Sweet Wine Sales on the Grow

Americans drinking more vino, led by millennials

Published in CSP Daily News

NEW YORK -- Sweet-wine sales continue to grow. So much so that Americans are drinking more Italian wines than Italians themselves, according to a Reuters report, and owing to the popularity of sparkling wines from the southern European country and millennials.

Italian varieties are the top imported wine in the United States, which is the world's largest consumer market, according the Italian Wine and Food Institute.

Winemakers attending the Vinitaly trade show in New York said despite such classic Italian wines as Barolo, Brunello and Babaresco, the sparkler Prosecco is the favorite.

"It is Prosecco that is driving sales right now. It was pulled in by Moscato," Stevie Kim, managing director of Vinitaly, said about the sweet, sparkling Italian dessert wine.

"And it is the millennials who are in the driver's seat," she added, referring to people born in the 1980s and later.

The Silicon Valley Bank, which serves many California vineyards, noted in its 2014 annual business report for the industry that "the Millennial generation is consuming more foreign wine." Millennials also have a fondness for sweeter wines.

Sales of Moscato imported from Italy were up 26.3% by volume for the 52 weeks ending Jan. 4, according to Nielsen ratings cited by Reuters. Imports from Italy of a still version of the grape were up 14.1% by volume.

Unlike Prosecco, which is made from the Glera grape and must be produced in a well-demarcated region, Moscato is a grape that can be grown anywhere and is not subject to the regulations of an Italian consortium.

So Italian brands of Moscato, such as Riunite, Maschio Cadora or Ceretto Santo Stefano, are battling U.S. brands, including E.&J. Gallo's Barefoot, Beringer or Cupcake, for shelf space.

And although Italy is the world's largest wine exporter, Italians are drinking less wine as American consumption rises.

Americans drank between 1.4 gallons and 2 gallons per person in the 1970s. In 2012, they consumed 2.7 gallons of wine, according to the California-based Wine Institute.

The consortium that governs the production of Prosecco reported global sales in 2013 topped some 241.6 million bottles, up more than 24% from 2012, Reuters reported

"It's just taken off like a shot. You used to be able to get good Prosecco for under $10 a bottle here," said Kim. "Now, many are nearer to $20."