As the Wine Institute of California points out, Irish wine drinkers have become increasingly more discerning in their tastes over the last decade.
And although higher taxes and economic decline pose challenges for the market, consumer behaviour is unlikely to change too dramatically in the foreseeable future. Good news for Californian wines, where better quality has generally always been found at a premium.
According to the latest report by the Californian Department of Food and Agriculture, the 2008 vintage conditions provided “ideally mild summer and fall temperatures with no precipitation,” resulting in “excellent quality fruit” throughout the region.
Commenting on the Lodi region, vintner David Lucas from The Lucas Winery, said: “2008 was a remarkable year…Lodi produced small tight grape clusters, deep obsidian colour, bright acids, and fully textured tannins, yielding wines of great promise.
“The white varieties yield was close to estimates, with intense citrus, lime and Pippen apple flavours in the chardonnay. A year when great vineyards required little winemaking…mostly tending.”
According to the Californian wine institute, Californian wines have recently overtaken French wines in terms of Irish market share, and producers and distributors remain confident this growth will continue. The performance here, as in its domestic market, is said to be a testament to the success of diversification and innovation in California’s some 1,100 wineries.
A fine sample turned out for the annual Californian Wine Fair, which took place at Dublin Castle on 28 January. On offer was a wide range of styles and price points but the common thread was a commitment to driving the market in Ireland, most especially by finding ways to offer value of some form at every level and to engage Irish consumers.
A novel new range from Point Break Vineyards stood out for its fun vibrant image, and all at RRP €7 to €10. Very bright, colour-coded packaging is designed specifically for stand-out in the off-trade, and the style of all three (merlot, chardonnay and zinfandel rosé) is very easy yet on trend, with a touch more fresh acidity.
California Wine Importers had something for everyone, from entry point range Estrada Creek up to the premium level, with wines such as Silverado and Merryvale which reach over the €20 mark. Here, as at many other tables, the wines exhibited the trend towards cooler styles with no or more subtle use of oak. Flora Springs 2006 Select Cuveé Chardonnay provides a good example, showing a definite emphasis on freshness by contrast with the weighty, buttery styles associated with California of old.
Around the wine fair, the same trend applied to tasty blends of viogner and chardonnay or sauvignon blanc, and there were good attempts at expressing minerality over fruit in some cases. Similarly, wineries introducing new rosés exhibited efforts to do something a bit different and fresher in style than the classic white zinfandel with which we are now very familiar.
Fruit in full bloom
Blossom Hill is one of the best selling wine brands in Ireland and is number one within the USA segment, which as a category holds 11% market share (Nielson Mar. 08). A staggering nine out of 10 consumers are aware of Blossom Hill, which in other words means it’s a runaway success.
The light, fruity, off-dry style and attractive packaging of Blossom Hill appeals particularly to young female consumers looking for a ‘no fuss’ wine to enjoy with friends, according to Blossom Hill’s market watchdogs. To bolster its strong position, the brand continues to be well supported by advertising, PR, quality point-of-sale material and regular promotions.
In recent times Blossom Hill has benefited from a superb new packaging upgrade, which gives even more on-shelf appeal. In addition to its fruity Red and White, Blossom Hill has an extensive range of varietals including cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, merlot, sauvignon blanc and the favourite white zinfandel. Available in all grocery channels, the wines all retail at around €9.69.
New California wines to make a big splash
United Wine Merchants is launching an exciting new range of fresh fruity wines, Point-Break, which it will distribute exclusively from April 2009. The wines are fresh and youthful, with vibrant colourful label designs, and are likely to retail at around €8.99 each.
The range includes three varietals: a crisp, fruity zinfandel rosé designed to be enjoyed with or without food; a fresh style of chardonnay offering hints of green apple and ripe citrus flavours and aromas; and a medium bodied merlot with smooth fruit flavours and tamed tannins.
Having received great reviews from the trade at the recent California tasting at Dublin Castle, and given the wines’ fresh and funky presentation giving them superb on-shelf standout, they will no doubt be flying off the shelves as soon as they hit the off-trade.
For further information from United Wine Merchants phone 048 38316555 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
First Family of wines
Sutter Home Winery, owned by the Trinchero Family, is currently the number one table wine in the US, led by its ‘pioneering’ white zinfandel. In 2009, the brand hopes to replicate its US success in Ireland, with exciting new in-store promotions, media support, new product launches, and the introduction of new screw-cap packaging across the range, which will roll out on shelves from April.
In May, the brand will see a major in-store summer promotion destined to drive consumer trial and purchase uptake. Point of sale materials in the form of neck collars, shelf talkers and off-shelf displays, as well as strong media support, will drive consumer awareness. This will showcase the promotion and give Sutter Home high consumer visibility, which is destined to drive sales in the key selling summer months.
Sutter Home is also launching a new product range this April, the Newman’s Own range of wines, featuring the two varietals chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon (RRP €15.99), following a successful launch in the States last year. As with the brand’s condiment line, 25% of all after-tax profits made on the Newman’s Own wines will go to Paul Newman’s charitable foundations, under the umbrella of ‘The Hole in the Wall Gang’, which includes one of Ireland’s most popular and well-supported children’s charities, Barretstown.
Rosemary Lyster, marketing manager, Findlater Wine & Spirit Group commented: “We are very excited about this new addition to the portfolio…Paul Newman chose the wine himself and we are delighted that we are doing something small to help the staff at Barretstown in their quest to put smiles on ill children’s faces.” For further information, phone 01 4047300.