Charles Bieler Shares His Insights on Domestic Versus French Rosés
The rosé trend still shows no sign of slowing with its third consecutive year with over fifty percent growth. According to Nielsen retail outlet data the rosé category grew 64% over the last twelve months, but unlike a year ago (U.S. Producers Betting on Rosé and Challenging French Dominance) domestic rosé is now outpacing imports growing at 112% compared to 42.8% growth for French rosés. This marks a significant turnaround from a year ago when domestic producers were trailing overall category growth. However, French rosés continue to hold the dominant market share with 60% of the rosé category measured by dollar value.
The vast majority of rosé imports fall in the premium segment (above $9) and the average French Rosé costs $12.63 compared to the average domestic rosé which is priced at $7.47. However, even in this segment domestic rosés are gaining market share with growth topping 110% over the last twelve months compared to just 43.1% for French rosés in that segment.
Domestic rosé’s initial gap in keeping up with the growth trend could be a function of wineries needing time or being cautious about entering a new category, but doubts about rosé’s viability as a category seems to have faded as nearly 400 new rosés entered the U.S. market over the past year, and domestic rosés may make even further gains on the French in the coming year with the French grape supply suffering from the severe weather and consequently smaller harvest of 2017.
Some of the domestic rosés capturing big market shares in the premium off premise segment are new players in the segment, but have existing, strong brands, like La Crema and Meiomi, that have catapulted them into the ranks of best-selling premium rosés. However, the pioneers of domestic premium rosé like Francis Ford Coppola’s Sofia and Charles & Charles Rosé are still holding strong with consumers.
Charles & Charles is a collaboration between Charles Smith and Charles Bieler started in 2008, and the rosé is one of five wines that they make together. Bieler brought extensive rosé experience to the collaboration, having made rosé in France since 1998. Bieler has been producing Bieler Pere et Fils ‘Sabine’ Rosé from Coteaux d’Aix Provence since 2005, the no. 1 Aix-en-Provence sold in the U.S., which gives him a unique Trans-Atlantic perspective on domestic versus French rosé.
Charles Bieler on Domestic & French Rosés
American dry rosés have learned a lot by emulating the French, especially provenical style, but do you think there’s a particular American style, traits, or trend of dry rosé emerging?
Over the last 20 years we’ve been making rosé, I haven’t seen an American rosé trend emerge. American rosé producers most often seek to achieve a Provence style, but some are more successful at it than others. Differences arise because most American producers are using warm-site grapes better suited for ripe red wines, which aren’t ideal for making Provence-styled rosé. To achieve the delicate balance characteristic of Provence rosés, winemakers must make several adjustments while crafting their wines.
At Charles & Charles, we’re proud to have an edge when facing this challenge. Charles & Charles is unique in that we are a 10,000+ case producer who has a dedicated rosé program that does not overlap with our red program. Through this investment, we’re able to make savory and citrus-forward rosés that the new rosé drinker is seeking, as opposed to wines with the simple red fruit profile that red programs produce. Winemaking adjustments and additions to juice intended for a different purpose will only take you so far.
With the huge influx of new rosés in the US Market, what do you think is the most important for domestic and French brands to make it in this growing market segment?
It’s become a fiercely competitive wine market of late. The rosé market has come a long way from where it was 20 years ago when I started and I couldn’t give away rosé. Just by being from Provence or pale-pink in color doesn’t guarantee anything in this market today.
To play in the high priced game of $18 and above you need scores and an aggressive lifestyle marketing campaign. Novel bottle shapes will occasionally allow a brand to break through. There are of course also rosés that break through when a big company leverages the strength and success of another variety from that brand, like its cabernet, allowing them to get chain distribution.
At the end of the day though, I think that buyers and consumers are getting smarter about rosé so it comes down to quality and authenticity at reasonable prices as the only sure way to get a certain amount of success. That’s probably not sufficient to become a top brand, but at some point this category will soften. When that time comes, all that will be left are a few of the biggest brands and the quality/value wines.
Charles Bieler, photo by Brittany Klutzke
What do you see as the main differences in making a French or American rosé?
I’d first caution against grouping all French rosés into the same category, as there’s quite a range within France. Certainly Provence is the clear leader, and the successful rosés that aren’t from Provence are trying to mimic that style. Many American wineries are also attempting to go after this same Provence profile, but America’s warm site vineyards tend to yield a bit softer and red-fruit oriented rosé. There are some great $18+ American rosés that are from appropriate rosé vineyards and made to have the savory balance, but they aren’t in abundance.
Successful American rosé is achieved with vineyards, terroir and climate that mirror that of Provence. Because these variables naturally differ, American rosé producers must do quite a bit of additional work to achieve the Provence style. And, American producers are able to do this more easily than their French counterparts. For example, in Provence it’s illegal to add white wine to a rosé. Provence winemakers can co-ferment certain white grapes and retain their appellation status, but they can’t simply add white wine. New world wineries are increasingly relying on this method to add elegance.
Predictions for the rosé segment in the US, how much more growth do you expect? Will domestic producers eventually overtake French?
My hope is that US retailers don’t allow the big brands, marketers or profiteers to become more than 50 percent of the average set. If the majority of the set is well made rosé from suitable vineyards by people with tradition and a story to tell, I think the category can grow nicely for years to come.
Rosé is a style of wine that fits beautifully with how we tend to eat in the US, and I predict rosé consumption will expand from simply warmer-weather sipping to year-round. This expansion is already happening, but will continue.
However, the market could shift if retailers become less discerning about their selection and allow marketing-driven rosés to become the majority of the set. If that comes to fruition, I predict the rosé market will peak in the next year or two and ultimately the top rosé-focused brands and the good producers will remain.
By Kim Badenfort