The Missing Prosecco: A New York City Story

This can only happen in NYC

The City of New York has a building ordinance called Local Law 11, described as follows:

To keep buildings safe, owners of properties higher than six stories must have exterior walls and appurtenances, such as balconies, inspected every five (5) years – and they must file a technical façade report with the Department.

Recently, the building in which I live was inspected by our engineering firm and it was determined that we needed to inspect the building—particularly the balconies—and that repair work needed to take place.

So, starting in July, a pedestrian bridge (also known as a shed) went up all around the sidewalk of our building, scaffolding was deployed, and a team of workers began to prepare the façade and mainly the balconies. It’s a complicated process so I’ll spare you the details. It’s sufficient to say that we could not use our small balcony in the summer or fall and it took until mid-December for the work to be completed.

Despite the slight inconvenience, I was in awe of the men riding the scaffold each day to do the job. Imagine going up and down a 31-floor building, doing this for more than eight hours a day, and getting on and off to work on balconies. I get dizzy and wobbly getting on a step ladder to change a bulb. There is not enough money for me to even contemplate getting on a scaffold—including what Diageo paid for Casamigoes.

Now on to the story…

One day last week, our balcony was finished and I opened the door, partly because I wanted a close look at the work (fabulous) and mainly because I could, for the first time in six months. I didn’t stay there long; it was freezing out.

It just so happens that on that particular day we had a small group of friends coming over for a cocktail party. I bought what I needed from the nearby wine and spirits shop—hey, it’s NYC and there’s one every other street. Included in my order was four bottles of prosecco… Mionetto Prosecco to be exact. Sparkling wine is fun, celebratory, easy to serve, and some folks prefer it to other drinks.

My order arrived but the problem was how to keep the prosecco cold; the refrigerator was full of food and I could only get two bottles in. How to keep the other two bottles cold was a bit of a dilemma.

I know, I thought, now that the balcony was accessible, I’ll do what most of my neighbors and I do in the winter and store two bottles out there. If you live in an apartment in the city, you don’t have room for an extra refrigerator, so a balcony, or even a fire escape, when the temperature is low enough, will do the trick.

Two bottles in a plain black plastic bag were put outside to keep cold. But different types of alcohol freeze differently. An 80 proof (40%AbV) spirit will not freeze but a wine at 8 to 14% AbV will first turn to slush then freeze after just an hour or two. I had visions of frozen sparkling wine and shooting corks taking out neighbors’ windows.

So, around fifteen minutes before our guests were due to arrive, I went out to the balcony to check on my cache.

The balcony was empty.

No booze. Gone. Disappeared.

I live on the 11th floor of the building so, unless Spider Man was in the upper east side and decided to climb up to my balcony and take the prosecco, there was only one other explanation—the workers took it.

I called the building superintendent, a good friend, and laughingly told him the situation. He immediately deduced that they were on a scaffold going down and finished for the day, so they must have thought the wine was a gift for them. Hmmm. Made sense to me. “Never mind,” I said. “Let them enjoy it.” His reply was a terse, “Let me see what I can do.”

I shrugged and immediately called the liquor store and, reminding them what a good customer I am, I begged them to send up two more bottles asap.

Ten minutes later the doorbell rang. Two gentlemen were standing outside. One was the delivery guy from the store and the other was one of the building employees. Each had a bag containing two bottles of prosecco. We now had six.

The aftermath

I felt really badly about the building taking the assumed gift away from the workers. These fellows worked long and hard and a couple of bottles of booze was small additional compensation. But my friend the super thought he was doing me a favor. I shouldn’t have called him.

What really pissed me off was that of the six bottles of prosecco, only one was consumed. A couple bottles of Eagle Rare Bourbon, seemed to be the preferred libation.

As we say in New Yawk, go figure.

My building
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Altaneve Prosecco

A distinctive product deals with marketing challenges

Sparkling Wine in the US has grown twice as fast as the overall wine category over the past five years. Within sparkling wine, the non-champagne segment accounts for over 90% of sales (See earlier post on Booze Business) with prosecco leading the charge.

In fact, in a recent article in Shanken News Daily:

“The Prosecco DOC Consortium recorded a 34% increase in exports to the U.S. market in the first half of 2014, with volume reaching 1.27 million cases.” 

In effect, prosecco has challenged champagne for the top of the sparkling wine domain. In so doing, prosecco has changed the occasions for drinking sparkling wine. While champagne is for celebrations and special occasions, prosecco is for everyday and any time. Further, at $12 to $15 per bottle, prosecco has an advantage for everyday use.

But, just as there are $12 bottles of wine as wells as $20, $30 even $40 still wines, can an upmarket prosecco capture a significant share of that market?

Enter David Noto with Altaneve Prosecco

David Noto
David Noto

It’s quite an interesting story. David’s family has been making wine for 10 generations in Italy and he grew up with a passion for prosecco, particularly the high quality end. So he changed his career from engineering and finance technology and brought this product to market a few years ago.

According to David, “The US market is not deeply familiar with the broad range of prosecco, so we felt it was time to introduce the best.”

In addition, the brand has an interesting story to tell. Altaneve means high snow in Italian and is a reference to the snow capped peaks of the Dolomite Mountains that can be seen from the vineyards in Valdobbiadene where the prosecco is produced. The production facility is the second oldest in the town where the production of prosecco dates back to 200 BC.

In short, Altaneve has it all, provenance, terroir, heritage and high quality. Taste? I’m a huge prosecco fan and, while I’m far from a connoisseur, I think it’s the best tasting prosecco I’ve ever had. It’s versatile (any occasion with or without food), and unlike other

Presecco production area
Presecco production area

prosecco I’ve had, it’s consistent from bottle to bottle.

Altaneve sells for roughly $29.99 a bottle and therein is the problem.

The marketing challenge

I suppose it’s because the prosecco category in the US market is still in its infancy. Or, maybe the current image for the category is that it is generally low in price. As a result, David faces an uphill battle getting the message across that high end prosecco is worth the price. After all, all wine categories segment by price, why not this one?

I can understand the consumer reluctance to trade up. The category is still evolving and they came to it originally for an inexpensive alternative to champagne, so why pay for top shelf. That perception will change gradually over time but for producers like David Noto, accelerating a change in perception will take marketing muscle and lots of money. Altaneve is a startup brand.

The hesitation by the trade (especially bars and restaurants) is baffling to me. The mark up and profitability from Altaneve would make the brand more than worthwhile. Yet, the reluctance to change, to accept a segmentation of the prosecco category, not to mention lack of knowledge, all make it an uphill battle. To me, it defies logic.

Bottle_5I guess the bright side is twofold. First, slowly but surely, better retailers like Sherry Lehmann and important chains like Capital Grille are stocking Altaneve. Then there is David Noto himself. If you’re a follower of this blog, you know I often write about startups and the entrepreneurs behind them. Add David Noto to the list of passionate, smart and committed.

As to the Altaneve product itself, try it and let me know what you think. Unfortunately, it currently is only available in NY, NJ and CT, but also online. I’m betting you’re going to love it.

While you’re at it, check out what Wine Spectator had to say about Altaneve, as well as other info from their Facebook page.

Altaneve products
Altaneve products
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Booze Appellations: Does where it comes from matter?

carte_des_crus+Some appellations matter a great deal and provide the reassurance that what you’re drinking is what you wanted. While appellations generally refer to wine, let’s look at it more broadly, including spirits. A Scotch from the US, for example, wouldn’t cut it, nor would Bourbon from Scotland. Different ingredients, recipes and distillation processes. Different origins.

What about cognac vs. brandy? Simple — all cognac is brandy. But, not all brandy is cognac. Brandy can only be labeled as cognac if it is produced in the designated growing areas in the Charentes region of France. To me, the cognac appellation means that the product has heritage, provenance and a unique production process behind it.

Okay, how about Tequila? All Tequilas are Mezcals, but not all Mezcals are Tequilas. Tequila must be made from at least 51% Blue Agave and come from the tequila region of Mexico. Anything less, or outside of the tequila region is known as a Mezcal.

Which brings me to Champagne vs. sparkling wine.

Robert Klara from Adweek interviewed me last month about an ad from the Champagne Bureau USA. You can find the article here.

The champagne people, in an effort to recapture lost ground to such sparkling wine products as Prosecco, Cava, Moscato, Sekt and of course, California Sparkling Wine, have run an ad letting consumers know that only Champagne comes from France. Leaving aside the silliness of the ad’s execution, I believe they simply don’t get the consumer’s interest in bubbly wine regardless of the appellation.

They have reason to be concerned. Sparkling wine as a category outsells Champagne by more than 10 to 1, and has grown much faster over the last five years.

sparkling wine image

I’m a Prosecco fan. It’s bubbly, dry, pleasant tasting and fun. Is it a replacement for Champagne? Sometimes, but I’m also a Moët & Chandon fan. For me, the difference is mood, occasion and situation. While I might serve Prosecco at a party, only Champagne would meet the drink needs of a wedding. A sparkling wine would be great at a picnic but only Moët Vintage Champagne would be right for celebrating opening night for one of my plays (sigh, if only).

If the Champagne people want me to drink more of their bubbly and less Italian or California sparkling wine, they need to understand consumer needs and wants and align their product offerings accordingly.

After all, I’m not drinking ‘imitation’ Champagne; I’m drinking real Prosecco.

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