across the country, including WorldPride 2019 in New York City in June.”
Korbel is a sponsor of the American Century Celebrity Golf Championship Tournament in July at South Lake Tahoe, California. That gives the brand exposure on national TV, and Korbel also uses the event in its sales displays in Northern California retailers. Moët & Chandon partners with a number of tennis tournaments.
Zonin USA, whose Italian parent company produces Zonin Prosecco, is planning an experiential campaign with summer promotions aimed at millennials, according to a company press release. Events will include a partnership with Citi Taste of Tennis, with Zonin Prosecco as the exclusive sparkling wine for the multi-city event. A National Brunch Day campaign is also planned.
In some cases, the events are closer to home. Domaine Ste. Michelle, the sparkling wine brand of Chateau Ste. Michelle in Washington state, sees booming sales during the chateau’s summer concert series. The winery reports that more sparkling wine is sold in the tasting room in May through August than during the holidays (although November-December are still bigger in the broader market). Ste. Michelle also has a pop-up mimosa bar in the summer, and the facility is a popular spot for weddings and bachelorette parties – which, of course, include bubbles.
In California, both Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards in Sonoma County and Domaine Chandon offer special activities in summer. Gloria Ferrer offers food-and-wine pairings year-round, with seasonal “bites,” but the program is particularly popular during the busy summer season, says assistant brand manager Lauren Vigil. Domaine Chandon also has pairings, and starting in May will offer a summercocktail class and “Sunday brunch and bubbles.”
Breakfast or Lunch? Why not Both?
Brunch comes up frequently in conversations with sparkling wine producers, who see it as a good occasion for drinking bubbles. Korbel has perhaps embraced it most enthusiastically, trademarking the title of “Official Sponsor of Brunch.” La Marca’s Chen says that, starting in May, the Prosecco brand will be promoted as “the ideal accompaniment for brunching.”
If brunch is an occasion for sparkling wine, it’s also a venue for cocktails. Although some more traditional producers prefer to promote drinking their products as is, there are many companies that have eagerly embraced the idea of mixing their wines into cocktails.
Champagne producers, for example, can be a little prickly about the idea of diluting their wines with other ingredients. But Moët hasn’t shied away from the cocktail craze. The company has been working with professional bartenders, Butel says, to create cocktails using Moët & Chandon Imperial Brut as well as Ice Imperial, which is made to be served over ice. As part of its involvement in tennis tournaments, the company rolls out special cocktails, like the Moët & Chandon Tennis Paradise, which combines Imperial Brut, Volcan Blanco tequila (another product from parent company Moët Hennessy), lime juice and honey syrup.
Korbel sees brunch as “an opportunity to target seasonal or specialty cocktails,” says Margie Healy, vice president of communications for Korbel. Rather than try to compete with cocktails, she says, “we are the fruity cocktail.”
Prosecco, of course, is well known as an ingredient in cocktails, most notably in the Bellini, where it’s mixed with peach puree. Zanette calls Prosecco “a wonderful addition to cocktails because of its versatility to pair with multiple flavors and essences, moderate alcoholic strength and acidity.”
More than Glass Bottles
Summer sales are also helped along by alternative packaging, like cans and single-serving bottles, as well as innovative products.
Cans, for example, go to venues where glass isn’t allowed. Wall says that Barefoot Spritzers, packaged in cans, “appeal to current and new wine fans for a myriad of social occasions, especially during the summer months. They can go places that glass bottles typically cannot, like pools and beaches, and are easily portable in coolers.” Chandon is packaging its rosé in single-serving aluminum bottles for summer.
And single-serving bottles continue to grow in popularity. For Prosecco, “the single-serve format bottles fare extremely well in the summer, as they are convenient to carry and enjoy,” Zanette says.
As for Champagne, Moët & Chandon has also found success with its “minis.” “The minis are doing extremely well in summer,” Butel says, especially among millennials. It’s what he calls “Moët & Chandon on the go,” with a group sharing a bucket of the small bottles.
Moët has also promoted its Ice Imperial, made to be poured over ice, for summer. The product was conceived after Moët’s head winemaker saw people adding ice to their Champagne in Saint Tropez, on the French Riviera. He went on to create a cuvée that’s sweeter and more condensed and made to be poured over ice. Butel says the product was rolled out in resort areas like Miami, Las Vegas and the Hamptons and is now popular throughout the year. “When you try it, you just fall in love,” Butel says. “It’s very fresh, it’s very fruity, it’s very summery.” Two years ago, a rosé version was introduced.
Of course, anything rosé is popular for summer, and that includes sparkling wine. Butel says his portfolio’s four rosés have been a “big success” in summer.
At Chateau Ste. Michelle, Domaine Ste. Michelle rosé overtook the brut in summertime tasting room sales last year. Even in the broader market, where brut is still the undisputed leader, rosé last year accounted for 13 percent of volume in summer, up from just 2 percent in 2017.
As Gloria Ferrer’s Vigil put it, rosé in summer “just makes sense.”
A Northern California resident, Laurie Daniel has written about wine for more than 20 years. Her wine column appears in several California newspapers, and her articles have appeared in magazines such as Wines & Vines, Food & Wine, Wine Country Living, Drinks and the Wine Enthusiast.