Premium California wines posting torrid growth: Impact databank...

California wine’s premium-plus segment is making significant gains in both the on- and off-premise, as luxury wines have rebounded in the restaurant channel and premium offerings further down the pricing ladder are showing big gains.

These positive trends are occurring both with big-volume players and high-end specialists. According to Impact Databank, the top 10 premium-plus California wine brands grew by an aggregate 16.4% to 15.2 million cases in 2011, and eight of the top 10 posted growth. Meanwhile, wines over $20 continue to be the fastest-growing segment in the off-premise, rising 11% in Nielsen channels in the 52 weeks through April 28.

The super- and ultra-premium segments have been expanding rapidly. Treasury Wine Estates has been fighting an uphill battle across much of its Australia-centered portfolio, but its luxury business in general—and its California-sourced Beringer Private Reserve, Stag’s Leap and Etude wines in particular—have been bright spots for the company. Other leading marketers like Constellation are also seeing growth at higher price points. While Constellation’s Clos du Bois label took a step back last year, its Napa-sourced Franciscan brand jumped 28% to 295,000 cases, driven by its Franciscan Estate Cabernet, which retails at $27 a bottle. That wine, as well as Franciscan’s Chardonnay and Merlot varietals, has been advancing quickly in the on-premise.

Livermore, California-based Wente Vineyards is making solid progress both with its flagship brand and its larger portfolio. The Wente Vineyards label—whose production is at 325,000 cases and includes the Vineyard Selection ($14), Heritage Block ($20-$25), Small Lot ($20-$40) and The Nth Degree ($40-$60) ranges—saw sales rise by 18% to 325,000 cases in 2011. The group’s on-premise sales—which account for around 60% of its overall business—were up 16% last year after sliding during the downturn in 2008 and 2009.

Bob Cabral of Healdsburg’s Williams-Selyem hailed as world’s best winemaker...

When Bob Cabral, winemaker extraordinaire at Healdsburg’s Williams-Selyem Winery, learned he was the winemaker of the year – for the world – he confesses near shock while experiencing emotions that ranged from exhilaration to regret.

The regret was that his father and mentor, the late Robert Cabral, a farmer and agricultural leader in the San Joaquin Valley, wasn’t alive to share the glory of the global honor bestowed by Wine Enthusiast Magazine. Cabral was selected the winemaker of the year from a list of nominees that included winemakers from premier wine regions throughout the world. Not bad for a farm boy from Escalon who grew up watching his grandfather make jug wine in the barn.

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