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Originally published December 23, 2010 at 5:13 PM | Page modified December 23, 2010 at 11:12 PM

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Retail Report

Champagne sales bubbling over

After a dive in Champagne and other high-end wine sales during the depths of the recession, bubbly sales are roaring back just in time for a fizzy welcome to 2011

Seattle Times business reporters

Bubbly season is upon us, and this year apparently we are taking it seriously.

After a dive in Champagne and other high-end wine sales during the depths of the recession, bubbly sales are roaring back just in time for a fizzy welcome to 2011.

"We fly through them constantly," said Kyle D.T. Reynolds, who sells bottles of wine at all price ranges for Pike & Western Wine Shop in Pike Place Market.

After two years of the worst Champagne and sparkling-wine sales he had seen, Reynolds said, those bottles began to move again this past summer.

Either people are in better moods or are drinking to get there, because sparkling-wine sales rose 8 percent, according to the market research firm Nielsen, to $780 million for the year ended in mid-October. Champagne from France rocketed 12 percent to U.S. sales of $191 million.

The boost came earlier than expected for Ted Baseler, CEO of Ste. Michelle Wine Estates in Woodinville, which last year became the exclusive U.S. importer for Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte, which sells bottles that cost $35 to $175.

"There were people who said, 'Why are you bringing Champagne in the middle of this global recession?' " Baseler recalled. "My logic was pretty simple: We're in this for the long haul, and history would dictate that eventually the economy would pick up and people would return to premium beverages."

He doesn't disclose Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte's U.S. sales but said that Nielsen found they rose 24 percent this year, ahead of the Champagne category overall.

Sometimes Champagne sales suffer when people are genuinely worried about money; other times they are the victim of appearances. Champagne took a hit in 1991 after a Time magazine cover story hailed "the simple life" and decried Champagne lifestyles.

People sometimes are concerned about "the image of it and the idea of celebrating while other people are struggling," Baseler said. "But behavior can be limited only so long."

His favorite is Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte's Palmes d'Or Rosé, "a stunning aged Champagne that comes in the most sensual wine bottle in the world."

Named for the Cannes Film Festival's prestigious Palmes d'Or award, it was inspired by Nicolas Feuillatte's infatuation with an opera diva in 1950s New York City. The woman was not swayed by his creation, "but the good news is we still got Palmes d'Or," Baseler said.

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Reynolds at Pike & Western says that when customers ask for Champagne advice, he asks whether they are shopping for price, flavor or prestige.

He sends people on a budget to the sparkling-wine section, where $10.99 buys a bottle of dry, crisp, softly bubbled Blanquette de Limoux, the world's first sparkling wine, by Delmas.

"You would not ever confuse it with a $30 bottle of Champagne, but it's really delicious," Reynolds said.

People who want true Champagne but also value often buy the R. Dumont et Fils Brut for $29.99, he said. The shop's best-selling Champagne is a $45.99 bottle from Pierre Peters, also excellent for the price and a favorite of Pike & Western employees.

People still lean toward non-Champagne in the bubbly category, Reynolds said, but both types have done well in recent months. "This summer, these sections were empty every time we turned around," he said.

— Melissa Allison

Tidbits

Kent-based outdoor gear and apparel retailer REI plans to open a two-story, 25,000-square-foot store at Westfield Capital mall in Olympia next spring. The new store marks REI's 10th Washington state location and is expected to create about 50 jobs. More information is available at www.rei.com/jobs. — AM

Seattle-based retailer Nordstrom said Wednesday it has acquired a minority stake in the privately held upscale children's clothier Peek... Aren't You Curious. Nordstrom said it will be the exclusive seller of Peek merchandise, except for Peek's website and six stand-alone stores in California, Arizona and Texas. The retailer will introduce the line at 18 Nordstrom stores in February, with plans to roll it out elsewhere over time. Of the 18, eight will feature a Peek-inspired shop-in-shop, including one at Nordstrom's Bellevue Square store. Founded in 2006, Peek is based in San Francisco. — AM

Baskets made by Rwandan women will be sold at the Seattle office of Rwanda Basket, part of the nonprofit Rwanda Partners, on Christmas Eve from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. The office at 159 Western Ave. W., Suite 455, received a Christmas shipment earlier this month. They can also be bought online at www.rwandabaskets.com. Rwanda Partners more than doubled its number of weavers to 470 in recent months to meet growing demand for the baskets, whose proceeds help families devastated by genocide in Rwanda. — MA

Retail Report appears Fridays. Amy Martinez covers goods, services and online retail. She can be reached at 206-464-2923 or amartinez@seattletimes.com. Melissa Allison covers the food and beverage industry. She can be reached at 206-464-3312 or mallison@seattletimes.com.

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Retail Report is a look at the trends, issues and people who makeup the dynamic and versatile retail sector throughout the Puget Sound region. Every Friday with Melissa Allison and Amy Martinez. Send tips or comments to mallison@seattletimes.com or amartinez@seattletimes.com.

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