Sparkling wines represent a 5 percent share of the U.S. wine market, according to industry surveys, and that share’s been growing ever since the financial crisis of 2008. And almost all of that growth has been in imported sparkling wines (up 6.6% to 7.1 million cases vs. domestic 85 million).
Josep Ferrer, a fourth generation member of the Ferrer family (owners of the Freixenet Group and Segura Viudas) is traveling across the U.S. from the New York office. He said the Freixenet Group has been making sparkling wine in the Barcelona area of Spain for over 100 years and has grown to hold full or majority ownership in 18 estates located in prominent wine regions in seven countries around the world, and sells more than 160 sparkling and still wine brands world-wide. Josep agreed to answer a few questions about news and trends in the sparkling wine industry.
Where do you see sparkling wines trending in the future?
“Definitely upwards. Millennials are moving towards wine, seeing sparkling wines as more and more outside holidays. As people learn more, they want to try different things.”
What’s the different between Italian Prosecco and Spanish sparkling moscato and why is Prosecco getting so much more air play?
“I’m not an expert on Italian wines, but both Prosecco and sparkling Moscato are made using the Charmat method of fermentation, not the costlier and more time-consuming methode champenoise used for higher end sparkling wines. But they are in most ways pretty similar. They are both approachable, yet distinguished mainly by their respective grape varietals. The Prosecco people have done a lot of work with the DO in Italy. Powerful players have gotten behind it. Plus perhaps Americans and others are more familiar with Italian culture and therefore more comfortable with it. As people look for drier styles they will turn more to wines made with method champenoise.
What are your thoughts about what seems to be many more wineries producing sparkling and other wines by renting winemakers (Chasing Harvest) and/or using purchased finishing services? (Rack and Riddle custom crush)
This has been going on for a long time but perhaps will grow more as an upcoming trend. Some companies think of the borrowed wine consultant as more like a manager than an actual winemaker. They will go to check on progress to see that it is to their specifications—importing wine and putting their own brand on it. The industry is always trying to create new brands. But this way you lose the link between the place and the winemaker. I am not a fan. The results tend to be more a consumer product made with the market in mind. Freixenet does not do that.
Gallo recently did a survey on how younger drinkers are consuming wine. Interesting stats about how the old traditions are ignored. In their survey:
- 66 percent mix wine with fruit or fruit juice
- 51 percent make a wine cocktail
- 48 percent mix wine with other cocktail mixers like club soda
- 46 percent drink wine over ice
- 27 percent occasionally even drink wine in a cup with a straw
How do you see the future developing in this regard?
“I don’t know if it’s going to grow,” said Ferrer. “The cocktail movement is big, and that is not going away. Using wine as a mixer, I don’t see that as a sacrilege. It’s just another way to use wine.” He said a very popular drink in Spain, Cinto del Verano, is simply soda water and wine. In the U.S. people call that a wine spritzer. Ferrer mentioned another drink popular in Spain, though it’s not considered a classy drink: red wine plus Coca Cola. Ka li matxo it’s called in the Basque area. “I think it [the mixing trend] speaks to wine being seen more as an everyday thing than a special occasion drink. In Spain and Europe it is a daily thing, part of the meals. It is accepted.” He pointed out, there are fine wines and there are everyday wines—and both are okay. A time and place for each kind. He said the composed-cocktail trend in the U.S. is very interesting.
Many consumers are looking for low price but high quality in a sparkling wine. How do you recommend they go about identifying their favorites?
“Besides considering only wines made via methode champenoise, you can also look for the dosage. The higher the amount of added sugar, the sweeter the wine. Quality depends on taste. Look for 15g/per liter or less. We make some wines with high (sugar). After you have been drinking for a while, your palate gets more sophisticated, but sweet is still popular.”
Ferrer said Freixenet is coming out with a new wine that he is shepherding to market. Named Gran Cuvee Reserva under the Segura Viudas brand, it’s made with 15% Pinot/Chardonnay and contains only 5g/liter. “This is revolutionary for us,” he said. He said he’s excited that there is a shift toward more premium products. “More people are looking to up-trade on something a little more special.”
The Regulatory Commission is working on a special DOC for single vineyard, qualified cavas, according to Ferrer. Cava de Paraje Calisicado is a new DOC, extra premium, that comprises only 400 hectares out of 40,000 in the whole Cava DO. “One of Freixenet’s labels has already met these qualifications,” he said. “My family has been doing this for more than 100 years. And we have always made special bottles for ourselves,” so making extra premium wines is not new territory for them. “The entire wine category is expanding,” he said. “People already drinking are trading up and new people are coming in.”
What’s one characteristic specific to higher quality wines?
“One thing that distinguishes more expensive bottles is that they do hold up and age better than the more affordable wines. We are importing 20 cases of an extraordinary Australian Cabernet—a fine wine for people who are real connoisseurs.” The brand, Katnook, is a premier wine from the vineyards around the town of Coonawarra in the Limestone Coast zone of South Australia. Katnook Estate has been producing wines there since 1896; today they craft these exceptional Cabernets from vines growing in the ideal climate conditions of the “terra rossa” soil of the region.
P.S. In case you’ve ever wondered about the correct way to pronounce Freixenet, the official word is “fresh-a-net” with the accent on the last syllable. Fourth of July is a(nother) perfect time to enjoy sparkling wine, so go for it. Happy Independence Day, America.