Pricier in Pink: the Fight to Charge More for Rosé

Rosé wines are enjoying an extraordinary boom, but they are still struggling to command premium prices. But, as Roger Morris discovers, this situation is starting to change.

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Boom of rosé wines (Photo: janvier/stock.adobe.com)
Boom of rosé wines (Photo: janvier/stock.adobe.com)

 

  • Rosé wines are growing in popularity faster than other styles
  • Despite celebrity links, US prices are still lower than many comparable reds and whites
  • Producers in Provence, Languedoc, Bordeaux, Burgundy and California are bucking this trend
  • Sommeliers are slower to accept super-premium rosé than consumers

 

Whether or not they are fighting each other in court, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie remain big box office draws, but their Miraval Côtes de Provence rosé retails in the U.S. for a mere $24 – the price of two movie tickets – in spite of years of press promotion.

Rock star Jon Bon Jovi can’t even attract that much respect. His Hampton Water Languedoc rosé, made in association with French wine giant, Gerard Bertrand, retails for $20, less than most ubiquitous California Chardonnays. The Australian singer Kylie Minogue ‘s French rosé is a few dollars cheaper, while Maison No. 9, the pink wine recently launched by the rapper Post Malone would cost around $25.

Even being a French movie star and professional poker player doesn’t help. Patrick Bruel’s Domaine de Leos “Cuvée Augusta” pink can only fetch about €17 in French wine shops. Now Bruel is looking to draw an inside straight by joining forces with Rhône wine guru Nicolas Jaboulet. None of these are prices that convey the luxury image usually associated with a celebrity endorsement.
 

Sales Explosion

While rosé remains a fast-rising force in the marketplace – IWSR Drinks Market Analysis reported a 118% increase in volume from 2015 to 2020 while the entire still wine category rose only 1.5%, as hundreds of once pink-shy wineries and a cast of wine-loving celebrities entered the category – rosé wines remain cheaper to purchase than many comparable reds and white.

There are several reasons for this:

One is that rosé can be made simply and cheaply by “bleeding” juice from red grapes before the skins give it too much color, a process called saignée. Kathleen Inman, owner/winemaker of Inman Family Wines in California’s Russian River Valley, does not use this method for her high-end rosé, but says the attraction of using saignée for everyday rosés is obvious.
 

Adding Water in the US

“More often than not,” Inman explains, “water will be added to lower the alcohol, and acid will be added to liven it up.

Basically, this form of rosé is a by-product of red wine production and therefore all of the fruit cost can be bound up in the red wine and the incremental cost of the winemaking and packaging for the rosé is very low, and the price can be correspondingly lower.” It is important to note that adding water would not be legally allowed in Europe for any wine and would not even be imagined in regions like Provence where wine is not a by-product of red, but US legislation is much more relaxed.

Doug Frost, Master of Wine and Master Sommelier
Doug Frost, Master of Wine and Master Sommelier

David Parker, CEO and founder of Benchmarks Wine Group, who sells large quantities of of expensive bottles to collectors and investors, agrees. “Rosés are generally made for immediate consumption, not to age, so – rightly or wrongly – are not considered to improve over time.  As such, they aren’t thought of as investible, or even prestige wines, but rather as casual drinkers.”
 

The Modern Rosé Market is Still a Teenager

A third reason is that only Millennials grew up having rosé as an accepted alternative to red or white table wines. 

“For most wine consumers, having rosés as an attractive choice is only about 15 years old,” says Paul Chevalier, VP of LVMH’s rosé-only Château d’Esclans, home to the best selling Whispering Angel. “There is no one teaching consumers about rosé.”

At the same time, as Parker points out, “Many white wines – especially white Burgundies but also including some Rieslings, white Rhones, white Bordeaux and top California

Chardonnays – have developed such a reputation for world-class quality and ageability that their region, producers and vineyards have become famous and their product highly sought.” 

Finally, not all of wine trade gatekeepers are convinced that rosé deserves an exalted place on restaurant wine lists or wine shops’ top shelf. “While the U.S. and UK press locked onto the idea, the only pushback we are getting is from some somms and buyers – but not from consumers,” Chevalier says, whose Château d’Esclans “Garrus” sells for around $115.

In spite of these disincentives to pricing rosés higher to reflect their quality, there are producers, especially in rosé-leading Provence and in upscale California, who are proving there are ways of convincing consumers to upgrade their purchases of pink wine.

Producers in Provence, the region that over the past two decades has become rosé central (97% of its wine production is pink), lead the way. Several estates have raised their prices recently, thanks to the efforts of Chevalier’s d’Esclans which has arguably done for its region’s what Robert Mondavi did for the Napa Valley.
 

Lichine, the Pioneer

Before industry veteran Sacha Lichine purchased the estate in 2006 following the 1999 sale of Prieuré Lichine, the Margaux chateau he had inherited from his father, Chevalier says, d’Esclans site was previously owned by a Swedish pension fund, used for vacation awards and for the production of table grapes sold at local markets.

“A lot had to do with Sacha’s vision. When he was younger, he saw what happened with the rise in popularity of rosé Champagne. Remember when no one wanted it? Then rosé Champagne became trendy and more expensive than simple brut. Sacha asked why the same thing couldn’t be done with Provence rosé. At the time, most rosé was selling for €5 or €6 at Carrefour and other French supermarkets.” (Chevalier does note that some Tavel and Bandol producers were charging significantly higher prices.)

“Sacha brought in Patrick Léon, former technical director of Château Mouton Rothschild to make the wine,” Chevalier continues, “and asked, what if we did temperature control and barrel fermentation and made the rosé more satisfying and richer in style, we would have a story to tell and sell for more. The success of [d’Esclan’s] ‘Whispering Angel’ opened the door for about $20.” Lichine also developed a tier system of rosés that now includes entry level “The Beach – The Palm” at $16 in the U.S. in order to move wine drinkers up its quality and price ladder just as Burgundy and other fine wine regions have done.

Gerard Bertrand has adopted a similar strategy, offering a range of rosés at prices ranging from $15 Côte des Roses to a $50 Corbières and his recently-launched super-premium Cabrières Clos du Temple at $165. His success with these wines is notable in their not being from Provence, but other regions are raising their game. Clos Cantenac in Bordeaux, for example is selling its ‘Elegance’ for $40 to French customers, but it is not yet available in the U.S. Tiny quantities of Domaine Prieure Roch Bourgogne 'Roses' Rosé from top flight vineyards in the Côte de Nuits have crossed the Atlantic, and sell for over $400 a bottle. Prieur Roch is far from the only Burgundian to be making super premium pink wine, but still the only one achieving these kinds of prices.

The example of rosé Champagne and other rosé sparkling wines being slightly more expensive than “white” sparklers is not totally a matter of demand but is also a case of producers’ adding in the extra cost of production.

"As far as the Trentodoc appellation is concerned, [sparkling] rosé is made using Pinot Noir which has higher costs than Chardonnay,” says Italian wine producer Carlo Moser, who is also VP of Istituto Trentodoc. Pinot Noir's higher cost is, he says, in part because “this variety is more delicate to grow and has lower yields if compared to Chardonnay” and in part because it demands added “expertise because the skin contact needs to be handled properly in order to avoid wines that are either too feeble or too robust."
 

Not Always so Cheap to Produce

Similarly, like many other California table wine producers, Inman factors into her pricing equation the actual costs involved in producing what she calls an “intentional rose” and not a simple saignée. “Our estate rosé is priced at $40, as is our estate Pinot Gris,” she says. “I use Pinot Noir grapes that could have been used for our estate Pinot Noir, which costs $75, but the price for the rosé is lower because it only ages for a few months and doesn’t require the use of expensive oak barrels, which means it takes up less ‘room and board’ than my other oak or stainless barrel-aged white wines, which take a year to 18 months in barrel, and the red wines, that can require two years in barrel before they are ready to drink.”

She is not alone in her pricing philosophy of charging more for rosés than many other producers.  American importer and distributor Bill Terlato, CEO of Terlato Wines, says his rosés all come from world-renowned AVAs, which immediately increases their retail price.

Bill Terlato (right)
Bill Terlato (right)

“Each wine is intentional and is grown for the very purpose of making a rosé-style SKU,” Terlato says. “These products are crafted in small, boutique wineries by world-class winemakers who give the same care and attention to their rosé wines as the rest of their products. In some cases, after fermentation, our winemakers choose to age their rosés in neutral French oak for 4-6 months to preserve the delicate aromas and flavors while providing additional complexity and texture before bottling,” he says. “We have found that our consumers are willing to pay a little more for a wine that is delicious, hand-crafted and dependable, yet still over-delivers on quality.”
 

Pricy California Pink

As an example, Terlato says, “We launched the Cabernet Franc rosé from Chimney Rock [in Stags Leap district in Napa] in 1999 – long before the recent rosé tsunami – and have taken price from the high teens to $45 today.  This is partially due to demand and scarcity, but also great quality.  We only make about 200 cases, and we only sell it direct-to-consumer at the winery.”

Bruce Hunter, managing director of Shaw-Ross International Importers, also notes that the seasonality aspect of rosés as being only a summer beach-and-picnic quaff is disappearing.

Bruce Hunter

 

“The rosé category both in the U.S. and Europe continues to grow and is becoming a wine to be enjoyed every day, not just a summertime wine.”

 

Bruce Hunter
Managing director of Shaw-Ross International Importers

Even before worldwide inflation hit in 2022, Liz Pacquette of the online retail platform, Drizly, reported the average price of a bottle of rosé in the U.S jumped by $1 from 2020 to 2021. “As consumers trade up,” she advises, “retailers can drive higher margin sales by stocking more premium offers.” As an importer, Hunter agrees. “It seems that over the years consumers have found that good rosé is worth the increase in dollars.”

Brad and Angelina are still squabbling over Chateau Miraval, but perhaps whoever wins, should take note.

 

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