- The new wine will exploit three popular trends: Pinot Noir, low alcohol and sweet red
- While having no connection with natural wine, its name may have resonance with consumers who have vague awareness of that term
- It will also enjoy the marketing strength of the Robert Mondavi brand
In a move that might seem calculated to simultaneously affront natural wine fans and lovers of red Burgundy and similarly-styled Pinot Noir, Constellation Brands has released a wine called ‘Naturally Sweet Pinot Noir’ under the Robert Mondavi Private Selection label.
Retailing for around $15-16, the wine is described as offering “a refined taste experience with sweet, red fruit notes leading to hints of spice and vanilla bean.” While exploiting the growing market for both sweet red blends and for Pinot Noir, the new wine also rides the wave of low-alcohol wine, with an ABV of just 9%.
The low strength and sweetness are achieved by stopping the fermentation before the sugars have been converted into alcohol. With an initial potential alcohol of over 14%, this makes for considerable sweetness.
As recently as the 1980s, varietal Pinot Noir was rarely seen outside Burgundy, but it has a long history in California. It arrived in the mid 1800s and was planted at Inglenook in 1880 by Gustav Niebaum, probably using vines originally imported by Colonel Agoston Haraszthy de Mokesa, founder of Buena Vista Winery.
Pinot Noir Experience
Ironically, Robert Mondavi himself was one of the Napa Valley’s modern pioneers with Pinot Noir and although his winery never became famous for the variety, drinkable examples of wines he produced in the 1970s are still occasionally encountered today.
Pinot Noir now covers over 110,000ha globally, of which, 25,000 – nearly a quarter – are in the US, primarily in California and Oregon.
Constellation Brands’ experience with off-dry Pinot Noir has been greatly increased since its purchase – for a staggering $318m – of the Meiomi brand in 2015 from Joe Wagner of Caymus. An oaky, multi-regional blend with residual sugar levels of 6-7g/l, this wine has proved hugely popular with the trade. When Constellation acquired the brand, it was Market Watch Brand of the Year with annual sales were over 700,000 cases and). Critics approved too (it was a Top-100 wine in the Wine Spectator) and so did consumers (it was a 2014 top-selling restaurant Wine by the Glass in the Wine & Spirits magazine annual poll).
The Naturally Sweet Pinot Noir will be around 10 times sweeter than Meiomi.
Dismissed by wine professionals, unashamedly sweet red wine is growing in popularity in the US. According to analysts, Fact.MR, demand is set to rise at a compound annual rate of 4% until 2031, approaching a value of $78bn by 2026.
Lower alcohol wine is also expected to boom, while the word ‘natural’ is gaining increasing resonance. Even if the Robert Mondavi ‘Naturally Sweet Pinot Noir’ resembles nothing any fan of low-intervention natural wine would recognise, it is likely to benefit from association with the word.