The rise and rise of rosé

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Producers worldwide have waded into the popular market for rosé, squeezing the entry level. As a result, Provençal winemakers are raising the quality, and prices, of their pinks in a bid to stand out. By David Bernheim

Rosé wine has grown strongly, from 8% of total wine sales to 10% from 2002 to 2017, in a market for wine that has been otherwise flat overall. Last year, sales of rosé in the US grew by an amazing 40% according to Nielsen. The big question now is whether rosé will run out of steam. Will 2019 be the year that sales start to plateau? Andrew Stewart MW of independent importer Stewart Wines still sees rosé as a major driver of the UK wine market. He does say, however: “Pinot Grigio white is big, bigger than rosé. Pinot Grigio white, Prosecco and rosé – including Pinot Grigio blush – are the engines that pull the trade.”

Provence has led the quality rosé market. Though production has grown only slightly, exports have rocketed, almost trebling in volume over five years, with value more than quadrupling. The US has accounted for most of this increase, where it was accompanied by a decline in sales of off-dry White Zinfandel. These high-value exports energised Provence, and “Provence-style” has become the industry benchmark for rosé. So much so, that many producers have felt pressured to make their rosé paler to match the Provence style, sometimes with spectacular results.

The power of celebrity by Lucy Shaw

While Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie were early to the rosé party with Château Miraval, and rocker Jon Bon Jovi’s Diving into Hampton Water rosé from the Languedoc has become an instant hit, the latest celebrity to get in on the action is Sex and the City’s Sarah Jessica Parker (pictured), who is due to launch a Provence rosé this year made in collaboration with NZ winery Invivo. “The rosé category is on fire, so we wanted to do a Provence rosé, as SJP loves it and it’s hugely popular worldwide. We’re talking to a few producers in the region at the moment,” says Invivo co-founder, Rob Cameron. He and his business partner, Tim Lightbourne, are no strangers to celebrity wines, having been the masterminds behind chat-show host Graham Norton’s wildly successful wine range, which includes a Marlborough rosé made from Pinot Noir that has grown to become one of the most successful New Zealand rosés in the UK.

“Graham drinks rosé and we were keen to make one for the GN range after producing our own rosé for a number of years. The first vintage, 2015, was released just as rosé was really starting to take off,” says Lightbourne, who chose to make a pale pink expression due to the popularity of the Provence style. “Rosé is now a year-round drink. We’ve seen Provence driving growth in the category through unique packaging, quality wine and being accessible globally,” Lightbourne adds. According to Olivier Souvelain, CEO of Château Gassier, the power of Provence rosé lies in the aspirational lifestyle attached to it. “We don’t sell rosé, we sell Provence. Sipping a glass of rosé transports you to a sunny terrace in Provence close to the sparkling Mediterranean Sea. We are selling the dream of the French Riviera – no other wine region is able to do this so successfully,” he says. Souvelain believes that the rosé category has been groundbreaking in its ability to engage with millennials and inspire a new generation of wine lovers. “Provence rosé’s pale pink colour is perfectly suited to social media in the digital era. The rosé category has broken with traditional wine codes and has brought wine back to life with a modern approach that appeals to millennials,” he says.

He isn’t worried about the increasing number of pale pink rosés being made all over the world. “Provence rosé is unique and can’t be replicated. The fact that other regions want to make Provence-style rosé shows how popular our wines have become. The success of Provence rosé is driving the growth of the entire rosé category,” he says.

Angelo Peretti, director of the Chiaretto and Bardolino Consortium, has pushed producers to change from dark to pale coloured chiaretto as a way of reaching new markets. Sales increased more than threefold soon after the changeover in 2014, to more than 12 million bottles. Every cloud does not have a rosé lining, however. Since the rise of rosé, outside investors have piled in to buy Provence wine estates to produce rosé – such as Sacha Lichine with Château d’Esclans, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie with Château Miraval, and Vranken Pommery with Château la Gourdonne – which has pushed up vineyard prices in an already popular area. In May, when LVMH announced the purchase of the Château du Galoupet domaine in Provence, it confirmed this increased importance of rosé as a wine – and of Provence rosé, with the company’s presence giving the region and the sector valuable publicity. Last year, Laurence Girard summed it up in Le Monde after Star Wars creator George Lucas bought Château Margüi in Provence: “If the rise in the price of wine makes both winemakers and négociants smile, land speculation worries the former. As in other French appellations, family farms are threatened by the appetite of investors.”

Social media is awash with photos of millennials relaxing with glasses of pale rosé, having fun, often in the sun. Instagram is sometimes credited for the US boom in rosé. “Rosé has become the Champagne of millennials”, said anthropologist Richard Delerins at the 5th International Rosé Symposium (Rencontres Internationales du Rosé) in Marseille in January. “Rosé is more than a colour: it is a mode of self-expression that captures the moments of spontaneity and inner truth that are the values of millennials,” he said.

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