In many ways it was inevitable. As food standards improved and customers continued to show their new-found willingness to spend their earnings rather than save them, champagne and sparkling wine was always going to find a new home in the pub.
Champagne, in particular, is enjoying a renaissance in the on-trade. A 24 per cent year-on-year rise in volume and value growth of nearly 40 per cent is something any category would be proud of achieving.
As Jon Luke, on-trade director for Percy Fox, where its big champagne brand in the on-trade is Pommery, puts it: "What is most impressive is the value growth - it is not as though people are giving the stuff away [to achieve volume growth]. All this points towards a very, very healthy sector."
So if sales are going up and retailers are not dropping their prices, what has led to this exciting upturn in fortune for fizz?Jon Luke believes after years of hammering away at consumers about buying into quality, the message has finally got through.
"Consumers are getting more clued up on quality and that is what we have been about in the past few years. We sell Pommery as our focus in the on-trade - although at the higher end. And that is all about the sale of quality.
"The level of consumer knowledge is higher than it's ever been before. You only spend more moneyif a product has real value - and by that I mean what the product gives back to the consumer. Champagne is the ultimate expression of that."
He also believes that after years of ignoring the need to create a great drinking experience, pubs themselves have got a lot sharper in the way they sell the product. "The on-trade has got much smarter in the past few years - it was getting hammered by the off-trade for a long time. It had to do something to make the on-trade experience something that could not be replicated at home. That is why the quality of serve is so important as well as the environment you are sitting in. People demand the whole experience."Innovation
The sparkling wine and champagne market is also now moving to the forefront of innovation at the on-trade end of the market. This ranges from innovation in packaging through to new product. For example, Pernod Ricard UK has launched Jacob's Creek Rosé and Jacob's Creek Sparkling Brut rosé in 20cl bottles. According to a spokesman, this "offers consumers the reassurance they need while the single-serve option is also an attractive proposition for smaller on-trade outlets".
For product innovation we need look no further than Sovio, one of the first of a new generation of low-alcohol wines. The product is eight per cent ABV and comes in two single-serve varieties: Rosado (rosé) and Blanco (white).Most interestingly, brand owner DB Wines has made the product semi-sparkling. It took the edge off the bubbles to try to make the product more palatable and less acidic. But it didn't want to completely get rid of the fizz because DB was still keen to tap into the sparkling wine market in pubs.Over ice
The over-ice phenomenon has very much been a cider story, but now one of the best known names in champagne has decided to get in on the act. Piper-Heidsieck, which is distributed by Maxxium UK, has worked closely with wholesaler Matthew Clark on its Piscine promotion. Here outlets can serve the product using specially designed stemmed glasses, big enough to hold five ice cubes and a regular measure of champagne.
So as the category gains popularity in the pub trade it seems that it is not the trade that is adapting to the premium world of champagne but the other way around. The category is losing its rather aloof image, realising at last that there is a big market out there ready to spend a bit more than usual for a great experience.