The Wine Brands and Trends That Defined 2016

The wine category in 2016 saw its second consecutive year of 2% volume growth. After selling 332.1 million 9-liter cases in the U.S. in 2015, the category is projected at 339.1 million cases last year.

This puts 2016 in line with recent growth trends. The category has had between 1-3% annual growths since 2011, as wine gains new fans from the youngest LDA generations, but also fights off emerging threats from craft beer and spirits.

Millennials and their curious palates continue to define the market — as do adventurous drinkers in general. Perceptive brands tapped into both demographics last year by releasing eye-catching bottles that showcased unique vineyards and varietals. Savvy use of social media also propelled contemporary-minded brands towards sales success.

In terms of styles, it was a boom year for red blends and sparkling wines. And the rise in rosé and prosecco appears to be for real. More men are buying sparklers, while consumers overall are increasingly drinking bubblies year-round, rather than just at holidays and celebrations.

The data discussed in this article derives from the Beverage Information and Insights Group, which used the following criteria to select this year’s Growth Brands winners, based on brands’ projected case sales for the 2016 calendar year:

  • Rising Stars: Less than five years old and exhibited growth in each year of the brand’s lifetime, reaching at least 20,000 9-liter cases in 2016.
  • Fast Track: Exceeded 100,000 9-liter cases in 2016, with double-digit growth in each of the past four years. The brand must also be at least five years old.
  • Established Growth Brands: Moving a minimum of 400,000 9-liter cases annually, while growing in each of the past four years.
  • Comeback Brands: Previous winners that, following a recent decline, have rebounded in sales to at least the previous award-winning level.

 

The Millennial Market

Wine brands remain focused on Millennials — and for good reason. Research from the Wine Market Council found that 36% of wine drinkers in 2015 were from this generation. That percentage is likely to have expanded in the years since, as Millennials make more money and develop savvier palates.

The sparkler Freixenet snagged a Comeback Award for its growing sales after a temporary decline in 2013. The brand sold 590,000 cases in 2016 for a 5.4% increase over 2015 — and Millennials are partly why.

Millennials love customizable products. Freixenet’s matte black bottle allows consumers to write on it with chalk. This black bottle also lends itself well to Halloween, which the brand believes is Millennials’ favorite holiday. To encourage this association, the brand offered sticker VAP in 2016 that allowed people to “costumize” their bottles.

This generation also enjoys experimenting across brands, varietals and countries — but at value-driven price points. They’re both adventurous and price-conscious.

Still, it’s important to remember that wine drinkers are more than just Millennials. So points out Todd Nelson, marketing and communication manager for Winesellers LTD. Their brand Gran Passione won a Rising Star award for its growth since launching in 2013, including an 18.5% increases in volume to 32,000 cases in 2016.

“The Gran Passione range fits into the value-driven niche geared towards Millennials, but also doesn’t alienate generations before them,” he says.

So where’s the generational overlap? Nelson explains: “In the current market, most consumers are attracted to fruit-forward wines with price and authenticity being big factors in deciding what to buy.”

 

Authentic, Organic, And Unique

Wines had success in 2016 by being genuine and unique.

“Trends in the market show that consumers are interested in family-owned wineries,” says Nelson. Consumers are interested in these wines and enjoy buying them because the products are “connecting with real people and the natural environment.”

Nelson points towards this trend as a reason behind the Comeback Award earned by the Winesellers brand Santa Julia. After dips in sales in 2013 and 2014, the brand rebounded big with 24.5% and 9.3% growths in 2015 and 2016, respectively. Santa Julia moved 200,000 cases last year — an all-time brand best.

The brand has successfully tapped into the authentic “farm-to-table” trend with its new Malbec de Mecardo release. Launched exclusively for Whole Foods Market’s Holiday Top Ten 2016 national promotion, it was the fastest-selling wine in the program set.

“Organic and sustainable wines, having previously been embraced by a small niche, are now attracting a much wider base,” Nelson says. “And demand is growing.”

 

Red Blends Go Big

As red blends rise in popularity, brands that offer these products are benefitting. This includes 14 Hands from Washington State. Launched in 2005 as a restaurant-only brand with three wines — Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay — the Ste. Michelle Wine Estates brand exceeded 2 million cases sold in 2016.

This represents a 10% growth over 2015, and won the brand a Fast Track award. It’s all the more impressive for a label that was under 1 million cases as recently as 2011. Helping fuel this climb has been the 14 Hands Hot to Trot red blend, the third best-selling premium red blend in the market, says Cary Kloster, VP of marketing for 14 Hands.

“We continue to see strong growth in red blend wines,” Kloster adds. “14 Hands is well positioned to meet this consumer demand with Hot to Trot, Stampede and the limited release Kentucky Derby Red Blend.”

Another company that’s ridden the red-blend wave to growth is Michael David Winery. The producer’s Freakshow red blend grew an incredible 63.5% in 2016 to 139,000 cases, earning a Rising Star award. The company also makes Petite Petit. Although it’s a Petite Sirah (blended with 15% Petit Verdot), the brand is commonly placed in red-wine sections in stores and menus.

That’s likely to its advantage. Launched in 2014, Petite Petit already reached 100,000 cases by 2016 (thanks to a 36.4% growth over 2015) and won a Fast Track award.

 

Premiumization Pays Off

Tapping into one trend alone is not enough to reach the level of success attained last year by Michael David Winery. Other factors are necessary, including a consumer willingness to spend more on premium bottles like Freakshow and Petite Petit.

“We aren’t trying to compete in the $9.99 world or even at $11.99,” says Phillips Stroud. “We have a different competitive set from the big guys, and it works to our advantage.”

Consumers who will open their wallet for better products allow Michael David Winery to “continue to make the best wine we can and meet their needs,” she adds. “It truly is a win-win.”

Premiumization also paid dividends in 2016 for the New Zealand-based Oyster Bay. This Delegat brand took home a Fast Track award after growing 10.2% in 2016 to 693,000 cases. Jenn Fox, Delegat USA trade marketing manager, attributes this in part to Oyster Bay establishing an identity through its premium quality and price point.

“A top-five super-premium wine in America, Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc is becoming part of popular wine culture,” she says. “Premiumization as a trend seems here to stay, with the growth of $10+ wines.”

 

Kyle Swartz is the Managing Editor of Beverage Dynamics, StateWays and Cheers magazines. For a full list of Growth Brands wine and spirit winners, visit www.BeverageDynamics.com.

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