The recent launch of the world’s first vintage alcohol-free sparkling wine, at 67 Pall Mall in London, may turn out to be one of the most important releases of the year.

While Bordeaux’s 2023 en-primeur campaign sank like a stone, French Bloom’s effervescent La Cuvée 2022, retailing at £109, was a sign of the ambition and rising confidence within the alcohol-free category.

La Cuvée joins Le Blanc and Le Rosé – both selling at around £30 – in the French Bloom range.

French Bloom was founded in 2021 by husband-and-wife team, Rodolphe and Maggie Frerejean-Taittinger, who are involved in both Champagne and Cognac.

“We love mature, vintage sparkling wines,” Rodolphe says, but when Maggie was pregnant with twins, they realised that there was no alcohol-free substitute for mature Champagne at the premium and super-premium level.

Initially, French Bloom targetted those who didn’t or couldn’t drink.
“We thought initially it was for pregnant women and the sober community,” says Maggie, “but while they represent a loyal base, we now estimate they are only 20% of our customers.”

The customer base for alcohol-free wine is increasingly made-up of keen wine drinkers.

A recent KAM study for Lucky Saint beer found that medium-level drinkers are more likely to buy alcohol-free drinks than light or non-drinkers.

Other alcohol-free sparkling wine brands such as Noughty and Moderato have also found that regular wine drinkers who are moderating their consumption have become their main customers.

This has informed brands’ positioning and opened up the potential for premiumisation among drinkers who are comfortable with paying high prices for quality fine wines.

Existing alcohol-free sparkling wine brands target the Cava and Prosecco space, with pricing to match, conscious that many consumers think alcohol-free should be cheaper than its alcoholic equivalent.

Successful brands with listings in major multiples include Noughty, Eisberg, Zeno and Moderato.

French Bloom is targeting a different sector of the market.

“In terms of price points, in terms of experience, we are more in competition with fine wine,” Maggie says. “Our biggest markets are Champagne markets.”

The labels of many alcohol-free brands are keen to attract wine drinkers with familiar terminology.

French Bloom’s decision to call its new release La Cuvée, and put a vintage date on it, draws on the existing language of Champagne’s prestige cuvée category.

Alex Roger, the former international brand manager for Dom Pérignon, has come on board, bringing LVMH experience in pricing and marketing.

La Cuvée 2022 currently costs the same as Charles Heidsieck Brut 2013 and is deliberately positioned to be an alcohol-free alternative to such super-premium wines.

“There are people who drink Krug by the glass,” Rodolphe says, “and they want to have something that’s the same level as the wines they usually drink, even when they’re not drinking.”

French Bloom is now targeting the premium on-trade, which has lagged behind the off-trade in alcohol-free uptake.

Building brand value in the on-trade through associations with high-end gastronomy and hospitality is a proven premiumisation route for luxury wine and spirits brands.

French Bloom is listed at Annabel’s, the Raffles Hotel, 67 Pall Mall and Claude Bosi at Bibendum among others.

But premium retail remains critical, with listings in Hedonism, Fortnum & Mason and Harrods, showing that the French Bloom team has a very specific customer in mind.

Maggie points to Erewhon, an ultra-premium California retailer, where French Bloom’s Le Rosé is the best-selling alcohol-free wine at $44. “A bottle of water is $29,” she notes.

In the world of Veblen goods, French Bloom’s La Cuvée could do for alcohol-free what Château d’Esclans did for rosé.

With investors such as Rémy Cointreau and Jean Moueix from Pétrus on board, it is undoubtedly a name to watch.