“Is it on? Yes, it’s definitely on. Pink is trending; it’s a heavy trending thing, and I don’t see it going away at all,” says sommelier and author Christopher Sawyer, who recently judged in the Rosé Today Wine Competition.
Sawyer has been judging wine competitions for twenty years, and notes that rose being taken seriously by competitions is a very recent development, “The best of show pink is now a category. Seven years ago there probably wasn’t even a pink category in major competitions.”
Rosé Today is only in its fourth year but has continued to grow with a total of 239 entries this year from twelve US states and nine countries. The majority of the entries were from domestic producers showing an increased investment and interest in the category, which is also shown by a stream of new rosés from American brands hitting the market including Bota Box, La Crema, Michael Mondavi Family Estate, Meiomi, Castle Rock Winery, tenshən, Del Rio Vineyard Estate, Black Ink, and Ferrari-Carano Vineyards.
All of these wineries are bidding to get a share of the growing premium rosé category ($8 and higher), which according to Nielsen has seen over 55% growth for two consecutive years. However, most of that growth has been captured by French producers who dominate the category. French rosé imports outpaced overall premium rosé growth over the past 12 months with an impressive 63.4% increase at an average bottle price of $13.90.*
So, can American producers compete with the French for a bigger share of the rosé boom? Sawyer believes that they can and that the numbers don’t necessarily reflect how domestic rosés are faring in the market.
“A lot of the rosés in America that are super high quality are made by wineries that are super high quality, meaning there’s not much of them from each winery. Top rosé producers in America are usually under 1,000 cases,” Sawyer explains, “that’s why I think the numbers are a little skewed.”
Sawyer believes that when American premium rosés can’t keep up with the French in growth, it’s more a question of supply than quality. This advantage stems from a longer tradition of producing and consuming dry rosés. In France rosé is bigger than both red and white by volume, whereas in the U.S. market premium rosé still only represents 0.6% by volume and 1.1% by value.*
“We’ve found over this past decade that rosés do sell, and you’re finding more limited releases out there. Are all of these great rosés from America selling out? The answer is yes, especially at the high end level,” Sawyer affirms. “As a buyer, the trick is to get these rosés when they come out, you’ve got to get it before they sell out, so I would encourage some of these wineries to begin expanding their production a little bit and put in another 500 cases or even build it past that. You’ll find people that are willing to buy those cases.”
One of the few top selling domestic rose brands in the premium range that have managed to exceed the category growth is Charles Smith’s Charles & Charles Rose made with Syrah from Columbia Valley. And Charles Smith believes that the success is a combination of the flavor profile and the branding.
“Being in the Pacific Northwest with a cool, long growing season helps us develop and deliver really delicious flavor with a fantastic light, pink hue—also seen in my CasaSmith ViNO Rosé,” says Smith. “Likewise, in communicating the language of wine with Charles & Charles, it is emphatically American wine. And the label indicates it’s American wine, locally produced.”
Smith is not afraid to admit that he took inspiration from the success of French rosés. “Absolutely. We take inspiration and cues from where people have been successful before. Not to emulate, but to be inspired and build upon.”
Kim Moore, marketing director at Meiomi, who are launching their first rose this spring is also upbeat about challenging the French dominance of the category.” French producers have certainly paved the way for rosé in the U.S.,” she says, “but there is still a lot of room for producers from all regions to have a seat at the pink table. Domestic producers especially can leverage strong brand recognition and loyalty in the U.S. to bring existing and new consumers into the category. We can also continue building awareness of rosé through advertising, sampling, PR and social media to build market share.”
Meiomi is launching a spring campaign to promote their rosé. The campaign is focused on the core strength of their brand, the taste. “We strongly believe that Meiomi’s unrivaled taste is the cornerstone of this brand and a key ingredient of its success, so we want to communicate that to our consumers in a way that resonates,” says Moore. “Meiomi is also about discovery, so we aim to provide a sensorial glimpse into Meiomi with the ads, from the wine’s rich, silky textures to its full-bodied flavors.”
Though American producers are still trying to catch up to the success of French rosé, existing expertise and variety may prove to be invaluable advantages.
“The different styles we are making here now on the west coast are way more diversified than French producers. We’re working with so many different grape varieties, tempranillo, syrah, grenache, pinot noir,” says Sawyer, “and a lot of the people that are making these rosés are top producers of those red wines as well.”
Bob Ecker, the wine director for the Rose Today Wine Competition, agrees that domestic producers can play a bigger role in the rosé category if they dedicate the resources, lands, and staff to making great rosé wine. “Whereas the French were always doing this, domestic roses were always an afterthought – we have some extra juice, let’s make some pink rosé,” Ecker explains, “but now there are some really great rosés from domestic producers as seen in the Rosé Today competition. The judges were tough, there were many wines that got no medals at all. But there were some 40 gold medals given in the competition and 18 double gold medals. When they tasted very good wines, they awarded them.”
The largest category in the Rosé Today competition was for domestic dry rosé, and it was won by Bonterra’s organic Grenache (74%) based rose blended with smaller amounts of Sangiovese and Nebbiolo with the Provençal style in mind. “As winemaker for Bonterra Organic Vineyards, I strive to impart to each of our wines the balance and quality we’ve become known for – and which is a hallmark of – well-tended organic fruit,” Jeff Cichocki explains. “And while this latest wine is no exception, I like to think it offers something new from Bonterra. I was certainly inspired by the lovely rosés crafted in the South of France; in particular, we really wanted our wine to offer the same pale color and delicate balance of flavor.”
Bonterra has produced 2,000 cases of this rosé, and with a suggested retail price of $15, it competes at the center of the premium rosé category.
“We reviewed international styles extensively before crafting our rosé, with the Provençal style as a key benchmark. What impressed us about these wines was their elegance and restraint. The drier style is both versatile and drinkable, lending itself to multiple consumption occasions – which could allow producers to capture more market share,” says Cichocki. “The success of French rosé in the U.S. is a testament to the demand for this style, and we believe the added benefit of being organically farmed in California will be another appealing feature to our consumers.”
Even though the premium rosé category has been growing rapidly over the last few years, it has been from a very small base and there’s broad agreement that the trend is continuing, even if rosé won’t achieve the level of market penetration it enjoys in France.
“There are still a lot of consumers discovering rosé each year, proving this wine style has a lot of room to grow,” says Moore. “In fact, rosé across certain price segments is currently growing in triple digits (IRI Data Report, 12-week ending 2.9.17). Additionally, we continue to see rosé placed on wine lists—increasingly more than one option listed—which gives consumers a place to experiment and discover a new wine. This is a great opportunity to build a consumer base for retail, where we see the real growth trends.”
Charles Smith concurs. “In the last 10 years people have been more open to trying new things, brought on by things like cooking shows have brought more interesting tastes and flavors into people’s homes. And of course wine goes along with that. Wine has become increasingly popular in the American culture so it only makes sense that something as pleasant and fun to drink as rosé would rise to the top. I don’t see it slowing down. As they say, one friend tells a friend and tells another friend and it keeps going from there.”
Sawyer too connects the rise of rosé to a changing food culture. “American consumers are ready for it, and it’s not just because the wines are of that quality now, but it’s because the food culture has changed, and that is probably the key to all of this. We don’t eat steak and potatoes all the time anymore, we eat definitely fresher foods, we eat salads and the most incredible dishes we’ve ever had now, so when have that pink version of the wines, it gives you so much more of an ability to pair them with what’s really the best thing to be pairing with, high acid, beautiful lavish flavors that are much more expressive when they’re young and fresh and fruity in some ways, but not sweet, and that’s the key.
“There are still sweet rosés, of course, but restaurants and great retailers are not going in that direction, they’re looking for the dry ones, and it’s because they pair so well with the types of cuisine that is now available to us. We’re going into a gourmet landscape that we’ve never had before, and that’s why pink works so well, because they’re really complementing the food we’re now eating.”
* Nielsen retail outlets data, period ending 2/25/2017
By Kim Badenfort