Quality rosé is on the rise. For the past two consecutive years Nielsen has reported a 40-50% off-premise growth in the sale of rosé priced $8 and above. However, the vast majority of this wine is imported, mostly from France, though domestic rosés are making gains. So, is it time for a Judgement of Paris moment for domestic rosé?
Two weeks ago Gloria Ferrer’s 2012 Pinot/Chardonnay sparkling wine won best of show in the Rosé Today 2016 Competition in a match-up between domestic, international, sweet, dry, and sparkling rosés with entries from 6 countries and 15 states.
While Rosé Today did not make the headlines for Steven Spurrier’s famous tasting, it showed that domestic rosé has made leaps in quality, and Bob Ecker, Wine Director for the Rosé Today competition is not surprised.
“Occasionally in my travels I taste a rosé, and people say, ‘really, rosé? I haven’t had one in years.’ They remember the bad ones of the past, then they try this wine, and are surprised at how wonderful it is, that’s what’s happening all over the world. Rosé, it’s a revolution.”
Ecker is a long time wine writer and judge, and years ago French rosés opened his eyes to the possibilities of the category, and he has been watching and proselytizing the category ever since.
“I started seeing some really good rosés being introduced domestically. One of them was from Simi Winery, but it was only available to their wine club. Then a few more started popping up, one that comes to mind was Azur of Napa Valley,” says Ecker. “I was surprised at how good it was, it reminded me of some of the excellent rosés of the south of France.”
However, in competitions rosé was still only a small category, so Ecker had the idea of creating his own rosé only competition, and in 2013 he held his first rosé competition at the Meritage Resort in Napa solely for California rosés. Then, after skipping a year, he held a much larger competition in 2015 at Simi Winery and received 192 entries from 20 states across the United States. And Ecker continues to bet on the growing rosé culture.
“People are recognizing that rosé goes with many kinds of fun activities including the beach, the pool, and garden parties. It might be great to sit out on your balcony and listen to the ballgame and have a rosé instead of a beer, or instead of your sauvignon blanc or chardonnay,” says Ecker. “It transcends women too, it was sort of a women’s wine, but no more. It’s part of a fun activity, but not silly, it’s here to stay.”
While the rosé revolution and lifestyle could be a great opportunity for domestic producers, some data points paint a less than rosy picture.
“The US rosé/blush segment is a tale of two really different types of wine,” says Brian Lechner, Vice President – Group Client Director at Nielsen, “and a huge portion of the growth is being driven by wines from France.”
According to Nielsen data the total rosé/blush category off-premise sales grew over the past year by 13.7%. Broken down further, the numbers reveal a -0.9% decline in domestic wines versus a 52.4% growth in rosé imports.
Nielsen data segments rosé/blush into two categories, jug varietals and items priced above $7.99 per 750ml. The vast majority of US produced rosé falls into the first category, and it is seeing continuous decline as consumers trade up.
“Higher-priced items like rosés, pinot noir, or syrah are showing pretty decent growth,” says Lechner, “but are much smaller in terms of overall volume when compared to both the lower-priced blush/rosé wines and French rosés.”
Over the last year imports of French rosé grew 62.8% to $76 million with an average bottle price of $13.70 while domestic rosés or pinot noir and syrah respectively grew 43.7% and 81.7% to $7 million and $2.9million total value with average bottle prices of $13.14 and $11.36.
Nielsen data is based on retail tracked channels, and “almost assuredly there is more higher-end US rosé being sold through DTC and tasting rooms,” Lecher adds, “but that wouldn’t show up in our data.”
Preconceptions of what domestic rosé is like may be hampering sales, but if producers don’t step up production of quality rosés, they may be forfeiting a growing market to French wine. “If you’re a wine shop or a winery, you have to get people in and taste the wine, and they’ll say ‘wow, this is very good,’ and that’s the kind of experience that’s important for the industry. The wine industry needs to get this wine into people’s mouths, and have them taste it. And then they make up their own minds,” says Ecker. “I think rosé can sustain high growth for years to come. Not necessarily this high, but high growth, and it will never go back to where it was.”
Next year, the 2017 Rosé Today competition will be happening March 22nd at Soda Rock Winery, and will be part of a larger celebration of rosé culture. “It’s going to be a big deal,” says Ecker, “I can’t announce everything we have planned yet, but we are celebrating rosé as a lifestyle, not just a wine, though the competition itself is the bedrock for Rosé Today.”
By Kim Badenfort