The rise and rise of rosé
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.
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.