Eager for cork to pop

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with a glut of champagne still in wine cellars after 2000's millennium celebrations, and with Sept. 11 and the economy emptying restaurants, marketers of champagnes and other high-end wines are seeing their sales fizzle and are readjusting their vintage marketing strategies.

"Sparkling wines had a very difficult time since the millennium at virtually all price points," says Eileen Fredrikson, partner at wine consultancy Gomberg, Fredrikson & Associates. "Even though there are still plenty of rich people out there, they are cautious."

High-price wines are borrowing from their mass-market brethren in shifting both their marketing target and their message.

In the tradition-bound luxury wine segment, vintners normally reach their audience through "hand selling"-that is, advertising to the restaurant trade and then relying on those establishments' sommeliers to urge their customers to purchase the product. Little of the marketing was aimed to the consumer.

But that's changing.

"If you can't get people at restaurants, [wine marketers] must shift their emphasis from on-premise to off-premise [reaching consumers in their homes] and at least have their brands be top of mind," says Heather Mee, managing partner-strategic planning at New York agency Ziccardi Partners Frierson Mee, which handles advertising for Allied Domecq's Champagne Mumm.

direct advertising gains

Luxury winemakers have responded to post-Sept. 11 cocooning by relying more heavily on direct-to-consumer pitches, including radio and outdoor ads, as well as promotions and giveaways-tactics more familiar to mass-market wines. For Perrier Jouet, Allied Domecq tied the 100th anniversary of its Belle Epoque flower bottle to a promotion involving the DVD and videocassette release of Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp.'s "Moulin Rouge."

Jackson Family Farms has accelerated development of an 8,000-customer list gathered from wine events, says Michael Merriman, senior VP-marketing and identity. Inviting these individuals to periodic events and mailing them newsletters "allows us to make them ambassadors of our brand," he says.

But Mr. Merriman is wary of major marketing responses to the economy. "Luxury goods are heavily steeped in the mystique of the brand, and we have to protect that," he says.

Mumm switched to marketing luxury "with a wink," Ms. Mee says, in a campaign tagged "MaxiMumm." In one print ad, a Mumm bottle is engulfed in bubbles over a headline reading, "MaxiMumm attraction."

Consumption of sparkling wines dropped 21% for imports and 5% for U.S. domestic brands in 2001, Ms. Fredrikson says, but Ms. Mee believes the wine glut is showing signs of ending. She says the market will improve as people regain their sense of optimism.

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