The U.S. wine market’s prevailing trend toward premium price points was on continued display in 2021. The total super-premium segment, defined as $15 and above for a 750-ml. bottle, grew a collective 9.5% in volume last year in the U.S. to 23.1 million 9-liter case depletions, according to Impact Databank. In retail sales, the super-premium segment, including imported and domestic offerings, continued its years-long expansion, growing 11.9% to more than $5.7 billion in 2021, far above 2015’s total retail sales of $1.9 billion. Within the U.S. market’s leading premium-plus wines, defined as $10 and above, the most impressive growth was seen among super-premium brands last year, including Meiomi, Bread & Butter, and Decoy by Duckhorn.
Premium wines, defined as $10-$15 a 750-ml., collectively grew 3.7% in 2021 to 70.1 million cases and 5.1% in value to more than $10.6 billion. While making up a majority of the market’s leading premium-plus wines, those falling in the premium pricing segment saw a mixed picture in volume terms in 2021.
Within the super-premium and premium tiers, domestic wines advanced at a slower pace than imports last year. Still, domestic wines boast higher total volumes and feature more prominently on the top premium-plus ranking, despite Italy’s Stella Rosa taking the title as the leading premium-plus brand in the U.S. Premium imported wines outpaced their domestic counterparts in value growth at 11.2% to more than $3.7 billion, while premium domestic wines grew by 2.1% to more than $6.8 billion. Super-premium domestic wines, meanwhile, grew at a healthy 10.5% rate last year to $4.3 billion, as super-premium imports grew 16.5% to more than $1.4 billion.
While the premium-and-above imported and domestic segments collectively grew in volume and value last year, wines priced below $10 saw declines in the U.S. In 2021, wines below $10 fell from nearly 207 million cases to 197.5 million cases and declined in value by 2.7% to a collective $14.1 billion. Despite retaining a significant share of the U.S. wine market, wines outside the premium-plus category face an uphill battle as consumers increasingly trade up to higher pricing tiers.
A Mixed Bag
The U.S. market’s overall premium-plus domestic wine market grew 2.2% last year to 61.6 million cases and 5.2% in value to almost $11.2 billion. Among the top domestic premium-plus wines, a handful continued on impressive growth trajectories while a number faltered.
Josh Cellars retained its place as the top domestic premium-plus wine in the U.S. by advancing 6.9% in 2021 to 5.2 million case depletions. Between 2015 and 2020, the premium California brand has grown by nearly 38% in average annual volume. In overall value, the Deutsch Family Wine & Spirits’ heavyweight has become one of the U.S. wine market’s five largest labels—despite not being among the top ten overall brands in volume. And the brand’s Prosecco and Prosecco Rosé grew at a faster pace than the total brand, according to Deutsch Family president Tom Steffanci. “This brand belongs to consumers, and our job is to be really good students of how we meet the needs of our consumer and where they want to take the brand,” he recently told Market Watch sister publication Impact Newsletter. “We feel like there’s a lot of up-side for Prosecco to bring consumers into the fold, and I think you’ll also see more rapid growth on the Reserve side.”
While the larger California table wine category in 2021 declined in volume for the second time in three years, including last year’s 2.5% drop, premium-priced California wines grew by double digits. Jackson Family Wines’ Kendall-Jackson, the No. 4 premium brand in the U.S., managed modest growth in 2021 to nearly 3.3 million cases on a 1.3% rise. For the past 30 years, Kendall-Jackson’s Vintners Reserve has remained the U.S. market’s largest-selling Chardonnay, and in 2021 the company targeted the light wine segment with the release of Avant Lower Calorie Chardonnay ($17 a 750-ml.). The new entrant fits within the growing trend of better-for-you wines at 85 calories a serving and 9% abv.
Trinchero Family Estates’ Ménage à Trois California label, meanwhile, fell from 2020’s 3-million-case total last year to 2.9 million cases, but the premium California brand’s lineup of 20 wines remains a formidable player. The company says the combination of its leading SKU Ménage à Trois’ original Red Blend ($12 a 750-ml.), along with its diverse range of other blends, have allowed the brand to reach a broad range of U.S. consumers. Its mix of California and imported wines also helped overcome challenging market conditions in 2021. “Our California offerings did benefit from more timely entry into the market in 2021, as the supply chain created many obstacles for imported wines and brands,” says Trinchero’s vice president of marketing Brie Wohld.
Ménage à Trois last year launched its Sweet Collection, a new line of sweet, semi-sparkling California wines that debuted with Dolce Sweet Red Blend and Moscato Sweet White Blend. Last September, the lineup expanded with Sultry Red Smooth Blend and Hot Pink Sweet Rosé Blend (the Sweet Collection ranges from $14-$15 a 750-ml.). “We also optimized a few of our traditional varietals and blends,” Wohld says. “Our well-known California White Blend is now called Exotic Blend, with an all-new package design to match. Similarly, our California Rosé is now called Bouquet, with a delicate bottle and label design.” She adds that in February the company also introduced a new Red Blend in 187-ml. 4-packs.
Despite many leading premium California and Washington wines struggling in 2021, top super-premium domestic labels generally fared better. Meiomi achieved 10% growth to nearly 1.7 million cases. This spring, Meiomi extended its existing portfolio of Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, and rosé with the addition of a red blend of Syrah, Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot aged primarily in French oak. Meiomi wines range from $20-$22 a 750-ml.
Jackson Family Wines’ La Crema grew 11.2% to nearly 1.6 million cases in the U.S., while WX Brands’ Bread & Butter shot ahead 31.8% to about 1.2 million cases. Last year, the California-based brand released its first sparkling wine, Bread & Butter Prosecco DOC ($16 a 750-ml.), as an extra dry sparkler to complement its Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, and rosé. In May, Bread & Butter debuted a canned Pinot Noir as an alternative to its bottled Pinot Noir, retailing for roughly $5 a 250-ml. can. Bread & Butter has roughly quadrupled in volume from as recently as 2018.
Decoy by Duckhorn maintained its double-digit growth momentum in 2021 with a 19% rise to nearly 1.3 million cases, tripling from 2015’s 406,000 case total. Pointing to the premiumization trend in the U.S. wine market that gained momentum in 2020 and 2021, Duckhorn Wine Co. says Decoy ($19 a 750-ml.) is ideally placed to capitalize on a consumer shift toward the luxury category while maintaining an entry level price point. “Decoy wines sit at the perfect intersection of luxury wine consumers who are looking to trade down in luxury price point without compromising quality and wine consumers who are looking to trade up in both price and quality,” says Duckhorn vice president of trade marketing Kevin Dowling, who notes a higher-tier Decoy Limited ($30) was launched in the second half of 2020.
This fall, Decoy will roll out its popular Decoy Brut Cuvée ($25 a 750-ml.) in a new 1.5-liter format just in time for the holidays. In early 2023, Decoy Limited will be extended with a Brut Rosé and an Alexander Valley Merlot as the company plans to focus on growing the higher-tier Decoy offerings. While Decoy’s typical consumer tends to be younger, more educated, and affluent, fans are engaging with the brand across a variety of platforms. “We promote Decoy through popular e-commerce apps, such as Instacart and Drizly, where many younger wine consumers regularly shop and engage with wine brands,” says Dowling.
Imports Maintain Momentum
Super-premium imported wines have been catching up with their domestic counterparts, boasting an average annual growth rate of nearly 30% between 2015-2020. At leading online retailer Wine.com, founder Michael Osborn notes that last year imported wines actually surpassed domestic sales, making up 55% of sales. He also adds that imports have gained ground in recent years because of their value. “I’ve seen consumers who talk about going to Wine.com for wines under $25 and rated at 91 points or higher,” Osborn says. “Guess what pops out? A lot more imported wines from Cotes de Rhône and Italy. It’s hard to get a $25 Napa Valley Cabernet that’s rated 91 points. If customers are on the path of discovery and learning new regions and new varieties, it’s going to lead them to imports.”
From New Zealand, Constellation Brand’s Kim Crawford managed double-digit volume growth of 11.8% to more than 1.8 million cases in the U.S. while beating out fellow New Zealand leader Oyster Bay, which declined slightly by 1.7%. Wines from New Zealand have pursued the burgeoning better-for-you segment as U.S. consumers increasingly choose healthier wines that typically retail at higher price points.
The imported wine leader has also recently expanded into other popular consumer trends: Prosecco and wine spritzers. In March, Kim Crawford launched a Prosecco ($18 a 750-ml.) and an Iced Tea Wine Spritz ($15 a 4-pack of 12-ounce cans). The new RTD is a blend of the brand’s signature Sauvignon Blanc with iced tea, flavoring, and seltzer, and is available in Lemon and Peach varieties.
While New Zealand is represented among leading premium-plus wines with two entries, Italian premium-plus wine has the segment’s largest brand by far, Stella Rosa ($13-$14-a 750-ml.). The Riboli Family Wine Estates’ leader continues to post remarkable annual gains. Last year, Stella Rosa’s extensive lineup of innovative flavor options and sweet and semi-sweet wines grew 25.6% to nearly 7.3 million cases, a gain of nearly 1.5 million cases over 2020’s volume total. The brand also overtook Australia’s Yellow Tail in 2021 as the largest imported wine brand. Stella Rosa is on pace to become the overall U.S. wine industry’s largest brand by retail value, marking the first time an imported wine has led in value since Yellow Tail in 2009.
With an average annual growth rate of 41.4% between 2015 and 2020, or about 1 million cases a year, Stella Rosa shows no signs of slowing down as it continues to roll out new options for its loyal consumer base. New releases set for 2022 include a higher-end, barrel-aged Prosecco and a dry rosé made from Pinot Noir, in addition to flavored brandies. “The most important thing as a portfolio is to be innovative,” Steve Riboli, third-generation owner of Riboli Family wines, recently told Impact. “We’re putting out flavors and flavor profiles that consumers understand, things like Blackberry and Blueberry, and wines that are very high quality.”
Stella Rosa also branched out into alcohol-free wines this year with the debut of Stella Rosa Non-Alcoholics. The lineup features Black, Red, Rosé, and Peach options, which also play in the better-for-you segment with roughly 30% fewer calories than the alcoholic version of each wine. The non-alcoholic wines retail for $9 a 750-ml.
Despite Australia’s decline in export shipments to the U.S. in 2021, U.S. imports of Australian wine above $10 a liter reached their highest value since 2009 by growing 20% to $48 million, according to the trade association Wine Australia. Treasury Wine Estates’ 19 Crimes continued its impressive growth trajectory last year with a 9.6% volume gain to nearly 2.4 million cases in the U.S. The brand, which also features California options within the portfolio, has averaged growth of 52.8% from 2015’s volume total of 262,000 cases to 2020’s 2.2 million cases. Celebrity partnerships with Snoop Dogg and Martha Stewart have helped propel the brand to new heights while earning it a loyal consumer following in the U.S.
Premium-plus wines show no signs of slowing their growth. Consumers continue to reach for wines with higher price points, and suppliers and retailers are up for the challenge.