The rosé revolution
The days of dismissing rosé as a mere summer flirtation are over. As producers and consumers realise the depth of flavour and sheer quality of the wines on offer, the power of pink will only become stronger, writes Lauren Eads.
Rosé has always been – more emphatically than its red or white counterparts – a style that oozes fun and frivolity. Invariably light and easy drinking, regardless of its colour, with fresh fruits to the fore, this style has become a staple serve at sun-soaked coastal resorts, summer terraces and on long hot evenings.
It’s lapped up by the magnum at five-star beach clubs and quaffed by the carafe in humble bistros the world over. Indeed, its reputation as a wine not to be taken seriously is exactly what has endeared it to a legion of typically younger consumers, who, generally speaking, are less interested in the juice itself than its easy-drinking attributes and the lifestyle statement it carries. Take Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie’s Château Miraval rosé from Côtes de Provence.
A serious wine, its success has been driven first and foremost by its famous owners, resulting in a further ripple in demand for pale pink expressions. You only have to poke your head into any number of beach clubs on the French Riviera to appreciate the popularity of rosé, served poolside in striking or large-format bottles. This image-conscious side of rosé has played a crucial role in its global success, and producers have embraced its reputation as an approachable, quaffable wine with gusto. But do quality perceptions suffer, or perhaps snobbery thrive, as a result? Not necessarily.
Take Provençal brands like Château D’Esclans’ Garrus and Whispering Angel, both of which have captured the attention and devotion of consumers with their elegant bottles and pale pink colour, while also delivering a stand out quality wine, with wellintegrated oak in Garrus giving a extra layer of complexity. But it’s a fine line. Such a tightrope hasn’t hampered sales. Globally, volumes of rosé have been growing since 2011, according to Vinexpo’s 2018 report, increasing from 223m nine-litre cases in 2011 to 237m in 2016.
They are predicted to rise further, to 252m by 2020. Nevertheless, rosé only accounts for just 10.1% of the global market (a figure predicted to rise to 10.6% by 2020), compared with 34.5% for white and 55.3% for red. But what rosé might lack in volume, it makes up for in style.
“Provence winemakers have done a great job of promoting their quality rosé, and have been doing so for the past 15 years,” says Jérôme Pernot, head of sales and marketing at Château Léoube. “It has been a long process to educate the consumer that rosé isn’t just a cheap, sweet wine to drink during the summer.
We need to get the message out that many rosés are made using the highest quality standards and are not made with leftover juice or grapes.” Last year, exports of Provence wines surged, exceeding 54m bottles and achieving volume growth of 36%, with its value reaching £210m. In 10 years, exports have grown sixfold. A decade ago, 11% of Provence wines were exported.
That figure increased to 30% in 2017. Rosé sales in the UK off-trade were largely flat last year, according to KantarWorld panel, dropping by 0.1% to £490m and by 1.1% to 83.5m litres in the 52 weeks to 31 December 2017. It is in the on-trade where there has been more significant growth, as reported in the 2018 Liberty Wines Premium On-trade Wine Report, produced with CGA Strategy. Importantly, Liberty divides the on-trade into ‘premium’ outlets, based on factors like cost and commercial reputation, and ‘outside premium’.
Rosé accounted for just 7% of sales in 2017, compared with 52% white and 41% red. However, value sales of rose are growing faster (+5%) than volume (+4%) – a trend that has continued for the past five years. Liberty attributes this growth to “a more quality-led mix of rosé-producing countries”. “The premium rosé market centres around three key consumer profiles: those for whom the ‘brand’ is rosé, those who buy according to their familiarity with Pinot Grigio Rosato, and those wanting a significant step up in quality, with Provence and its high-end brands being the success story here,” the report stated.
The ‘premium’ UK on-trade is dominated by Italian rosé (38%), followed by French (37%) – predominantly from Provence – compared with ‘outside premium’ (15% and 26% respectively), where US rosé wines dominate, with a 38% share, followed by Italy with 26%.
Provence styles might be the most visible, but Italian rosato and sweeter Zinfandel-based styles from the US account for vast swathes of the category. “Over the past five years we have seen two trends with rosé; flavoured wines, that were sweeter and perhaps darker in colour, and, at the other end of the spectrum, lighter, drier styles,” says Alexandra Haughton, categories and insights controller at Concha y Toro. “We will continue to see innovation at both ends.” Irrespective of origin, the commercial success of paler pinks has greatly influenced other wine-producing regions. “The grand cru of rosé is Provence, and the Langeudoc, Rhône, Loire and Bordeaux are changing the style of their rosés to match the expectations of the market,” says Mathieu Crosnier, winemaker at Domaine du Grand Mayne in Bordeaux. “This is also happening in the US, Spain and Italy.”
POWER OF PALE
Susana Balbo in Argentina and Spain’s Chivite, in Navarra, have been quick to respond to the growing demand for paler pinks, launching Provençal-style wines of their own that are dry and pale in colour, as has Spain’s Marqués de Cáceres, with the launch of its Excellens pale pink rosé in 2014, which sits alongside its Tempranillo-based Marqués de Cáceres Rosado.
“Our rosé wines represent 14% of our total production, and Excellens rosé is gaining ground in markets where pale pink rosés are in vogue, with double-digit growth in certain cases,” says Cristina Forner, president of Marqués de Cáceres. “While wining and dining here in Spain in tapas bars and restaurants, more and more pale pink rosés seem to be appearing on the market.” Similarly, Chilean wine producer Concha y Toro is also upping its focus on rosé, with the launch of a limited-edition Casillero del Diablo Rosé this summer.
Previously made with 100% Syrah, the addition of Cinsault and Carmenère will see its hue lighten from the 2017 vintage. “Where we are seeing growth is in lighter styles, so around Pinot Grigio, Provence and Moscato,” says Haughton. “It’s not exclusive to a grape. The reason that we have seen growth in this area is that shoppers tend to be younger. Innovation within the packaging and bottle shape relates to that generation. It’s something that they can Instagram.”
Highlighting the power of pale, last month saw the launch of Provence house Châteaux & Vignobles d’Exception, formed of four wineries: Chateau de Berne; Château de Bertrands; Ultimate Provence; and Saint Roux, all located in the Lorgues region of Provence. At the heart of the operation is Château de Berne, home to a five-star hotel, spa and a Michelin star restaurant. “We are working hard to bring a point of difference, especially in terms of packaging.
We’re the first to bring a sense of oenotourism to Provence,” says Anthony Carfantan, former global head of sales at English sparkling wine producer Nyetimber, and the newly founded group’s global sales director for Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Asia-Pacific. “That’s where Berne has excelled so far. Every year 200,000 people visit the château and its vineyards.” Ultimate Provence, meanwhile, is the group’s lifestyle-based rosé brand, as well as a wine estate located just outside Saint- Tropez.
Aimed at the trendy millennial consumer, it boasts a rooftop bar, a boutique hotel, bistro and an amphitheatre. Packaging is also key, with the Syrah-based rosé housed in elegant cut glass label-free bottles with an embossed crest of the brand’s logo; reminiscent of a perfume bottle.
“Rosé is very lifestyle orientated and I don’t think you need to take it too seriously. We are in a world where branding is key, and at the moment, because it’s competitive, when you don’t have a strong brand you get lost in a big pool of players.
Your brand is a unique way to make sure that your wine is recognised on a list.” In a category so defined by image, is there a risk that style could outweigh substance and hamper the success of rosé being perceived as a ‘serious’ wine? Not so, according to Erica Blumenthal and Nikki Huganir, co-founders of rosé-based lifestyle brand ‘Yes Way Rosé’, who based their brand on being ‘qualité rosé that doesn’t take itself too seriouslé’.
The pair started their @yeswayrose Instagram account in 2013 to share their “burgeoning obsession” with pink wine, which has since snowballed into a wine brand of its own, with a portfolio of branded products including sweaters, candles, tote bags and t-shirts. “It’s possible to have a serious wine and build it in the lifestyle world,” the pair state. “Why should wine be different from food, coffee or beer? To us, Yes Way Rosé was always about both wine and a lifestyle.
The apparel and home goods we have designed are pieces intended to reflect the spirit of rosé and the values we associate with it, which is primarily about spreading joy. You don’t have to love rosé to want to light our candle or wear one of our baseball caps, and you don’t need to love the merchandise if you love rosé wine. But if you do that’s the best of both worlds.”
YES WAY ROSE
In 2015, the pair launched a US$15 (£10.75) Grenache/Syrah rosé from California’s Central Coast called Summer Water in collaboration with LA-based direct-to-consumer wine club Winc. But their brand really took off after actor Drew Barrymore, a winemaker herself, was pictured wearing their ‘Yes Way Rosé’ sweater.
“US customers are still learning about the joys of classic dry Provençal-style rosés,” they say. “Many still believe that blush-hued wine is sweet. This represents a huge market that still needs to be converted. Otherwise, sparking rosé is definitely booming. We’ve also noticed a growing trend for rosé versions of other types of drinks like cider and vodka coming onto the market.” One of the biggest challenges for rosé is widening its appeal beyond the summer, says Crosnier, while also exploring and proving its potential to age. “The biggest problem is that it’s a ‘summer’ wine and one that should be drunk in its first year,” he says. “It’s difficult to have a real idea at the moment of the ability to age top rosé. It’s possible in Bandol, which could soon be considered the grand cru of Provence, but the style is a bit different.”
The absence of men in the category is also worth noting. Haughton says: “One challenge we have with rosé is that it’s quite feminine. All of the innovation around packaging is very feminine. I know there are guys that are happy to drink pints of fruit cider, so how can we engage them with rosé in the long term?” The Yes Way Rosé brand’s market, for example, is “mostly women aged between 25-45”. Blumenthal and Huganir are keen for their brand to be inclusive, but stress that what has made Yes Way Rosé so successful is that they are their own core demographic. “It’s not a company run by a man in his 40s or 50s trying to capture what he and his team think women in their 20s and 30s want – we are those women, and are able to talk to our community directly in a way that resonates.”
In this context, the pair drew parallels to the rise of rosé with craft beer, specifically in the US market.
“There’s a widespread culture built around beer that is geared towards men. Beer is not just something you drink, but as part of certain events (at a BBQ or football games). Rosé has only blossomed in the past few years, and is mostly celebrated by and marketed to women.
We believe it has a similar appeal to beer that is just starting to be understood. The wine is versatile, refreshing, and sipped chilled. The time is ripe for rosé to find its place in the world at large, and the possibilities are infinite.” While the brosé hashtag gained momentary momentum thanks to the likes of Justin Bieber (last year the popstar was reported to have visited Wolffer Estate Vineyards in New York where he “drank half a bottle of rosé”), the rosé category is yet to find a more resolute way of engaging male consumers.
Perhaps rocker Jon Bon Jovi will be able to offer a helping hand? The Bon Jovi frontman recently released a Languedoc rosé with winemaker Gerard Bertrand called Diving into Hampton Water after the smart coastal hotspot in upstate New York. Released in the US in March at $25 per bottle, the wine is a blend of Grenache, Cinsault and Mourvèdre. According to Bertrand, who hosts an annual jazz festival at his Château l’Hospitalet estate in Narbonne, the rosé is “fresh and lively with distinctive minerality”.
Commercially, the colour of a rosé remains hugely persuasive. It’s by no means a definitive style indicator, but current trends mean that it can leverage shelf appeal. But producers who chase pale for the sake of colour alone should be wary, not only of missing out on the benefits that a degree of skin contact can bring, but of focusing on colour alone at the expense of aromatics. “People will continue to buy rosé if the colour is fine, but the aromatics also have to be there,” notes Crosnier. “Some producers pay too much attention to colour alone.”
Throughout the category, quality has exponentially grown, alongside the rise of paler-hued styles from Provence. There are serious examples to be found, but rosé is a category that has never sought to take itself too seriously.
For Crosnier, the links between rosé and lifestyle are the category’s greatest attribute, adding further that snobbery towards rosé has lessened over the past five years thanks to a universal lift in quality across the category. “Rosé is not considered a serious wine to age and to drink with the right food at a specific moment – the power of rosé is that you can drink it at any time with everybody and everywhere,” he says; and therein lies its charm.