EVERYTHING’S COMING UP ROSÉ
In 2006, winemaker Sacha Lichine took a multimillion-dollar gamble. He sold the prestigious Bordeaux estate left to him by his father Alexis Lichine – a legend in French wine – in order to buy a tumbledown manor in Provence. His aim was to create the best rosé in the world. “Everyone said he was crazy,” says his friend and US importer Paul Chevalier. “At that time, rosé was deeply unfashionable. No one was drinking it.”
Today, things have changed for rosé, and Lichine’s Provence estate, Château d’Esclans, is behind some of the most sensational names in the rosé game. His flagship wine, Whispering Angel, is the world’s most popular rosé, with more than six million bottles set for release in 2019. His portfolio of pinks also includes Garrus, a $100 rosé often called the best in the world. “Ours is probably the greatest wine brand to come out of France in the last 20 years,” says Sacha.
“We’ve changed the way people drink rosé,” says Paul. “In the 1990s, rosé had an image problem. People assumed it was all bag-in-a-box plonk.” Now, it has become a lifestyle choice and, in France, rosé sales outstrip those of white wine. In the United States, one in every 36 bottles of wine drunk in 2017 was a rosé, up from one in 510 back in 2015. “Rosé is served in Michelin-starred restaurants and at parties,” says Paul. “It has a celebratory feel. I’d go as far as to say rosé is the new Champagne.”
The rosé renaissance began when Sacha bought Château d’Esclans. The Grenache vines that came with the property were 80 years old, so would clearly offer a higher concentration of flavour than younger vines. Sacha enlisted the help of family friend Patrick Léon – former chief winemaker at Mouton Rothschild – and set out to create a Provençal rosé that would rank alongside the great Burgundy wines. “We weren’t sure at first if rosé made from Grenache could be grand,” he says. “It had never been done before.”
After investing in innovative technology they began the process of elevating production to an art form. The first vintage of Whispering Angel was harvested in 2006. It was Sacha and Paul who brought it to the United States. “We launched in the Hamptons and Nantucket because we had a hunch that people there might have experienced authentic rosé on the Côte d’Azur,” he says. “We were right.”
With its pale pink hue and dry elegance, Whispering Angel was an instant hit; and the taste for it soon spread across America. “It became so sought-after that when strikes at French ports created a shortage, the story was reported in the New York Post and on CNN,” says Paul. “People rushed to buy the last bottles and then we completely ran out!”
Wines from Chateau d’Esclans are now sold in more than 110 countries, as more and more people choose authentic French rosé over the sweet, syrupy stuff. “Provence is the birthplace of rosé and it’s actually illegal here to produce sweet rosé,” says Paul. “So look at the colour – if it’s dark pink, don’t drink it!”
For Sacha, innovation remains key. “I think the potential in the US for rosé is just getting started.” What’s next? Bringing rosé to après-ski, says Paul. “We’ve started throwing ‘pink snow’ parties in Aspen, where you can have a chilled glass on the slopes.” There can be no cooler way to enjoy a taste of la vie en rosé.