The Power of Competitive Analysis – An English Sparkling Wine Case Study

This summer a whole slew of English Sparkling wines took a dazzling victory run around the drinks industry awards enclosures.  With 30 sparkling producers announcing gold and silver medal wins it seemed like the industry was finally coming of age.  

However, I couldn’t help wondering what the real story was behind the PR fizz.   Under the microscope, were all the winners on a pretty much equal standing, or are some wins in fact greater than others? 

From a marketing and PR perspective, I believe it’s important that we don’t just celebrate award wins.  It’s essential that we also find a way to put them into a wider context.  We need to understand what those wins say about our products and our business and how we can take those underlying messages and use them to ultimately secure more sales. 

To illustrate this approach, I decided to analyse this summer’s English Sparkling Wine award winners to see what marketing messages and brand position statements could be gleaned from the best of the crop.  For the exercise, I recorded gold and silver medal wins for all UK producers at the International Wine Challenge Awards, Decanter World Wine Awards and Imbibe magazine’s Sommelier Awards.   Then I searched for the year of each vineyard’s first vintage release as a means to measure length of time in the industry. 

By then plotting the data into the performance matrix below, the real top performers and their industry position soon bubbled up to the surface.  

At the bottom of the matrix you’ll see single silver medal winners plotted out according to their longevity in the marketplace, with this same logic carrying on to the double gold + silver medal winners at the top. 

I concede that its not the most highly accurate measurement, as for example, I don’t make a distinction for awards to single bottled vintages.  It’s merely a tally of silver and gold awards overall.  Some vineyards may also have deliberated decided to make no entries this year, so of course, they won’t then register in these results.  But as a broad analysis, it still shows up some of the best sparkling wine making examples at this particular moment in time. 

Click on the matrix image above for larger view.

To follow is my summary of the top performers and their particular market strengths. 

Early Winners 

Squerryes and Hoffman & Rathbone are two producers who’ve demonstrated early flair and quality by achieving two gold medal wins a piece with their Brut 2010 offerings.  By winning such high accolades within a few years of starting production, they are well placed to attract attention from Michelin-starred restaurants and prestige events organisers who are looking for single estate or limited edition rising star performers.    

Fast Developer 

Digby’s multiple vineyard blends also continues to perform well with another two gold medals in the bag to help support their current export ambitions. 

Small But Perfectly Formed 

Hambledon, Wiston Estate and Court Garden are three more established independent vineyards who have developed reputations as English Sparking class acts.   With two gold medals and a silver medal each in the bag they deserve a place as trusted, quality performers on the UK’s top wine lists. 

Bubbling Under 

Gusbourne already has established a great reputation producing wines of high quality.  It insists on keeping its wines on the lees for at least 36 months and only produces wines from its burgundy-cloned vines.  Although it may not have performed as well this year as its near counterparts, it’s still very much a name to reckoned with in the UK sparking wine scene.  High Clandon’s Ultra Brut Succession Cuvée secured two gold medals and bronze during this year’s medal run, placing it as one of the most successful individual vintages from this summer’s judging batch. 

Top Performing Majors 

Chapel Down may be one of the best-known names in the English Sparkling market, but it’s not let its mass-market focus deter it from creating a vintage of real quality.  Its Blanc de Blancs 2009 was awarded not one, but two gold medals from Decanter and IWC this summer.  Ridgeview, another major player with a fantastic long-term pedigree, received plaudits this year for its Blanc de Blancs Brut 2011 and South Ridge Cuvee Merret Brut 2012.  In comparison, Nyetimber, the UK’s other major player in the field, brought only one silver medal home to the awards cabinet. 

Okay, so now we have a better view of the themes behind the wins, how can the winners and losers use this information to best advantage? 

The Power of Competitive Knowledge

Keeping up to date with your competitive knowledge is important and can help you drive your business forward on a number of fronts. 

Honing your market edge - Having more accurate competitive knowledge enables you to focus more keenly on what will make your brand stand out from your immediate peers.   So when you go head-to-head to get pole position on a restaurant wine list, supermarket feature or distributer catalogue, you’ll have worked out how to secure your edge.

Looking for funding?  It’s essential you have a clear vision of present and proposed future place in the market to support your case for investment.

Want to attract more PR?  With the research under your belt, you can also speak more confidently about your particular achievements to the press and media.

Not performing as well as you wanted to?  Follow the example of your sector winners and work out what lessons you can take from their success.

Make more direct sales – And of course, don’t forget to let your direct customers know about your successes and how your brand makes its own mark.

What to measure? 

In this article’s example, I principally focused on awards and time in the industry.  However, there are many more benchmarks you can use to measure performance, from financial information such as turnover, profit, price points and growth percentage through to social media Klout ™ scores, Google search mentions and distribution channel information.

As your business grows you may focus on different aspects of advantage.  The main point I’d urge you to consider today is that you start to make competitive analysis a regular part of your business planning.   This exercise could make a positive and lasting difference to the way you do business.

For further advice on analyzing your competition and on creating a stronger position for your brand, you can call Susanne Currid on 07730061829 or email her at for an initial confidential and complimentary chat about your business.