Why French Winemakers Are Seeing The World Through Rosé-Colored Glasses
Consumption of rosé wine is skyrocketing. U.S. imports of rosé from the Mediterranean region have grown in the double digits for the past 10 years running. This is good news for winemakers in the southern, Provence region of France, where many vintners used to make a few bottles of rosé only for themselves. Not anymore.
The Blanc brothers, Didier and Robert, are third-generation vintners near the town of Uzes, in southern France. The area is known for chirping cicadas, olive trees and chilled rosé wine in the summertime.
Standing between the rows of vines at their vineyard, Saint Firmin, younger brother Didier pushes back the leaves to reveal clusters of plump grapes ripening under a blazing Mediterranean sun. Blanc says sales are exploding.
"We ran out of rosé last year, so we produced a lot more this year. And we're going to run out again," he says.
Rosé is made from grenache or cinsault grapes, and is certainly never a mix of red and white wine, says older brother Robert. He says a good rosé is pale, almost gray — the lighter, the better. And it's easily quaffable.
"Since it's so light, people have the impression that it has less alcohol and calories than red or white wine. But that's not the case," he says, laughing.
The brothers harvest their grapes at night, when it's cooler. Once picked, rosé grapes in particular must have minimum exposure to heat and sun to limit oxidization.
A stiff wind whips down the rows of vines. It's the legendary Mistral, a wind that blows up the Rhone valley. Didier Blanc says the Mistral is winemakers' friend, because it combats the humidity and mildew that can hurt the vines.
The two men say their father used to put a few bottles of rosé aside just for his own pleasure.
A noisy bottling machine helps them put the cork on the last of their 2014 vintage. Robert Blanc says it's the second year they've exported to the U.S. Since neither of them speaks English, Robert says it would have been hard to pierce the complicated American wine market. But he says importers have come looking for them.
"Yesterday we had a visit from another importer from Maine who was on vacation," Robert says. "He loved the rosé. Maybe something will come of that!"
John Hames, director of the American Wine Society, says that in the '70s and '80s, Americans went for sweeter wines. But tastes are evolving, and appreciation for dry rosés is growing.
"People discovered they were good food wines," says Hames. "And at the same time, they were an alternative to the chardonnays and sauvignon blancs for just having a nice cool glass of wine in the evening on the patio."
The rosé boom is transforming lives in this agrarian region. Serge Scherrer is a part-time postman, part-time winemaker. He was able to buy a parcel of land here 10 years ago because of the real estate crisis — just two days before the vines were to be ripped out. Now he's realizing a lifelong dream, making 3,000 bottles of organic wine a year. He says he understands why rosé is a big hit.
"It's simple to drink, it's very fresh, and it's not as strong as red or white wine," Scherrer says.
Scherrer shares a workspace with a local potter. He makes what he calls a piscine — or swimming pool — rosé that goes for about five bucks a bottle, as well as a more pricey, gastronomic one.
His production may be small, but Scherrer's wine is being snatched up in countries across Europe, Asia and the U.S. He says his American importer wants to buy all of his bottles.
"But you can't put all your eggs in one basket," says Scherrer.
You can find Scherrer's wine in America, under the label La Vigne du Facteur — The Mailman's Vine.
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