A TOAST TO FREIXENET MIONETTO USA
By Lisa Gmur, CSW
When Freixenet USA and Mionetto USA joined together a little more than a year ago, the newly coined company, Freixenet Mionetto USA, became a force to reckon with. A subsidiary of Henkell Freixenet (the world’s leading producer of sparkling wines), Freixenet Mionetto USA definitely upped their stock and place in the sparkling wine industry within the United States. And the timing couldn’t have been better.
“I’m very excited for the opportunity to take this outstanding portfolio to new heights at a time when the sparkling wine category is driving the overall wine growth,” says Enore Ceola, CEO & Managing Director of Freixenet Mionetto USA. Ceola started Mionetto twenty years ago. “Freixenet Mionetto USA has market leading brands in the categories of Cava, Prosecco and domestic sparkling with Gloria Ferrer,” says Ceola. This will provide an unparalleled offering and strategic insights to our business partners,” he adds. Mionetto is the world’s leading Prosecco brand and also has the on-premise focused Mionetto “Avantgarde” Prosecco label.
THE WORLD LEADER IN CAVA
Cava set a new record in 2018. The Cava Regulatory Council says a total of 244.5 million bottles of Cava were produced with an average aging time of nearly fourteen months. Outside of Spain, 165 million bottles were sold. This represented a 3% increase over the year before. Even more significant, the bottles sold at a higher price than in 2017. Also on the rise, an interest in premium Cavas like Freixenet and Segura Viudas caused production to skyrocket by 76%, according to Spain Business News.
Freixenet (Catalan pronunciation; fray-jay-net) is the largest producer of traditional method sparkling wine worldwide and the largest exporter of Cava. The Freixenet family history goes back to 1861, when Francesc Sala Ferrés started a business making and exporting wine to America. (The original winery still makes small quantities of Cava, handmade in the original way.) Freixenet is located in Sant Sadurni, Penedès southwest of Barcelona in an area known as Cava country. The landscape of rolling hills protects the region from the strong easterly winds by the Garraf Massif and from the cold winds off the Montserrat Mountain. The Penedès is also home to a rich red soil and long hours of sunshine.
In 1889, the story blossoms with the marriage of Pedro Ferrer and Dolores Sala Vivé, heiress to the Sala wine emporium. Ferrer’s family was also a winemaking family. Their family had a ranch “La Freixenada” which means ‘ash tree grove’ in Catalan. Pedro’s nickname was “El Freixenet.” Delores was very interested in the winemaking process, while Pedro’s talent shown in his business savvy and sense of community.
Cava is a protected description for a wine which must meet incredibly stringent regulations to receive the name. These rules include using specific grapes; Parellada, Macabeo and Xarel·lo, in the Traditional Method,” or what we often refer to as “Méthode Champenoise,” which occurs when the wine goes through a secondary fermentation in the bottle. Freixenet grows their own grapes but also uses grapes from over 2,000 wine growing partners.
The Segura Viudas estate dates back to the 11th century with a long-storied past. At the beginning it was an inhabited watch tower – the Galimany Tower – that grew and changed with each new century undergoing various face lifts following architectural styles like Visigoth, Romanesque and Gothic. In the 13th century the tower lost its military importance and was converted into a masía, or simply, a country house in Catalonia. By the end of the 19th century, the various indigenous grape varieties began to flourish in the vineyards. Segura Viudas began producing and selling sparkling wines in 1959, but it was not until 1969 that the winery began marketing the wines.
In the early 1980s, the estate was purchased by the Ferrer Family as it was known for its high quality Cavas and still wines which fit perfectly in the Freixenet family portfolio. Segura Viudas has always focused on quality while expressing the unique characteristics of the ancestral vineyards and the special indigenous vines grown there and utilizing the most modern technology.
Winemaker Gabriel Suberviola believes that “only the highest quality grapes are capable of producing Cava with personality and complexity”. Grapes from the indigenous white varieties (Xarello, Macabeo and Parellada) are the foundation of the wines. Suberviola adds that “the indigenous grapes of our region are at the heart of our creations and [when] added to a meticulous selection of vineyards and grapes, allow us to offer up Cavas with their own identity that are just asking to be discovered”.
THE WORLD’S MOST LOVED PROSECCO
Here in the US, Prosecco remains king. Champagne has definitely helped grow the overall sparkling wine category, but the real growth continues to be with Prosecco.
The Prosecco grape, Glera, originated during Roman times and is one of the oldest grapes in Italian history. Believed to be of Slovenian origin and cultivated in the vineyards of the Italian village of Prosecco in Trieste (which shares a border with Slovenia) it is thought to have been referred to by the Romans of the area, as far back as 200 BC. Prior to the name Prosecco, the village was originally called Puccino, from the Slovenian “prozek” which translates to “path through the woods.”
Prosecco is made in the “charmat” method, also known as the “tank method,” where the fermented wine goes through its secondary fermentation in steel tanks, rather than the bottle. This means less contact with the “lees,” or yeast sediment, which gives the wine a very fresh flavor profile.
Prosecco finally received DOC status in 1969, just a few short years after the creation of the Strada del Prosecco. The first wine road in Italy, the strada paved the way for the wine tourism industry that thrives today. The Mionetto winery is in the heart of Valdobbiadene, the specific village recognized for the best Prosecco in the region. And they have been producing Prosecco since 1887. Mionetto also works with hundreds of growers and has long standing contracts with them, which gives their Proseccos consistency thanks to high quality fruit. Mionetto is bottled to order and even dates its bottles to ensure the it’s the freshest Prosecco on the market.
Both Mionetto, a very hot brand, and La Marca, a co-leader in the Prosecco category, far outpace all of the other producers in overall sales. Mionetto has enjoyed continued growth, increasing sales 10.3% to 750,000 cases in 2018 with 70% of those sales coming from On-Premise business. Mionetto has a much lower retail presence than all of the other Prosecco players as its forte is its higher ratio in restaurants and bars rather than on retail shelves.
Globally, Prosecco has surpassed Champagne, becoming the world’s best-selling sparkling wine, with a volume of 544 million bottles in 2018 and is leading the charge in the U.S sparkling wine boom. As reported in Shanken News Daily, Prosecco sales were up 12.3% in 2017 and an additional 16.4% in 2018. Higher end Prosecco is also helping the cause. Wine producers and marketers are working hard to get Prosecco drinkers to trade up. Mionetto is ready for them. They have released a luxury collection of upscale Prosecco offerings in recent years to help elevate the category starting with Cartizze, the “Grand Cru” of Conegliano Valdobbiadene. Cartizze wines must feature at least 85% Glera grapes and they must be produced from hand harvested fruit. While the hill of Cartizze is just 1,000 feet high, only a single valley separates Valdobbiadene from the Dolomites and the Southern Limestone Alps, which rise to more than 10,000 feet.
The luxury collection of Mionetto wines also includes Mionetto Gran Rosé and Mionetto Organic Prosecco.
A GLORIOUS FUTURE LIES AHEAD
The US domestic sparkling wine category has seen pretty staggering growth over the last dozen years. According to Impact Databank, domestic sparklers crossed into the 10-million-case territory in 2016 in the U.S. on a 6.5% volume gain, marking an incremental increase of about 645,000 cases. Progress has been solid at the premium end, with the market’s six largest domestic brands priced above $15 collectively growing by nearly 4% in 2016. Overall consumption of domestic sparkling wines is up nearly 60% in the past decade. 2017 sales of domestic sparkling wine grew another 3.7% to nearly 12.4 million cases.
Gloria Ferrer was the first sparkling wine house established in Carneros and has gone on to become the most awarded California sparkling wine producer with more than five hundred Gold Medals and more than fifty scores of 90+ point ratings awarded to the winery in the last five years.
The winery was founded in 1986, however the first inklings of Gloria Ferrier wines glimmered back in the 1930s, when Pedro Ferrer first traveled to North America. As you may recall from earlier in this article, Ferrer and his wife Delores Sala Ferrer were fairly famous winemakers of Cava. Pedro landed in New Jersey in search of land for starting a winery, which yes, was a fairly crazy idea. Most folks departing Spain at that time headed to South America where they spoke the same language and had similar cultures. But Ferrer was not an ordinary man; he was a true visionary, a true pioneer. However, his journey was cut short and he returned to Spain to fight in the Spanish Civil War where he ultimately lost his life. His youngest son Jose, who shared his father’s ambitions and passion for bubbles, was intent on bringing his father’s dream to life one day. And thankfully Jose’s wife Gloria was equally intent on the idea – to build a winery in North America.
In 2016, Gloria Ferrer received the official sustainable certification from the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance.
Years later, Gloria found herself languishing in the sunshine and glory of Carneros while traveling abroad and put pen to paper in a letter to her husband. She was immediately struck by the beauty and diversity of Carneros, where vineyards colored the landscape and by how much it reminded her of Catalonia and their home in Spain. She was smitten. At the time, there were acres and acres of farmland across Sonoma and animals were still plentiful. As the story goes, Jose had narrowed the search down to a handful of properties and while walking one of them, a bull charged at him. He was wearing a red sweater. When this happened, he immediately thought of Spain and the “running of the bull” and knew he had found the perfect spot for their winery.
The original estate was 250 acres to which they’ve added roughly another 80 acres over time. The bulk of the business is in bubbles and fulfills the original dream of Pedro Ferrer. When the Ferrer’s built the winery in the 80s, no one was building underground caves, but having had experience with caves in Spain, they knew it was the right thing to do, even in California where air conditioning was cheap. Labor was not, however, but they forged ahead. They didn’t shun from expense then and they still don’t now, if they think it will improve the quality of their wines. The intention and direction they took when they first established the winery is still evident today. And if you haven’t seen a bottle lately, Gloria Ferrer has a new label and look. The quality inside the bottle is even better than ever.
The wines are made in the Méthode Traditionelle style and are composed of cool climate Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The grapes are sourced from their estate which consists of 335 acres of vineyards. Gloria Ferrer was one of the first to bring Champagne clones to the United States. And still today, their clonal experts are constantly doing research, always experimenting and trying to hone in on the right clones for what will give them the best flavor palates. They have done several studies with UC Davis to try to ascertain the “perfect” clones.
THE FRENCH CONNECTION
Just up the road from Spain, in the Loire Valley, more specifically, Saumur, France, lies Gratien & Meyer; a historic winery established in 1864. Saumur is widely recognized for their sparkling wines.
“In 1864, Alfred Gratien built his cellars on the Saumur hillside, in the ancient tuffeau tunnels.”
Originally an excavation site, the area was known for its quarries. Stones dug from these quarries by ‘perreyeurs’ (or quarrymen) from the 12th century onwards were used to build many of the region’s important monuments (most notably the Château de Saumur). The quarries had been abandoned for a number of years when Alfred Gratien bought the estate and took over 20 hectares of vines and 5 kilometers of galleries. He was then able to devote himself to producing fine sparkling wines in Saumur. Later in the same year, he also moved into champagne production after setting up a second house in Epernay.
The Crémant de Loire appellation was created in 1975 and is dominated by Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc grape varieties. It stretches across a vast area of the Loire Valley covering some 1,600 hectares. What makes it special is that harvesting is performed entirely by hand to preserve every last grape. Bottles of Crémant de Loire are kept in the cellar for at least 12 months. At Gratien & Meyer, both the Saumur and Crémant wines are aged beyond the minimum legal requirements to allow the aromas to develop for as long as possible. The exceptional terroir provides the winery with a large number of wines with a Controlled Designation of Origin (“AOC”, in French).
Which brings us to Champagne, specifically Epernay and the house of Alfred Gratien which has been making Champagne since 1864. Production at this artisanal Champagne house is voluntarily limited to 300,000 bottles per year. Only the best grapes from three main Grand Cru regions – Cote des Blancs for Chardonnay, Montagne de Reims for the Pinot Noir and Marne Valley for the Pinot Meunier – are used. And just like his forefathers, fourth generation cellar master Nicolas Jaeger hand crafts his Champagnes and is meticulous and strict with the fermentation of his wines. Alfred Gratien has made a conscious decision not to use malolactic fermentation to maintain the original character of the grapes, preserving the aromas and retaining freshness, even as the wine ages, which is a minimum of 36 months.
Since a decree by the French government on June 29, 1936, Champagne has enjoyed a Protected Designation of Origin label (or Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée, abbreviated as AOC). Its production is limited to the 35,000 hectares that make up the region of Champagne — home to 635 municipalities spread across the départements of Marne, Aisne, Aube, Seine-et-Marne and Haute-Marne, and subject to a strict list of specifications. Thanks to the 1936 decree, only sparkling wines produced in the Champagne region have the right to display the name “Champagne” on their labels.
Exports of French sparkling wines to the United States amount to $771.54 million dollars a year. This includes Champagne and other sparkling wines like the Crémant discussed earlier. The US remains the largest market of exported French sparkling wines.
Champagne has seen worldwide growth in recent years. The U.S. Champagne Bureau announced a nearly 3% increase of bottles of Champagne shipped to America from 2017 to 2018. This marked the sixth consecutive year of growth for Champagne in the U.S.
SPARKLING WINE CANS ON THE RISE
Of course, recognizing that the sparkling wine drinking market also loves a little fun, a lot of convenience and products that are more environmentally driven, Mionetto introduced an Italian brand called Bollicini with Cuvée and Rosé in serving size cans. The wines are blends of Italian varietals. The sparkling wine can brand has seen growth of 140% in the last year. “We believe the millennial wine consumer’s demand for innovation is driving this growth,.” said Freixenet Mionetto USA’s Enore Ceola. He adds, “This generation is particularly experimental and conscious of social responsibility. Cans are increasingly popular for multiple reasons: convenience, versatility and portability.” Bollicini’s eco-friendly packaging has a low carbon footprint and high recycle rate, adding to the usage benefits.