Rosé wine: back in business

Spring has finally sprung, and the UK is bathing in temperatures 7°C above the April average thanks to a plume of hot air sweeping in from Spain.

Brits have flocked to parks and beaches, gathered round barbecues and shed their clothes, offering their pasty skin to the sun gods.

Cidermakers and Pimm’s salesmen will be rubbing their hands with glee, and it should also provide a much-needed shot in the arm for the UK’s flagging rosé category.

Rosé accounts for 12% of wine sales in the off-trade, but sales are down 5% in volume and 2% in value to £613 million (Nielsen, year to October 2014). The on-trade figures tell a similar tale, with sales down 7% to £321 million.

Rosé is as weather dependent, if not more so, than cider and Pimm’s. Even diehard red wine lovers are prone to succumb to the charms of something chilled and pink on a balmy afternoon, but when the weather is bad, sales tumble.

Rosé faces increased innovation and competition from the likes of fruit cider, where a new release comes out every week, and Pimm’s with its new frozen pouches.

But if the weather stays warm – as predicted – there is room for all these categories to grow and rosé could enjoy a turnaround in fortunes.

Producers from across the world point to pockets of growth retailers can exploit to drive the overall category back into the black.

Charles Sichel, export director at Maison Sichel, says: “All I can say is that demand for our core rosé, Domaine de Pellehaut, Vin de Pays des Côtes de Gascogne, which we sell only through independents, is increasing. In fact, our problem is making sure we can connect from one vintage to another. We can’t make enough of it right now.”

Matt Douglas, managing director of Sogrape UK, adds: “The rosé category as a whole may be in slight decline, but Mateus is showing continued growth.

“We believe this is due to the consumer trend towards known brands and away from no-name labels. Even with this continued growth, we are investing further in the category to ensure consumers have choice, not only in style, but also in characteristics of a brand. This is why we have launched the Mateus Expressions range. Consumers will stay with rosé if it moves with them and, since 1942, this is what Mateus has done.”

Another producer innovating to stay ahead is Villa Maria, which has launched the lower-alcohol Lighter Private Bin rosé to appeal to wine lovers watching their waistlines and their livers.

Brand manager Fiona Mottershaw says: “The rosé market in the UK is fairly well saturated at present and seems to have reached something of a plateau. It is therefore necessary to entice new drinkers into the category and create excitement for existing customers. To do this you need innovation.”

Alison Easton, head of marketing at Gonzalez Byass UK, says: “The rosé market is split into two camps and we need to view the two separately.

“On the one hand there is a hugely popular style of sweeter pink, with a number of big brand players in the market. Then there is a much smaller, but still significant, demand for a more serious, drier style of rosé to go with food.

“Spain has had a lot of great press recently over the fantastic whites it is producing, and that freshness of fruit character also translates into great rosé.”

It is seems to be the mass- produced, sweeter rosés that have struggled, while premium offerings are growing.

David Gleave MW, managing director of Liberty Wines, says: “Within the premium wine sector that is our focus. We have seen a 10% increase by volume in our rosé sales to the off-trade. Independent merchants are increasing, rather than reducing, their shelf space for rosés as consumers embrace the versatility and variety of the style for year-round drinking.

“The classic Provence style remains the best performer in the premium market and we have strengthened our offering with recent additions from Miraval and McLaren Vale Grenache specialist Willunga 100.”

Provence rosé sales are soaring in the UK, up by 60% in volume and 58% in value (CIVP) and a larger harvest last year than in 2013 means the trend is set to continue.

Bruno Descamps, head of marketing at Château Gassier in Provence, says: “We have major retailers who have opened up their Provence sections. My belief is that the market might be shifting from a more volume approach to look for more quality rosé products.”

Fellow French producer Badet Clément has revamped its rosé offering and launched La

Promenade from Provence and Les Jamelles Clair de Rosé from the Languedoc.

President Laurent Delaunay says: “Both rosés are fresh and dry in style, with a delicate rose petal pink colour, which is typically associated with more elegant rosés from Provence. This is a deliberate move away from the more commercial, mass-produced styles of rosé, which tend to be much deeper strawberry red and sweeter on the palate.

“UK consumer tastes for rosé have moved on and they are looking for something more sophisticated that can be matched with food. La Promenade goes particularly well with ethnic foods.

“The rosé category is almost starting to suffer from the same problem Australian Chardonnay did, and what was once the secret of rosé’s success – the easy-drinking, boiled sweets and bubblegum flavours – is now starting to cloy with consumers who are drinking less alcohol in general and looking to trade up and treat themselves.

“With spring upon us it is the ideal time to stock these products which are both new to the market and in line with consumer drinking trends in the UK with their fresh, aromatic flavours, being lower in alcohol and good value for money.”

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