For the French, rosé is a pink-colored wine synonymous with dry, light wine and sunny Southern France. For Americans, rosé is mostly known as “blush” wines popularized at the end of World War II by inexpensive, sugary sweet wines such as Mateus Rose from Portugal and later White Zinfandels from Northern California. For Asians, “pink” wine is nothing more than a blend, and therefore has virtually no positive associations for a variety of reasons.
According to historians, it all started a few thousand years ago when the Phoenicians arrived in what is now Marseille (as well as other French towns) somewhere between 500 and 600 BC. With their arrival came the cultivation of grape wines used for winemaking. As the people prospered so did the vines, spreading throughout the Mediterranean thanks to the trade success of the port town of Marseille.
By the 13th century, Provence had become the famed maker of rosé wines that were, by order of the Duke of Bourgogne (Duke of Burgundy to English speakers), reserved for the King of France and none other than the Pope. The “first juice of the grapes” became equated with royalty, while today’s beloved red wines were reserved for the serving classes. White wine, at the time, was nearly non-existent.
But after centuries of tradition and prestige, a great branding calamity happened. By the twentieth century, rosé wines not only lost their luxury status, but had become the symbol for cheap wine fit only for casual local French consumption. The blame, some wine experts say, was in part due to Bordeaux’s international rise in fame for red wines. While rosé remained over the years a staple of local French consumptions, the virtuous pink wines found little awareness outside of France.
Today, rosé wines still account for 80 percent of wines produced in Provence, of which 90 percent are marketed and consumed in France and ten percent sold abroad to Canada, the United States, Great Britain, Holland, and Japan. With 2,600 years of history behind Provence rosé wine making history and equity, it’s indeed amazing that the rosé “brand image” would take so many years to turn a new leaf.
In the 1980’s some French wine makers, such as Chateau Simone and La Commanderie de Peyrassol, believed rosé wine should be taken seriously once more, and subsequently started increasing the quality of pink wines. Since the beginning of the new millennium, other French rosé producers have been looking at exports for growth, targeting primarily the US and UK.
According to Evelyne Lejeune-Resnick, a wine marketing consultant based in Paris, these aspirations have provided mixed results. “It works well for the UK because they have a tradition and taste for pink wines. They were the major market for pink wines in the past centuries, and they’ve kept that taste. For the US it’s more difficult because a lot of pink wines are produced in the US. They’re mostly blush or White Zinfandel, so they’re very sugary and very sweet—totally different from our dry pink wines….I would say that the taste for Americans is more of an acquired taste—not something they’re used to.”
“Righting The Wrongs of Rosé”
On any given day in the Napa Valley, Jeff Morgan, an American winemaker, author, and winery co-owner, is busy espousing the virtues of dry rosé wines. After playing music professionally in France in the 1970’s and 80’s, he came to enjoy the lightness and versatility of the pink wines that had appeased royalty some centuries before. So much so he eventually decided to start his own commercial winery, with the help of business partner Daniel Moore, based in Napa Valley dedicated solely to “pink wines.” Dubbed SoloRosa (“only pink” in Italian), the beginning was 1000 cases and a heck of a lot of conviction.
“People thought we were out of our minds to start a winery based on rosé. I said, ‘Maybe we are, but this is what I love to drink, and it goes with so many different foods… I’m sure we’ll find a market for it.’”
Not only did Morgan find a market, but through the efforts of his and others’ rosé passion, a grassroots, viral marketing campaign of sorts was formed in the States through Morgan’s promotion of his own cookbooks, including the first book on rosé wines from around the world. Also, his organization RAP (Rosé Avengers and Producers) produces “Pink Out” events in New York and San Francisco to further evangelize rosé wines from around the world. Morgan attributes rosé brand evangelism through the press and trade and public events to the rise of American consumer demands for dry rosé wines, also citing increased competition from the “big boys,” such as Gallo and Clos du Bois, for rosé shelf space as further proof.
Back in Provence, James de Roany, manager of French winemakers PGA Domaines and Secretary General for the Conseil Interprofessionnel des Vins de Provence (Provence Wine Producing Interprofessional Council), is well aware of increased competition and busy with his own evangelizing for wines out of Provence. “French wine trade people are not very keen on marketing. They prefer to promote their ‘terroir’ rather than a brand. They believe that the terroir [dictates] the wine, and that the wine shouldn’t compromise and adapt to the consumer needs. I believe the later is a great mistake… We have had the idea to brand a region with the hope that people will think of ‘Rosé de Provence’ as they do with Carmenere from Chile or Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand… Provence has been doing rosé wines for 26 centuries, so there are some good foundations to work on.”
Indeed, Rosé de Provence is a branded effort now sanctioned by the French government to promote the best of several terroirs and appellations to consumers—especially those new to wine tasting. As of 2007, the organized efforts of PGA Domaines, which manages three wineries in the Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence Appellation, have led to French policy making that now allows “Rosé de Provence” labels to appear on wine bottles. The move is “based on the idea of wanting to highlight the intrinsic quality of Provencal wines, of using the outstanding international reputation associated with this region that brings to mind an ideal lifestyle, dreamy holidays, and the dolce vita.”
Now that’s one reason to drink and “think pink.”