Rosé wine has been rising fast in popularity among wine lovers, carving out a place for itself as an equal to white and red wines. The United States, the second largest rosé drinker next to France, has seen an exponential rise in imports of the drink from its birthplace, the region of Provence. Rosé sales have surpassed white wine in France, a serious shake-up for the industry. Rosé however, was disdained for many years and once had a reputation for being an unsophisticated wine that gave the consumer a terrible headache.
American documentarist Ken Kobré, a professor of journalism at San Francisco State University who has been spending summers in Provence for 15 years, examined the recent surge of rosé production and sales in Provence, Napa Valley, South Africa and Italy. His film, called La Revolution du Rosé: How a Ridiculed Wine Became a Winner, will be available on iTunes on August 11.
France-Amerique: Why did rosé have such a bad reputation?
Ken Kobré: A man who runs an association of wineries in Provence told me that this began in 1936, the first year that the French were given paid holidays. Many people drove from Paris to Provence and discovered rosé. When they went back to Paris and asked for rosé, the bistros had to order the wine from Provence. So it would remain fresh during the journey, producers added sulfite, which gave Parisian consumers splitting headaches. This was the first reputation of rosé in France. In America, rosé evolved from sweet Portuguese wines, which inspired a rosé called White Zinfandel. It was a sweet, fruit punch-flavored wine that all the connoisseurs made fun of.
If opinions and reviews began badly, how did rosé become as popular as it is today?
In the 1960s and 1970s, wealthy people from outside Provence bought estates in the region with the desire of making better wine. They hired young winemakers who innovated and planted different varietals of grapes specifically for rosé, which improved the taste. Additionally, grocery stores began to sell wine. Originally, wine was sold in wine shops that were frequented by men. Women, who were doing most of the shopping in grocery stores, preferred rosé. The buyers of rosé changed from men to women; that’s what triggered the revolution.
How did marketing also help improve the image of rosé?
There are 700 kinds of rosé in Provence alone so advertising through television and magazines is not a successful way to market; it’s too expensive for small wineries. Instead, producers organize big rosé events, like tastings and festivals. In the United States, these are mainly attended by young women, but in Provence, rosé is more widespread. It’s not an old people’s drink or a young people’s drink; it’s an everybody’s drink. As a huge percentage of wine is sold from the wineries themselves, a recent trend is to create destination wineries, which have a lot of art and music or a restaurant attached. It’s called wine tourism. The movement, which started in South Africa, spread to the U.S. and is now coming to France.
Are there any other factors that influence rosé sales?
Price, packaging, and awards matter. One of the most surprising things I learned is that awards given to wines are often random, though a wine that wins a medal will double in sales. Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt bought Château Miraval in Provence and made their own rosé, which now has bottle sales in the millions. The minute they bought it, that wine became very significant. It became the first rosé to make the Top 100 in Wine Spectator magazine.
Did you know?
Despite popular belief, rosé is not made by mixing red and white wine! Red wine is left in contact with the peel of the grape for weeks, which gives the wine its color and strong aroma. For rosé, however, the juice remains with the grape skin for a shorter time, about two to six hours, so the wine ends up being lighter in color and taste.