The sparkling wine boom triggered by the millennium has created a pricing gulf from which champagne may never recover, says Freixenet as it launches a new TV campaign in the UK.

The Ferrer family has produced Freixenet (pronounced fresh-en-ett) Cavas in Barcelona for the past 150 years using exactly the same traditional method as champagne, but sold for a third of the price of the well-known brands.

And it is Cava, not champagne, that has benefited most from the boom, says Freixenet - because consumers who got the taste for the drink at New Year have continued to drink it through 2000.

The evidence is in the figures. In the UK, Freixenet's Cordon Negro Brut, in the matt black and gold bottle, is now one of the fastest growing drinks brands. Worldwide, the company is celebrating ten years as the greatest producer of sparkling wines made in the traditional way. And that lead looks set to increase.

Said Freixenet's chairman in the UK Manuel Durán: "It's going to be a black Christmas for many people.

"The run up to New Year 2000 exposed the high cost of enjoying champagne. It meant that many more people tried Cava, liked it and loved the price.

"Crucially, they discovered that they can afford to drink quality sparkling wine any day of the week and not just for the traditional celebrations. This adds up to a seismic change in the market."

Freixenet's consumer research shows that looking like champagne doesn't help a brand in the battle to get noticed on the shelves.

Manuel Durán said: "Freixenet fans tell us they like our black bottle precisely because it does not try to pass itself off as champagne. Also selling well are the rosé version Rosado Brut and Medium Dry."

Freixenet is made using the same method as champagne, but different grape varieties: Cordon Negro Brut is made from 35% Macabeo grapes, 25% Xarel-lo and 40% Parellada. The grapes ripen more quickly in the hotter sun, producing a wine with lower acidity and a softer drinking style - which also means the effects of over-indulgence are less painful.

Another key reason for Freixenet's spectacular growth is the popularity of sparkling wine among women.

"Cava has enabled women to have their favourite drink any time they like. And naturally the one they like best comes in the distinctive black bottle," said Manuel Duran.

According to definitive AC Nielsen independent research, Freixenet is now the UK's sixth fastest growing drinks brand, with growth increased by two-thirds last year.

Almost one out of two bottles of sparkling wine sold in the UK Off Trade is now Cava and the drink has annual growth here of 47.6%.

Significantly, Freixenet believe consumption is increasingly spread evenly throughout the week, proving that Cava is making sparkling wine an every day drink for the first time.

Said Marketing Director Robin Campbell: "We're well placed to judge how habits are changing and we see from sales trends and our consumer research that customers don't wait for the traditional cork-popping occasions like anniversaries and job promotions.

"Freixenet drinkers are more likely to celebrate the little things in life, the ones that at the end of the day are actually the most important. They might pop because they've got the kids in bed before nine for the first time in a month. Or because there's something good on the telly, for once. Or even because there isn't anything to celebrate. It's like giving yourself a standing ovation.

"And the great thing about a quality traditional method drink like Freixenet is that you get it all: the wire-netted cork, the pop, the bubbles, the sense of occasion and anticipation, heritage, a distinctive taste. Everything except the price tag you might expect for such a high quality product. It really is one of life's affordable luxuries."