May 2017 Issue of Wines & Vines

Not Just a Summer Wine

package dry rosé for year-round pleasure

by Jane Firstenfeld

In the past decade, the versatile rosé wine style bloomed as a popular beverage that can be enjoyed on its own or paired with food during every season. It’s even earned its own festival, Rosé Today Wines. With the help of festival organizers, we contacted top winners of the 2016 competition to tap their experiences in packaging this gorgeous wine, which can incorporate a number of grape varieties.

Carol Shelton, proprietor of the eponymous Carol Shelton Wines, may have best summed up the marketing arc of these wines.

“Finally the world has seen the light…and it is pink. We started making a dry rosé in 2002, and it has been quite an uphill battle to sell, especially ‘out of season,’ with too many people treating it like white shoes, which (traditionally) should not be worn after Labor Day. Many consumers had been prejudiced by White Zin and also by sweet rosés of the past,” Shelton said, admitting she fancied Lancers and Mateus in college but left both behind as her palate became more sophisticated.

“We get a lot less resistance to rosé, especially from the younger generation, who were raised without the bias of the sweet/bubblegum rosés of the past. I think the market competition is twofold—the super-pale rosés from Provence really dominate on the East Coast especially, plus Los Angeles (whose style tastes mimic New York).

“To me as a Californian, those wines are shadows of what they could be—no depth of flavor, or color. In addition, U.S.-made rosés often are made from saignée of super-ripe reds, to concentrate the red wine remaining on the skins. The rosé fraction is a byproduct, and it is rather pale like Euro rosés, but really high in alcohol and sometimes rather flat in acidity, because the ripe grapes’ bleed juice either ferments dry to high alcohol or is watered down to reduce the alcohol, thereby losing the acidity and depth of flavor once again.

“It is a shame, since the real joy of dry rosé is because of its lower alcohol (about 13%) and its crisp acidity, both of which make it so enjoyable with just about any kind of food (and) so refreshing when it is hot outside.”

Kevin Casey at Finnella Cellars began selling his first dry rosé in spring 2016, but licensing problems delayed the release and missed the summer selling season. Although many retailers said “Try again next year,” a serious sales uptick from restaurant and retail partners in early winter provided an encouraging sign. Finnella sold out its 2015 vintage, bottled its 2016 vintage on Feb. 16, 2017, and already has sold through 75% of this current vintage through pre-orders and commitments from retail partners, according to Casey.

“There is no doubt that the rosé market has seen an almost meteoric rise in popularity,” Casey observed. “And like anything else, it will level off and the market will find its equilibrium. But rosé has definitely shaken the stigma placed on it a couple decades ago and is here to stay. This is a wonderful thing for both U.S. consumers and winemakers alike.”

“The global marketplace continues to grow, and wines from all over the world are becoming more and more accessible to everyone. There really are so many great wines out there from all over the world, I cannot invest too much mindshare in what others are doing. I watch the competition, taste the competition and draw inspiration from the best,” Casey said. “As a small producer and a winery still in its infancy, the only thing I can do is continue my effort to produce the best rosé in the world (and hope) the rest takes care of itself.”

In a recent Forbes interview (quoted here with permission), Stephanie Gallo, vice president of marketing with Gallo Family Vineyards, told Jeff Fromm, “We found that there is strong interest in rosé among millennials, particularly in warmer months but also beyond the summer season. Millennials are almost twice as likely to purchase rosé as baby boomers, so they are clearly driving the purchase trend for these wines. Millennials’ growing passion of rosé is indicative of their interest in a more diverse selection of wine overall.”

Presenting the rosé
Dry rosés still are relatively unfamiliar to many wine consumers. Their hue can vary wildly among brands and blends, so packaging is essential for successful marketing.

Our sources universally bottle their rosés in clear or “flint” glass, which appears clear and showcases the wine’s rosy color in all its glory.

Lawer Estate’s Syrah rosé is one such case, using a classic Bordeaux-style bottle with a deep punt sourced from Napa’s Global Package. Since no two rosés are exactly the same, color is the focus.

Longtime Sonoma County winery J. Pedroncelli Winery uses clear glass from Encore for its Dry Rosé of Zinfandel, produced for more than 60 vintages. Consumers often confused the blush bottle with White Zin, so there is now more emphasis on “dry rosé,” according to Julie Pedroncelli-St. John.

The rosé of Pinot Noir from Toad Hollow Vineyards is cameo pink. Proprietor Frankie Williams said the beautiful color is best shown off by clear glass, which also emphasizes the wine’s freshness.

Williams, widow of founder Todd “Toad” Williams, noted that Toad Hollow released one of the first domestic dry rosés more than 20 years ago. The stigma of sweet pink wines has dissipated, and more people now realize dry rosé is suitable for consumption all year, both with food and on its own. She is gratified that so many now agree with her choice of favorite wine: It has established a great following year round.

Pech Merl winemaker John Pepe prefers a bolder, fruit-forward rosé, which makes the wine more gem-toned than pastel, according to Ivy Rose Hutton, the winery’s founder/creative director. It’s packaged in a big-shouldered tapered flint-glass bottle with a high punt from All American Container. The wine, always 90% or more Syrah, is direct-to-press purpose-made, Hutton said. Priced at $23 per bottle retail, it sells out every year.

Finnella’s dry rosé is a blend of Grenache and Viognier grapes, Provençal in style and color, Casey said. The winery never considered any color of glass except clear flint. After an exhaustive search, Finnella finally decided on a slightly tapered Burgundian-shaped bottle with a long, thin neck, a deep punt and sufficient weight to convey quality. Sourced through Saverglass, the bottle was pricier than first anticipated, but the winery felt strongly that it most accurately represents the contents.

Casey said the winery’s packaging philosophy is simple: Consumers should get what they expect when they open the bottle.

Steve Cass said the Rhone-style Cass Winery Oasis Rosé is a variable blend of Mourvèdre, Grenache and Syrah, depending on the grape crop at harvest. It’s bottled in a tall, flint Bordeaux-style bottle that represents the color of the wine as it will appear when served.

Elke Wolff, marketing specialist at supplier M.A. Silva confirmed that light colored glass is the preference for most rosé wines. Flint glass ranges from absolute clear to tinted with blue or light green tones, she said, with clear flint being the most popular.

She noted that the lighter the glass, the less UV protection it offers, and clear glass does not filter any UV rays. Flint is actually more expensive than green glass, because it is heavier and bottles cost more to produce.

Considering that UV rays can contribute to wine oxidation, and UV protection is available in everything from skin products to eyeglasses, it does seem odd that, according to our industry sources, wine bottles are not yet available with any type of anti-UV coatings or treatments.

Protecting the product

Wine closures are another consideration for winemakers. But unlike bottle color, our winery sources are not unanimous in their closure choices.

Lawer Estates chooses screwcaps to ensure their rosé’s fresh, bright flavor remains that way. Winery spokesperson Meghan Snyder said it ensures flavors are captured inside the bottle for the longest time possible, with no risk of TCA contamination. She also mentioned that waitstaff in high-volume restaurants prefer the ease of the closure, as do many consumers. Screwcaps are less expensive than corks, and consumers can also easily enjoy their rosé outside without the need for corkscrews.

Carol Shelton also uses lined Stelvin screwcaps to stop the clock on aging, noting that rosés don’t need any micro-ox aging, so, “Screwcap it is.”
Stelvin Lux-plus, with its sleek, invisible thread finish, and tin liner is Cass Winery’s choice for youthfulenjoyment. Pedroncelli also opts for Stelvin screwcaps, because its rosé is not meant to be aged.

Toad Hollow also falls on the screwcap side, underscoring the approachability of all its “easy-drinking” wines.

On the other hand, Finnella has stayed with a micro-agglomerated cork from Lafitte, the same as the winery uses in its red blend. But for the rosé, they opt not to use capsules, citing the belief that they would deduct from the aesthetics of the presentation, and capsules didn’t work with the bottle style. Unprinted natural cork from M.A. Silva are iron-branded by hand on top.

Despite restaurant requests for screwcaps, Pech Merle winery in Sonoma County stayed with its DIAM corks, opting for an updated design displayed through the flint glass. The winery, which once used a capsule, believes that the no-capsule presentation is a distinguishing factor for the price point.

Education on the bottle

Since so many drinkers have grown accustomed to sweeter White Zinfandel wines, how do creators of dry rosés let buyers know what’s inside their bottles? Surprisingly, few of our respondents go to extremes in labeling.

Finnella individually names each of its wines: The rosé is branded “Bonebrick,” to convey a certain level of dryness and help guide the consumer. With no special emphasis on the drier wine, the winery relies on trusting consumer knowledge of what they are buying. Most of the $20-per-bottle rosé is sold direct to consumer (DtC) through the website and word of mouth: People who’ve tried it at events and in restaurants are now seeking it out.

Cass sells most of its rosé through the tasting room, where many are pleasantly surprised to find it a dry wine. The winery produces 400-500 cases of rosé annually out of its total 9,000 cases; the rosé sells for $24 per bottle.

Pech Merle uses paper labels from Labeltronix, with a gray background and colored “stamps” to designated varietals. Its rosé is the namesake of founder/creative director Ivy Rose Hutton and emphasizes the limited quantity of the bottling.

When the rosé was launched in 2011, only 150 cases were produced, but that’s been scaled up to meet demand for a full-bodied, food-friendly wine that can be enjoyed in every season.

Toad Hollow puts the term “dry” on both front and back labels and suggests suitable food pairings on the back label. With a widespread distribution network in every state, less than 2% is sold DtC. Retail price is $14.99 per bottle.

Lawer’s rosé bears a paper label that does not make any comparisons to differentiate it from White Zin or blush wines. Instead, the label highlights the Syrah variety and the estate vineyards designation. Typically, Lawer makes 230-280 cases of rosé, about 12% of the winery’s total 2,000-case production.

To show off the glowing color, Carol Shelton’s Wild Thing rosé employs screenprinting by Bergin Glass. The winery bottles some 900-1,000 cases of it every year, about 5% to 6% of total production. Always predominantly Carignane (80%-90%), the percentage of bleed wines from other varieties is more variable, although they include Zinfandel, Petit Sirah and Cabernet, as available.

Retailing at $15 per bottle, the rosé is sold through distribution in some 20 states as well as at least one bottle per member in the May wine club shipment.

Pedroncelli sells 27% of its rosé DtC, and the remainder is sold through national distribution at $15 per bottle. Although the category waned 10 years ago or more, the wine recently has been selling out earlier than expected due to wider market acceptance, with a spring push after February.

It seems apparent that consumers of dry rosé wine are now more sophisticated and will search to find it regardless of the season.

Taste a lot of rosé

The public is invited to taste award-winning entries from the 2017 Rosé Today competition on June 17 at a country garden party at Jackson Keys Winery & Distillery in Hopland, Calif.

The party will feature paired food tastings, wine and food talks, plus “parasols and pétanque, badminton and big hats” and dancing. For details, visit


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