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WINEMAKERS BUBBLING WITH OPTIMISM SURGING POPULARITY OF VARIETALS, EVERYDAY MARKETING BOOST OUTLOOK

By Published on .

At last, the wine industry has something to toast.

The economic bubble burst in the mid 1980s, but a variety of factors are combining to provide optimism through the end of the decade.

Overall, wine sales are expected to reach 184 million cases in 1994, up 3.4% from 1993, according to Impact & Market Watch, industry publication of Shanken Communications, New York. It would be just the second volume increase since 1984, when wine consumption peaked at 220 million cases.

And positive growth is expected through the end of the decade, said Paul Gillette, publisher-editor, Wine Investor newsletter.

Even better news for the industry, a major shift has occurred in the kinds of wines sold, with more profitable varietals replacing jug wines. Varietals in 1993 represented 52% of total wine sales, a doubling of share since 1987.

California vineyards account for the lion's share of U.S. wine sales, and they're seeing an uptick as well. Sales of California table wines-encompassing both varietals and jug wines-hit 246 million gallons for the first nine months of 1994, up 5% from a year ago. Coincidentally, that was the same volume level as for the first nine months of 1984.

"It's been a very, very strong year thus far," said Eileen Fredrikson, partner, Gomberg-Fredrikson & Associates, a San Francisco-based wine industry consultancy.

Things are also looking up for champagne and sparkling wine marketers, with industry analysts anticipating this year's sales will hold steady at 1993 levels of 14 million cases.

"Overall, the wine industry is very healthy across the board," said Doug Barton, VP-management supervisor, Trone Advertising, Greensboro, N.C., the agency for Cook's champagne and Paul Masson.

At the same time, publicity surrounding the "French Paradox," a 1992 report on the CBS' "60 Minutes" about the benefits of moderate red wine drinking and subsequent scientific studies have sold many on wine's health benefits.

Particularly gaining in popularity are Italian imports, up 31% to 1.7 million cases, Ms. Fredrikson said.

"A trend we see in the restaurant industry affecting imports is the switch to Italian bistro-style dining," she said.

"All luxury goods are going to prosper again," said Ted Farthing, Schieffelin & Somerset Co., New York, brand manager for Moet & Chandon and Dom Perignon champagnes.

But that doesn't mean marketers are standing still. Even though 40% of champagne and sparkling wine sales take place in the fourth quarter, some are expanding their marketing efforts to the rest of the year. And there's also a trend toward a lower-brow, mass-market sell, urging consumption of the bubbly on more than just black tie occasions.

Martini & Rossi's Asti falls into both categories. Marketing Manager John Gomez said the brand "won't be waiting for the fourth quarter" anymore and will be advertised year-round.

The current TV campaign, a $3 million to $4 million effort from McCann-Erickson Worldwide, New York, targets Generation Xers with commercials on Fox, MTV: Music Television and VH-1: Video Hits One.

Spots, tagged "Whenever. Wherever," show people drinking Asti for everyday reasons-the perfect burger, the accordion player next door moved out or because Asti tastes good with pizza.

By comparison, last year's campaign was themed, "Make the moment sparkle" and pictured a couple on the town in New York, probably on New Year's Eve.

Brown-Forman Corp.'s Korbel isn't waiting for the holidays anymore either. The champagne's first summer campaign broke earlier this year, an effort created by Carmichael Lynch, Minneapolis, that featured entertainer Don Ho. The humorous spots, like the holiday campaign themed "Korbel-for people who know champagne," ran on network stations in 10 major cities and national cable. Advancers, St. Louis, places media.

Seagram Classics Wine Co.'s Champagne Mumm opted to go Hollywood. Besides placing a bottle of Mumm in the movie "Speechless," a romantic comedy about two political speechwriters working for opposing candidates, a less than $1 million holiday effort running in Bon Appetit and Elle carries the tagline, "*`Speechless' is the movie. And Mumm is the word."

Mumm also is a co-sponsor with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and CompuServe of a Kiss, Tell & Win online essay contest.

Domaine Chandon, Yountville, Calif., also has dropped the black tie look in ads from Kirshenbaum & Bond, New York. A $3 million print campaign in Vanity Fair, Conde Nast Traveler and Gourmet plus trade publications uses a collage of photographs of areas around Domaine Chandon's popular Napa Valley winery.

"We need to reactivate the memories of those who have visited the winery, and share the experience with those who haven't yet made the trip," said Bill Oberlander, Kirshenbaum creative director.

Domaine Chandon sister brand Moet & Chandon is spending an equal amount on a seductive spot TV and magazine effort focusing on romance instead of fancy occasions.

But not all sparkling wine and champagne analysts agree with the strategy. While producers have long tried to get consumers out of the wedding and New Year's Eve mode, many consumers have stuck to their preconceived notions.

"The consumer has resisted this from day one," said Ms. Fredrikson. "It takes a leap of faith to try a typical sparkling wine with pizza. However, it's wonderful with sushi."

A number of champagne and sparkling wine marketers also are sticking to their traditional tack. Cook's American champagne, with the No. 2 champagne market share in the U.S., visits historic scenes like the end of World War II in a roughly $6 million spot network and cable TV campaign from Trone, themed "When America parties, it's Cook's."

Canandaigua Wine Co. markets both Cook's and Paul Masson, which returned this fall to its vintage slogan, "We will sell no wine before its time." The humorous spots from Trone in the $2.5 million effort comment on how boring the passage of time is-including one execution that shows paint peeling-but how it makes for a fine wine.

Other winemakers are trying new products.

Manischewitz Wine Co., marketer of traditional sweet kosher wines, this year introduced California Ridge, a line of dry, kosher varietals.

"We feel that sophisticated, dry kosher wines would easily compete with the popular California varietal brands, and also reach those consumers that drink only kosher wines," said Howard Jacobson, senior VP-marketing, Canandaigua. Plans for an ad campaign from Ad Lib Unlimited, Brooklyn, N.Y., are in development.

Aggressive marketing pushes are also in the works for other brands.

New ad campaigns are expected for E&J Gallo Winery, Modesto, Calif., from Foote, Cone & Belding, San Francisco. Deutsch, New York, is handling Gallo's holiday effort.

Sutter Home Winery, Napa Valley, Calif., the nation's second largest producer of premium varietal wines, hired San Francisco's Goodby, Silverstein & Partners for what the company described "an aggressive marketing posture for 1995 and beyond." The budget could be more than $5 million.

At the same time, a group of vintners has begun to explore the possibility of establishing a state marketing organization that would create a campaign promoting wines in a manner similar to the generic cotton or California milk efforts.

But the industry's general dependence on Gallo's ad presence and the "60 Minutes" program has some analysts uneasy.

"Our concern is the brands got a lot of free advertising with the `French Paradox' and if Morley Safer doesn't keep running it every six months, somewhere along the line, it [the lack of advertising] has got to be negative," said Frank Walters, senior VP-director of research for Impact & Market Watch.

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