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Easy to Buy, Easy to Drink: How Rosé Became the Drink of Summer

Rosé: A retrospective.

Levi Dalton

Reflecting on rosé sales from recent summers, it’s apparent that the pink juice has skyrocketed from regional popularity to requisite beverage option on wine lists across the country, a trend driven by wholesale wine buyers from New York to California. But a slurry of other factorsincluding availability, affordability and approachability, compounded with rosé's image as a beverage of luxuryhave helped propel the drink into the national spotlight.

"In the spring of last year we did a huge rosé promotion," says Devon Broglie, the Associate Global Beverage Buyer for Whole Foods Market, who considers data from the chain’s 300 locations in 41 states to determine which wines he should purchase at the national level, for all stores. "Last year was the year that it really sort of hit. Like, rosé, 2014, I mean, folks on the coasts had heard it for a couple of years, but 2014 was where rosé really became like, it. And we saw that early enough in 2013 to be able to do a huge program nationally because our Southern California region had done two super successful spring programs in 2012 and 2013."

"...2014 was where rosé really became like, it."

Broglie watched rosé's popularity unfold at a local level before it succeeded across a much larger turf: "That's one of the most fascinating things for me in my role, nationally or globally, is when we see a trend start at a smaller scale in an individual region and then we actually nationally are able to scale it up. Take it from the individual store or the individual region and maybe, the following season, take it to another region or another two regions, and then, within twelve to eighteen months, we scale it into a national program."

Rosé’s popularity across the nation today attests to the power of national chain retailers to amplify trends. "Rarely do we look at something nationally that has had success in an individual spot and think to ourselves, 'You know what, we don't think that’s going to work nationally'" observes Broglie. "More so, we try it. We are like, 'If this is great in this region, we’ll try it.'" And rosé has succeeded on the national stage, with outlets across the country reporting brisk sales.

One of the big hurdles to scaling up a wine type across the entire country is the quantity of bottles available: "We see individual items that catch on in a couple of spots and then we can't get authorized, and we can't get enough of them fast enough," explains Broglie. But with rosé, that hasn’t been a problem. He continues, "Someone loves Miraval rosé and gets really excited about it, and in 48 hours we’re able to turn around projections and commitments from all of our regions for three thousand cases, so that we can be the most prominent retailer carrying it." At the same time, Miraval, the wine label owned by celebrity couple Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, reportedly grew from producing 200,000 bottles of rosé in 2012 to 500,000 bottles more recently, so the quantity was there from which to draw. And also across the rosé category as a whole, "supply is not an issue," observes Ryan Looper, a sales representative for wine distributor T. Edward Wines, which represents several smaller production rosé labels. "Importers and distributors have brought in more rosé to supply, or feed, the trend," he adds.

Rosé’s popularity across the nation today attests to the power of national chain retailers to amplify trends.

A reality of retail is shoppers’ disinclination to ask store personnel for help. And this fact has only bolstered rosé sales. "Even at Whole Foods, where we pride ourselves on customer service, we know that very few customers want to interact with a team member when they're shopping," concedes Broglie. But dry rosé is particularly suited to situations where consumers are reluctant to ask for help; it isn’t a wine that customers feel needs to be explained to them. "When they see a pink wine they already have a thought about what it is going to smell like and taste like," says Patrick Cappiello, a partner in Pearl & Ash and Rebelle restaurants in New York, who, like many sommeliers across the country, has witnessed a recent boom in rosé sales.

Similarly to Cappiello, Jeff Kellogg, Wine Director at New York’s Maialino restaurant, has also encountered less sensitivity from consumers about the grape varieties listed on the labels for rosé. "It doesn't matter where it comes from, or what the grape is, you can just order a glass of rosé from a producer and have a pretty good idea that it will taste like rosé. If you have a $12 glass of rosé made from Canaiolo, it sells exactly the same amount of glasses as when you offer a $12 glass of rosé from Pinot Noir. It does not work that way when those grapes are produced as red wine," Kellogg points out. "Consumers now feel much more comfortable buying rosé," adds Looper, who thinks that moving away from a variety-focus has led to success for rosé producers. "Consumers generally don’t have to worry about the complications of varietal. How many consumers know the varietal Cinsault is in their Provence rosé? All they have to say or look for is "rosé"—and that is easily identified for all parties."

Further, consumers see the color of the rosé wine visible through the glass bottle as a self-evident indicator of style. "Salmon pink to ballet slipper pink sells. If you are candy cane pink, you are doomed" in the market, observes Amy Ezrin, Vice President of wine importer Massanois Imports. "Without a doubt, consumers currently prefer light pink" agrees Looper, who hypothesizes that imbibers may associate darker colored rosés with sweeter styles of wine, whether or not that correlation is correct.

While some may hesitate when deciding which vintage of a wine to buy, be it red or white, that issue is muted with rosé.

Similarly, the impact of vintages is considered easier to contend with in the case of rosé. While some may hesitate when deciding which vintage of a wine to buy, be it red or white, that issue is muted with rosé. The general feeling is that fresher rosé is often better, and that belief usually inspires enough confidence in someone to make a buying decision. Overall, rosé seems less encumbered than other styles of wine with the sorts of concerns that can make it challenging to purchase.

But why is rosé more popular now than before? Many buyers point to the broader association of rosé with being a dry wine. White Zinfandel’s once massive popularity as a sweet rosé seems to have been largely forgotten or was perhaps never known by a younger generation of consumers. In fact, says Kellogg, " ... that it wasn't cool before helps. There is a certain trendiness with the fact that, in the recent past, their parents would not have been caught dead drinking pink wine. There is a slightly hip, 'I'm in the know' feeling to ordering rosé." But of course, in addition to being dry, rosés often have an approachable fruit character. There "seems to be an additional fruit component to them beyond what you would see from white wine," says winemaker Michael Cruse, who was surprised at the relative success of his own Ultramarine rosé as compared with his own Blanc de Blancs. That fruit character can make rosé easy to drink.

Price is another motivating factor for rosé sales, as consumers can take solace knowing that if they are purchasing a rosé, the price point will likely be in their strike zone. "What seems to be driving sales primarily right now is color first, then price," comments Looper. There is somewhat of an assumed ceiling on how much a business can reasonably charge for rosé, which is in line with the fact that rosé usually requires less time in the winery before it’s ready for sale. As compared to, say, red wine. Ultimately, less time maturing means the wine is cheaper to produce and thusly a winemaker can sell it at a lower price. Like with other consumer favorites, such as Sancerre or Prosecco, customers know that if the conversation involves rosé, the cost is unlikely to reach the stratospheric heights that other categories like Bordeaux or Burgundy can hit.

... consumers can take solace knowing that if they are purchasing a rosé, the price point will likely be in their strike zone.

Decanter magazine noted that the average bottle price of premium rosé in the U.S. was $16.83 in 2014. That price is very retail friendly. "Around ninety percent of our wine sales [as a whole] are under twenty five dollars," says Broglie of the range at Whole Foods. Rosé prices are so routinely low that even with the introduction of higher priced prestige offerings in recent years, some sommeliers still struggle to find rosés that sell for the prices their customers like to spend. "I am scrambling to get more rosé at a higher price point; what we can get that is closer to $100 we already have," confides Cappiello.

Lower overall prices help consumers feel more comfortable casually purchasing and consuming rosé, and that may be a big part of the wine’s appeal. Rosé not only seems stress-free to drink, it also seems stress-free to buy. "The summer months are a time that, for many, is a departure from the rest of yearless work, more vacation, a more carefree existence.  Rosé is bundled up with these associations of a pleasant time of year," observes Joe Salamone, a wine buyer for retailer Crush Wine & Spirits.

Rosé's connection to the good life, and the fact that one doesn't need specialized expertise or necessarily a fat wallet to attain a perceived feeling of luxury, may be the wine's biggest draw as it continues to color the country.

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