Sparkling wine: A world turned upside down

07 February, 2014

According to Moët Hennessy’s head of estates & wines Jean-Guillaume Prats: “We could have two yields a year – one in September and one in April – but for quality reasons we harvest once in January. It’s Southern Hemisphere timings in the North.” Prats says early signs are that sales are doing well among the target middle classes of Mumbai and Delhi, thanks to its price positioning under Champagne, which carries a 150% tax levee.

The beauty of this scheme can be best admired in India. Here above all, it makes sense to produce locally, with duty immunity. At Wine Vision in November Rajeev Samant, CEO of leading Indian wine producer Sula Vineyards, advocated LVMH’s ‘mixed plan’ of imports and domestic investment, which offers competitive and luxury wines to the market, while keeping state governments onside.

LVMH is said to be leading discussions on duty reform. A three-tier system has been proposed, leaving the 150% levee for the cheapest imports, but wines over Ä3 would drop to a 100% duty multiplier, and wines over Ä7 only 50%.

Back at the ISWS, talk moved to China. According to Wine Intelligence’s Halstead, sparkling wine is still a ‘novelty’ in China. “In Japan it took a long time – and we can project that on to China. I think we are 25 years away,” he said. Whatever the time frame, LVMH is well placed. 

Tom Stevenson gave DI his view on the move: “It’s purely economics for Chandon. If Champagne takes off in China, the whole of Champagne would be lost down a black hole. Therefore you have to go into the country to produce it. It will be much cheaper without the distribution and tax costs.” 

If we are to ask any set of producers what the secret to sparkling wine sales is, we should ask those of Prosecco. If you want to see how far Prosecco has come in 15 years, pick up the first edition of Stevenson’s aforementioned opus from 1998, in which the region is summed up in one paragraph, and not very positively. Now the region produces 250 million bottles annually, knocking shoulders with Champagne and Cava. 

Roberto Cremonese, export manager of Bisol, says Prosecco’s success is not luck. “People like its uncomplicated nature, its low alcohol and acidity and fresh fruit.” 

Wine writer Charles Metcalfe chips in: “The human being is uniquely programmed to prefer ripe berries over unripe berries – it’s not unnatural to like something sweet.” 

So, will tomorrow’s producers be looking to the Prosecco, not Champagne, style? Massimo Tuzzi, chief international officer at Casa Vinicola Zonin thinks so: “Many producers in Brazil, Australia and New Zealand are already trying to imitate the Prosecco style and this trend will probably increase in the future. If Champagne is a black tie, Prosecco is smart-casual – and it is a wine with great value for money.”  

Like Prosecco, Cava is starting to sell in emerging markets. Damian Clarke, managing director of Cava brand Freixenet, says: “Emerging markets represent a great opportunity for this segment. A large segment of consumers cannot or do not want to spend Ä30 on Champagne yet want to celebrate with a sparkler.” 

So will we see any LVMH-esqe projects from Cava or Prosecco brands? “On our desks we have projects under investigation, but for now we cannot disclose anything,” says Zonin’s Tuzzi. And Freixenet? “Our production sites are in developed markets for the time being – US, Spain, France, Australia, etc,” says Clarke. 

“However, we are studying several projects to establish a winery in a selected emerging market.”

So there we have it. LVMH is leading the way and the category looks keen to follow. Whether these emerging markets are ready, it’s hard to say. But sometimes you don’t know what you want until it’s right there in front of you.

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