Sun, Feb 24, 2013 - Page 14 News List

Sign of the times as drinkers swap champagne for sparklers

By Suzanne Mustacich  /  AFP, BARCELONA

“The market for English domestic sparkling wine is growing 10 percent a year,” Perrouty said.

The only glitch is the weather — both 2011 and last year had disastrous growing seasons, leading one producer, Nyetimber, to decide against releasing a 2012 vintage. However, consumers are loyal and thirsty: In 2011, English sparkling topped 1.5 million bottles.

“We sell out of everything we make,” said Christian Seely, co-owner of Hampshire-based Coates & Seely, with an annual production of 30,000 bottles and a vineyard with soil that mirrors Champagne.

Already selling to Britain, Canada and Scandinavia (at champagne prices), Seely plans to triple production in a few years.

While the big champagne brands may have lost their lustre in traditional markets last year, it is now all bad news for the French heavyweights, Rabobank said.

Young, wealthy consumers in emerging markets like Brazil, Russia, Nigeria, Mexico and China are thirsty for the luxury brands bottled in the Champagne capital, Reims, although China has only begun to take off.

“Consumption of sparkling wine in China is still quite low compared with other BRIC countries like Brazil [seven times bigger than China] or Russia [60 times bigger],” said Gil Serra, area manager for Freixenet in China.

“We think the real potential for sparkling wine consumers is with the young professionals, which [sic] perceive sparkling as celebration, prestige, sophistication, relaxed atmosphere and friendly gathering,” he said.

With the Chinese palate preferring sweeter styles like Italian Asti, Australian moscato and cava semi seco, corks are mostly popping in nightclubs and karaoke bars.

“Cava is showing some positive signs in certain type of night clubs and trendy bars. Keep in mind that champagne’s main sales channel is high-end night clubs; hence, it would make sense for cava to follow this trend,” said Don St Pierre JR, executive chairman of ASC Fine Wines in China.

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