With more than 500 stores in North America, leading organic grocer Whole Foods Market has built a reputation on offering high-quality, curated products for its discerning client base. The company’s wine department is no different, with its wine buyers seeking freshness and the most current vintage available from its winery partners. “The Whole Foods Market customer loves a good rosé, especially from the South of France and Provence. That being said, there’s great rosé being Comes of Age made everywhere now,” says Whole Foods’ senior principal of product development and innovation Doug Bell. “Those that are the palest salmon in color remain popular, but those a little deeper pink in hue also sell quite well. Sparkling rosé, specifically rosé Prosecco, is selling so fast we can hardly keep it on the shelf or in the cooler.”
Whole Foods actively focuses on the segment, with 10%-15% of a store’s wine set featuring still and sparkling rosés. Each spring for the past decade, Whole Foods has run a rosé promotion across its wine departments in addition to covering store floors for eight weeks in a variety of standout rosé options that range in price from $8 to more than $30 a 750-ml. Throughout the warmer months, the company also focuses on a dozen rosé wines and will rotate those brands throughout the season. “It should be noted, however, that rosé isn’t just for summer anymore,” says Bell. “It’s a year-round buy for a lot of our shoppers, even during the winter holidays.”
The enduring appeal of rosé is clear, with increasing sales volumes for the leading rosé brands in the U.S. and high export volumes for the overall category despite a flood of new entries in recent years. Provence rosé exports to the U.S. stood at more than 1.8 million 9-liter case shipments in 2021, according to Impact Databank. While that total marks a decrease from 2018’s high point of more than 2.1 million shipments, rosés from Provence had been caught up in a 25% tariff the U.S. imposed on French wine exports in late 2019 over a long-running aerospace dispute. Last summer, those tariffs were paused for five years.
In 2021, many leading French rosé brands saw double-digit growth rates in the U.S., but offerings from other regions such as Italy also have been growing rapidly. In May 2020, Italy’s Ministry of Agricultural, Food, and Forestry Policies’ National Wine Committee officially recognized the Prosecco DOC Rosé category, setting new standards for production and quality for the sparkling rosé wines. Last year, 5.9 million cases of rosé Prosecco were produced in the region, according to data from the Prosecco DOC Consortium. While many leading domestic wine marketers also offer rosé options within larger brand portfolios, a number of those saw volume declines in 2021, as the category continues to get increasingly competitive and consumers gravitate toward more high-end, lifestyle brands, particularly from France.
Provence Sets the Bar
The rosé category has taken off over the past 15 years in the U.S., with endless styles and regions represented in the market. But France’s Provence has positioned itself as the leader in rosé production, able to create the signature dry, light style of pale rosé that has come to define consumers’ expectations of what rosé should be. “Provence is going down the path of having its very own kind of identity with rosé wine,” says Paul Chevalier, vice president of Château d’Esclans at Moët Hennessy USA. “Circumstances have come together to create the grape-growing conditions and the varietals we use in Provence that are ideal for the style we’re producing. It would be difficult to do in other areas and with other varietals.”
Château d’Esclans produces the U.S. market’s leading rosé brand, Whispering Angel, which has more than doubled in U.S. volume over the past five years. In 2021 alone, Whispering Angel grew 5.8% in volume to 565,000 cases in the U.S., 65,000 cases ahead of the U.S. market’s second-largest rosé, an offering from Bota Box. In late 2019, Moët Hennessy acquired a majority stake in d’Esclans and brought it into its U.S. portfolio, paving the way for the brand’s rapid global growth while solidifying its luxury lifestyle positioning.
Château d’Esclans is entirely dedicated to rosé production and its portfolio comprises estate rosés Château d’Esclans, Les Clans, and Garrus; Rock Angel; Whispering Angel; and The Beach, a rebranding of d’Esclans entry-level The Palm. The Beach is intended to appeal to younger wine consumers who are learning about the category and may not have the purchasing power for the estate’s higher-priced rosés. The company partnered with ocean preservation-focused non-profit Surfrider Foundation for The Beach, which also features a lighter glass bottle and recycled materials for a more sustainable footprint. “The Beach is a stepping stone for that newer generation of wine drinkers,” says Chevalier. “We wanted to stay authentic to Provence, but it’s a different appellation within Provence and a bit more fruit-forward.”
In August 2020, French businessman and vintner Michel Reybier acquired Château La Mascaronne in Provence, and this March, Reybier partnered with basketball star Tony Parker on the winery. “I have an affinity for Provence that goes back more than 15 years to when I first put down roots in the region with La Réserve Ramatuelle,” says Reybier. “Over the past few years, we’ve seen a global surge in enthusiasm for rosé that embraces the uniqueness of the South of France joie de vivre, and in turn, an expansion of global production.” Château La Mascaronne Rosé is a blend of estate-grown Grenache and Cinsault, the predominant grape varieties in Provence, as well as Syrah and a small amount of Vermentino.
The 150-acre La Mascaronne sits on primarily clay-limestone soil and its elevation creates a microclimate in which nighttime temperatures are consistently cooler than the coast. The vineyard was converted to organic viticulture in 2016. In addition to the rosé, the winery also produces a Château La Mascaronne Blanc and Rouge. “In the past five to seven years, there has been a growing curiosity and then passionate enthusiasm for rosé culture, and by default, Provençal culture, to the point now the category has matured considerably,” says Reybier.
Taking a different approach to Provence-style rosé is Yes Way Rosé from Prestige Beverage Group. The company produces still and sparkling rosés in 750-ml. bottles, 187-ml. mini bottles, and 4-packs of 250-ml. cans. Yes Way Rosé has resonated with consumers and last year grew nearly 10% in volume to 165,000 cases in the U.S., up from 50,000 total cases in 2018. The company says its top markets are Florida, Texas, California, and Minnesota. “Yes Way Rosé offers a dry Provence-style rosé from the South of France at a more approachable price point and continues to strike a chord by offering quality French rosé in an accessible and stylish way,” says Kathy Reilly, vice president of marketing and innovation at Prestige Beverage Group.
Yes Way Rosé has also capitalized on the surging RTD category, offering a line of rosé-based flavored spritzers in Pink Lemonade, Peach + Ginger, and this spring’s release of Blueberry + Lavender Spritz. “Using French rosé allows us to deliver a lot more flavor without adding sugar or artificial sweetener,” Reilly says, adding that while the brand is always looking at opportunities to innovate, there’s still plenty of runway with its flagship rosé. “As the category has grown, so has education and awareness that the best quality rosé comes from France. Consumers are also increasingly looking for convenience, healthier options, and interesting flavor fusions.”
Rosé Expands Its Reach
While Provence producers note the regional distinctions of their rosé wines, winemakers from other areas in the South of France are offering quality rosé with broad appeal in the U.S. market. Winemaker Gérard Bertrand produces a number of iconic rosé offerings from his 16 estates in Languedoc, such as his namesake brand, which is the third-largest French rosé in the U.S. at 345,000 cases and sees consistent year-after-year growth. “We want to develop the link between wine, gastronomy, and culture—it’s important for people to enjoy life and to understand the value and the South of France experience,” says Bertrand, noting the festivals and events held at his destination winery Château de l’Hospitalet. “Rosé isn’t just a drink. It’s a lifestyle product.”
Clos de Temple ($165 a 750-ml.) is positioned at the ultra-luxury end of the Gérard Bertrand portfolio, but other rosés are more accessibly priced. Source of Joy, Gris Blanc rosé, and Cote des Roses are all priced under $20 a 750-ml., allowing more consumers to enter the Gérard Bertrand collection of rosés. “We over-deliver in terms of quality, and people love the wines: that’s the key to success in the U.S. market,” says Bertrand. The company has also built its reputation on organic and biodynamic farming, which began in 2002.
The appeal of high-quality, organic wines is not lost on Dana Spaulding, founder of single-serve wine brand Wander + Ivy. “I started shopping for smaller, alternative packaging for myself but found low-quality wines in low-quality packaging with little to no focus on natural and organic ingredients,” says Spaulding. “I saw an enormous gap in the market and was inspired to fill it.”
Wander + Ivy produces a line of wines packaged in 6.3-ounce glass bottles, and the rosé is its top-selling offering. Sourced from organic grapes grown in Languedoc, the dry rosé features notes of apple, peaches, and rose petals without the use of sugar or other additives the company says is common in other rosés in alternative packaging. Wander + Ivy currently ships to 43 states and is in retail stores in 12 states for $7 a 6.3-ounce bottle. The company says it’s grown by triple-digits in recent years and expects it to continue expanding nationwide. “This trend of premiumization is here to stay as consumers continue to trade up for higher quality options in the rosé category,” says Spaulding.
Outside of France, rosé has become a popular part of many leading brands’ portfolios. Leading imported brand, Stella Rosa from Italy, produces a rosé that last year grew nearly 17% to over 400,000 cases in the U.S. Riboli Family Wines’ owner and vice president Steve Riboli says the brand will also release a dry rosé this year made from Pinot Noir.
While rosé brands have proliferated in recent years, those that maintain quality and authenticity are continuing to perform well among U.S. consumers who are growing more familiar with rosé. “We’ve never seen as many rosé offerings in the category as we are seeing now,” says Whole Foods Market’s Bell. “I don’t know if we’d say that it’s saturated, but it is definitely nearing the point of becoming a mature category.” But the company says there are still new segments within rosé to explore, such as sparkling rosé and rosé Prosecco, as well as organic, which it notes is a growing subset of rosé wine sales each year.
Marketers see the category continuing to reach higher price points, as consumers become accustomed to accepting paying more than $20 for a quality bottle of rosé. Winemakers, too, are able to create more sophisticated rosé wines as more companies invest in areas like the South of France. “The potential was always there in Provence, we just didn’t have the investment and winemaking techniques and technology,” says Moët Hennessy USA’s Chevalier. “We’re taking a historical area and innovating and also creating new international market platforms where we can actually sell the wines.”
Winemakers like Gérard Bertrand are looking to continue growing rosé’s appeal at the high end by promoting the rosé category in the family of Grand Vins and the potential for aging. “That means a new era for the rosé industry,” Bertrand says.