For much of the 20th century, rosé was dismissed as an unserious wine, but that view began shifting in the 1970s when cult importers like Kermit Lynch started introducing dry rosés to the U.S. market. The category didn’t gain significant momentum among Americans, however, until the early 2000s, when French rosé started becoming popular. In the past four years, consumption has spiked dramatically, transforming both the perception of rosé and its marketing.
U.S. sales of rosé wines grew to 18.7 million cases in 2018, an increase of 1.2 million cases since 2015, according to Shanken’s Impact Databank. While the category has been seeing impressive growth, some may wonder if rosé is beginning to peak—or if its upward trajectory will continue. The question also remains whether certain segments, such as premium brands, sparkling versions, and canned wines, are poised to outperform others or if rosé-adjacent products, such as rosé ciders, beers, and spirits, will come in and siphon off some of rosé wine’s momentum?
SevenFifty and SevenFifty Daily recently conducted a representative analysis of distributor portfolios to investigate what’s happening in the wholesale landscape—and to determine where the category is headed. As a benchmark, approximately 70 percent of the distributors in the U.S. list their portfolios on SevenFifty’s marketplace. Since distributors are the gatekeepers from whom the country’s on- and off-premise buyers are legally required to source their products, activity in the distributor landscape can be considered a leading indicator of greater trends in the drinks industry.
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According to SevenFifty’s data and other sources, rosé’s expansion is expected to continue, with a few caveats. The category’s growth appears strongest among premium brands, especially those based in France’s Provence region. Forecasts also suggest that alternative formats, like cans, will see continued growth. With restaurants, bars, and retailers looking to differentiate themselves, what direction will the rosé category ultimately go?
Today’s Rosé Market
Members of the industry say rosé’s appeal is hardly a mystery. “Younger consumers have discovered that rosé, especially [those] from Provence, offer them less expensive but still premium wines,” says Rob McMillan, the executive vice president and founder of Silicon Valley Bank’s Wine Division, which is based in St. Helena, California.
And there are no signs that rosé is slowing down, says McMillan. “There is every reason to believe we will see continued growth in the category as these [young] consumers age,” he says, adding that the category even seems to be “broadening its season.”
According to Nielsen data for the 52-week period ending May 18, 2019, table rosé accounted for 3.1 percent of total wine dollars spent, an increase of 33.9 percent from the same period in 2018, and sparkling rosé saw an increase of 20 percent. “Both table and sparkling rosé wine have maintained double-digit growth and consistent dollar share gains for the past five years, with no signs of slowing down,” says Caitlyn Battaglia, a client manager for Nielsen’s Beverage Alcohol Practice Area who is based in Roanoke, Virginia.
In 2018, scans of rosé wine on the Vivino app showed a 13.6 percent year-over-year increase from 2017, making rosé the fastest-growing wine type in the U.S., according to Vivino’s data, says Heini Zachariassen, the company’s CEO and founder.
Philana Bouvier, the senior vice president of New Business Development at Young’s Market Company in San Francisco, has watched rosé grow in Young’s portfolio at a double-digit growth rate in recent years. “Rosé wines are attracting a broader demographic, with appeal to both women and men, and they’ve expanded their appeal across occasions and seasons.” That could change, however, suggests Bouvier, given that the rosé category “is still relatively early in its growth cycle.”
Vanessa Conlin, the head of wine for the online wine club and retailer Wine Access, based in San Francisco, points out that rosé has wide appeal across generations. “Boomers are buying it too,” says Conlin. “As of April this year, 5.1 percent of all the purchases baby boomers made through [Wine Access] was rosé, compared with 6.1 percent of the purchases made by Generation X and 7.2 percent of the purchases made by millennials.”
France Rules Rosé—for Now
Rosé can be made anywhere, but France is king of the category—and the pale salmon–colored Provence style of the wine is considered a benchmark. It’s also the market leader in the U.S. The most significant growth for the rosé category has occurred in the premium segment, in which Provençal rosés grew by 14 percent last year, surpassing 2 million cases in the U.S., according to the French government agency Business France.
Brice Eymard, the managing director of the Conseil Interprofessionnel des Vins de Provence, a collective of winemakers and merchants from the region based in Les Arcs sur Argens, expects the growth to continue. France is still the biggest market for rosé, says Eymard, but he points out that it took 20 years to get there. “Now rosé consumption is higher than white wine consumption in France,” he says. “We can’t say that the U.S. market will reach the same level, but … there is a lot of potential.”
Data from SevenFifty’s distributor portfolios supports the notion of a premiumization trend, showing growth of premium Provençal rosés, particularly wines from Bandol, skewing toward a higher price point. The median wholesale price for a 750-milliliter bottle of Bandol wine in the U.S. in 2019 (to date) is $18, compared with an overall median wholesale rosé bottle price of $12. According to SevenFifty’s data, rosé SKUs from Provence increased by 65 percent over the past five years.
In addition to continued growth in Provence, SevenFifty’s data indicates that other French regions are gaining traction in the U.S. rosé market, including the Rhône and Loire Valleys, where rosé SKUs on SevenFifty were up 75 percent and 83 percent, respectively, over the past five years. The Grenache-Syrah-Mourvèdre-dominant rosés of the Rhône’s Tavel appellation, which are heavier in style and more deeply colored, are showing significant growth. The off-dry rosés made from Cabernet Franc and Gamay in the Loire’s Anjou appellation are also performing especially well.
These aren’t the only French regions contributing to the expansion—and fragmentation—of the category. SevenFifty’s data shows that other regions’ rosé SKUs also increased over the past five years, including those of Southwest France, which were up 70 percent. Languedoc-Roussillon rosé SKUs grew 39 percent. Rosé SKUs for Bordeaux increased 4.5 percent, and Burgundy’s were up 83 percent.
Another facet of the premiumization of rosé is the move toward organic production. Producers like Château la Gordonne say they’re leveraging the demand for premium Provençal wines by investing in organic vineyards. “At Château la Gordonne,” says Nathalie Vranken, the owner and the head of the marketing division of Vranken-Pommery Monopole, which owns Château la Gordonne, “we’re in the process of converting the entire [350 hectare] vineyard into an organic one because we know it’s a growing segment.” Eymard adds that Vins de Provence has implemented a collective program whose goal is to convert 60 percent of the region’s vineyards to organic viticulture before 2024, and 100 percent before 2030.
Lorena Ascencios, the head wine buyer at Astor Wines & Spirits in New York City, has also observed an increased interest in organic wines among her customers. “Consumers care more and more about organic wines,” she says, “and the demand for organic rosé is up.”
Moving Beyond the Pale
France—and Provence—are expected to continue to dominate rosé in the U.S. for the foreseeable future. But Vivino’s Zachariassen sees the market for domestically produced rosé gaining steam. Domestic rosé represented 31.5 percent of all U.S. rosé scans on the Vivino app in 2018, an increase of approximately 21 percent in year-over-year growth from 2017.
Wine Access’s Conlin says she sees consumers “taking more chances” on rosés from regions beyond France as well, including Spain, Austria, Italy, Napa Valley, and even New York. What they want, she says, is “quality, premium rosé—not necessarily one specific terroir.”
A New York–based producer that has been riding this trend is Wölffer Estate in Sagaponack on New York’s Long Island. The estate’s winemaker, Roman Roth, says that since the 1990s, Wölffer’s rosé production “started growing 10 percent, 20 percent, 30 percent every year.” In 2007, Wölffer Estate made 4,000 cases of rosé; in 2018, it made 72,000 cases.
Ascencios says that buyers at Astor Wines & Spirits are also seeking rosé from other regions these days. “Wines from France still dominate,” she says, “but rosatos from Italy are doing well, too, as a counterpoint to the pale Provençal. There are also so many darker rosé options from France—like Chinon, Marsannay, and Jura—that our consumers love.” Astor has about 80 still rosés on offer at any one time, says Ascencios, and in 2018 the store sold approximately 1,000 cases.
SevenFifty’s data shows France’s dominance as well—but with other countries gaining in market share. Rosé SKUs from France increased 61 percent in the past five years, while those from Italy increased by 82 percent, those from the U.S. by 19 percent, and those from Spain by 13 percent.
Harmon Skurnik, the president of Skurnik Wines & Spirits, an importer and distributor based in New York City, says that rosés accounted for 10 percent of Skurnik’s total sales in 2018, compared with 2 percent in 2009. He adds that the company has increased its rosé offerings to 100 SKUs, tripling its selection since 2009. “Provence is still king,” says Skurnik, “[but] we’ve proven that rosés can be successful from anywhere as long as they’re delicious and a good value.” A good value rosé, he suggests, retails at under $20.
The New York–based importer and distributor Winebow has also noted a “style shift” in its portfolio. “Our rosé sales,” says Ian Downey, the executive vice president of Winebow Imports, “have grown considerably in total sales, volume, number of selections, and places of origin in the past 10 years—now making up between 4 percent and 5 percent of our total imported wine sales, compared to 2 percent to 3 percent 5 and 10 years ago.” He adds that the growth “has intensified within the last one to three years, where there have also been style shifts evident in the sales trends.”
Downey notes that total rosé sales in Winebow Imports’ portfolio have grown 112 percent over the past five years. Still rosé sales, he says, contributed to 68 percent of Winebow Imports’ total rosé business and sparkling rosé accounted for 32 percent. Like Skurnik, Winebow finds that Provence rosé performs particularly well in its portfolio. Downey says sales of Provence rosé have grown from 30 percent to nearly 40 percent over the past five years and that the number of the company’s rosé offerings has doubled. “Australia,” he says, “particularly with sparkling rosé—as well as Chile, Greece, Germany, and Argentina—represented new origins of rosé imported wine sales” through 2018.
Rosé All Year?
The summer has historically been prime time for rosé sales. “In the temperate climate of the northern half of the U.S., rosé is consumed by the pool during the summer,” says Skurnik. “Come October, like white clothes, they are mostly avoided like the plague, and that’s a shame.”
But this adherence to seasonality may be starting to shift. SevenFifty’s data suggests that buyers are contributing to an extended rosé season that’s grown from a few months to at least five months. In 2018, according to Nielsen, 50 percent of table rosé and 33.2 percent of sparkling rosé was purchased between May and September—a slight increase over 2015, when 47 percent of table wine and 30 percent of sparkling rosé was bought in the same time period.
Wölffer’s Roth points out that warmer climates offer additional opportunities for selling rosé off-season. “Southern states that are warm year-round are just starting to see the rosé trend,” he says. “We see a big opportunity in states like Florida and Georgia, where the summer lifestyle happens year-round.”
Vranken points out that in France, “more and more bottles are being sold in wintertime, especially in ski stations, where restaurants have at least three or four rosés on their lists.” Even in New York City, wine drinkers have been increasingly interested in rosé year-round. “These past few years, demand has been high even in December,” says Ascensios. “Five years ago, I’d really have to gauge my buys so we’d be sold out by early fall—I’d say I offered and sold about a third fewer rosés in the winter.”
Beverage producers of all kinds have taken note of rosé’s impressive run and come up with a series of rosé-adjacent offerings whose sales have shown promise so far. For example, rosé beer products grew a little more than 740 percent over the 52-week period ending on May 18, 2019, Nielsen reports. Rosé flavored malt beverage (FMB), rosé cider products, and rosé flavored spirits also grew significantly over that same period, with the most traction being seen in vodka. Battaglia notes that other offerings, like rosé cognac, rosé cordials, and rosé gin, showed growth as well.
In New York State alone, 3,700 still rosé wines (750-milliliter bottles) are available in distributor portfolios for retailers and restaurants to purchase, according SevenFifty’s data, and another 350 products are available in alternative sizes, such as magnums and cans.
Winebow’s Downey says that “super premium” canned rosé from Southern France, and new offerings from Chile, Greece, Germany, and Argentina, have contributed to 62 percent of growth in Winebow Imports’ rosé category for the past five years.
Skurnik points out that rosé sales are outpacing regular wine sales in all packaging formats, and though he says it’s impossible to forecast future sales, he suggests that the biggest areas of growth will be in alternative formats, like cans. “The market for cans is exploding right now,” he says, “and that extends to rosé.”
Nielsen’s data further supports the projection that the can format is a strong area of growth for rosé. Sales of canned table rosé grew a little more than 107.9 percent over the 52-week period ending May 18, 2019, while sales of canned sparkling rosé grew just over 180 percent. Growth was also seen in the single-serving (187-millilter) bottle format for both table and sparkling rosés, according to Nielsen.
Wine brands with successful rosé lines are also banking on the canned format. Kevin Mehra, the president and cofounder of 90+ Cellars, which saw a 48 percent case-sale increase in its rosé portfolio between 2017 and 2018, says that in 2016, 90+ launched Lila Wines, a canned French rosé line, and sold out of its 8,000 cases that first summer. Last spring, 90+ added a canned bubbly rosé from Italy, which also performed well and is currently available in 40 states, as compared with the rest of 90+’s portfolio, which is available in 13 states.
Some rose winemakers are also experimenting with rosé-adjacent products. Wölffer launched its rosé cider in 2012. “We started with 4,000 cases,” says Roth, “and now we’re up to 130,000.” The winery produces red, white, and rosé ciders, but Roth estimates that 80 percent of its production is rosé cider. Wölffer also invested in a 200-acre estate in Mendoza, Argentina, and in 2015 launched its Finca Wölffer Rosé; it’s working now on a canned rosé spritzer. “We don’t want to just cash in—we want it to be of the highest quality,” Roth says. “We’re not quite there yet.” Wölffer also has a Pink Gin, made with estate-grown juniper berries, mint, and a base of distilled rosé wine. “Everything I touch,” Roth jokes, “turns pink.”
While things are certainly looking rosy for rosé, there are challenges beyond category-adjacent competition that producers will have to navigate if they want to maintain the explosive growth they’ve so far enjoyed. One potential land mine, says McMillan, is the serious competition rosé faces as young, savvy consumers explore other, less expensive options with similar premium-style taste profiles. “Reds and whites from Provence are competing for the same consumer who wants premium but lower-priced wines,” he says. “Plus, there’s Italian Pinot Grigio and New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc that are also lower priced, not sweet, and suited for the younger, frugal customer.”
Based on SevenFifty’s data, particularly on the makeup of distributor portfolios, and input from producers, buyers, and distributors, it’s clear that the rosé category will continue to flourish across the board, though it will also continue to fragment. Look for accelerated gains in premium categories, expansion into new regions, growth in alternative packaging like cans, and cross-category competition from rosé ciders, beer, and spirits as the rosé category continues to broaden and as consumers seek a more diverse profile of flavors, colors, and styles within the category—and beyond.
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Kathleen Willcox is a journalist who writes about food, wine, beer, and popular culture; her work has appeared in VinePair, Edible Capital District, Bust magazine, and Gastronomica, and on United Stations Radio Networks, among other venues. She recently coauthored, with Tessa Edick, “Hudson Valley Wine: A History of Taste & Terroir.” She lives in Saratoga Springs, New York.