A Taste for Something Sweet

There is a new wine drinker in town.

According to Constellation Wines CMO Chris Fehrnstrom, the millennial consumer (ages 21 to 34) accounts for 26 percent of the total wine consuming population in the United States. That’s a big departure from the baby boomer generation that for some time made up a majority of the legal drinking age consumer base.

With this new consumer, also new to the alcohol market, has come a change in taste, particularly when it comes to wine.

“Millennials, as they have become 21 and start to enter into adulthood, are adopting wine at a much faster rate than any prior generation,” says Fehrnstrom. “They are very interested in red blends and red blends specifically that have a slightly sweeter profile.”  

As a result, wine companies have been reacting to this trend and there has been a new surge in red blends and sweeter red wines on the market.

Constellation Wines for example is launching more than 40 line extensions across its portfolio this year, almost double of what was introduced last year, capitalizing on the trends happening in the market. Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi is launching a sweet red wine and a moscato, Blackstone is launching a red blend and Goliath is introducing a moscato, just to name a few.

“Across our entire portfolio we are also making sure that our existing brands are staying relevant as it relates to the trends that are happening around us,” Fehrnstrom says.

Earlier this year, [yellow tail] also plugged into the trend with the introduction of Sweet Red Roo, a sweet red blend, to the U.S. market. Made in Australia from a blend of Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and other red varietals, [yellow tail] Sweet Red Roo is described as fruity with aromas of naturally sweet red berries, vanilla and chocolate.

“‘Sweet’ is no longer taboo, primarily driven by the influence of the millennials. There was the old adage that ‘sweet’ was a word with a negative connotation to describe a wine, and that people talked ‘dry,’ but drank ‘sweet.’ That’s no longer the case. Millenials particularly have no hang up about saying that they enjoy sweet wines,” says Francois Magnant, [yellow tail] brand director at Deutsch Family Wine & Spirits.

According to Nielsen data, the sweet wine category has seen a 246 percent increase in dollar value sales in 2011 versus the previous year and IRI Syndicated reported more than half a million cases of sweet red wine were sold in the U.S. in 2011.

“I think there has been a consumer interest in sweeter beverages in general for a long time,” notes David Anthony Hance, marketing director for Middleton Family Wines in Ukiah, Calif., which includes the Clayhouse winery (Paso Robles and Central Coast). “Because if you look at any category of beverages, sweet sells. In wine, I think that sweet red wine in particular didn’t have access to the market before, so consumers always wanted this, they just didn’t have a way to get it without going directly to the winery.”

Paso Robles’ Clayhouse winemaker Blake Kuhn has plans to produce three blended red wines from the winery’s 1,400-acre Red Cedar estate with different combinations of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Petite Sirah, Tempranillo and Malbec.

On the sweet end of the spectrum, the wine company is importing some Italian wines that are retailing at a lower price point, under $10. The wines include a sweet red blend, a sweet pinot grigio and a moscato.

“What’s occurred is that the red blend category actually gave sweet reds an entrée to the market place,” explains Hance. “Once the red blend category got big enough that there were sections called ‘other reds’ that had red blends in them and retailers figured out where to place red blends and how to promote them, the opportunity to have sweet red wines was much easier to figure out.”

To help spread the word about these new wines, companies like Constellation and [yellow tail] are turning to social media to get consumer feedback and participation—[yellow tail], for example, looked to consumers to name Sweet Red Roo in a Facebook competition.

For the first time, Constellation turned to about 600 millennials to co-create a wine brand that launched in June called Thorny Rose. “We found out that this millennial generation is non-traditional, they are very creative, very adventurous, definitely carving their own path and the brand that we created is a result of that,” says Fehrnstrom. In addition to a red blend the brand also will have a chardonnay, a sauvignon blanc and a cabernet retailing from $10 to $12.

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