Whispering Angel
By Rachel King
May 19, 2019

Rosé has long been a summer staple—at least for wine lovers, winemakers, vintners, and oenophiles of all skill levels. But it’s arguable that Whispering Angel put rosé and its source regions on the map for millions of consumers worldwide—especially in the United States—over the last several years.

The year 2017 marked the first time that rosé replaced French red and white wines as the top category seller in the U.S., and approximately one in five bottles of rosé sold stateside now comes from Chateau d’Esclans, the French wine house behind Whispering Angel. The Château d’Esclans portfolio grew by 34% in the U.S. last year to ship 414,000 cases.

Pink and blush wines, in particular, now dominate the rosé market, reaching 16.4 million cases on a 4% rise last year, according to Nielsen, with value up 13% to $1 billion. Rosés from Provence—the preeminent region in France for producing rosé wine—topped 2 million cases in the U.S. on 14% growth last year, according to French government agency Business-France. Overall, the volume of rosé imported to the United States is projected to reach 3 million cases by 2020—a fivefold expansion from 2010. Less than a decade ago, rosés from Provence stood at just 123,000 cases in the U.S. market.

Suffice to say, It’s never been a better time to be in the rosé business, and the uber-popular brand—which often sees a restaurant markup of $17 to $18 minimum per glass (or upwards of $100 per bottle) of Whispering Angel rosé—is ready to launch its next wine just in time for its hottest time of year (pun intended). Château d’Esclans is releasing a new luxury wine to the high-end hospitality market this summer, eyeing luxury hotels and restaurants in some of the world’s most popular—and most expensive—travel destinations.

Named for its house, the Chateau d’Esclans 2018 will sit in the middle of the brand’s portfolio in terms of pricing and sophistication. Many consumers might not realize that Whispering Angel is really the entry-level wine of the existing quartet, which still comes with a suggested retail price of only $19.99. (Distributors, however, are free to mark that up as they see fit.) That’s followed by Rock Angel ($35), truly a food-driven wine that is begging to be paired with popcorn or oysters, and then Les Clans ($65), which is reminiscent of a white Burgundy. The portfolio is capped off by the $100 Garrus, made from a small production rosé from 80-year-old Grenache and Rolle vines and then aged gracefully for five to 10 years.

Château d’Esclans owner and founder Sacha Lichine is often credited with initiating the movement toward producing a drier style of rosé from Provence. When Lichine acquired Château d’Esclans in 2006 (the estate itself is centuries older), many of his colleagues thought he was crazy for getting into the rosé business let alone how he was going to go about it. But it was his method—incorporating refrigeration throughout the fermentation process—for the wine we now know as Whispering Angel, fermented in all stainless steel barrels, that set his rosé apart and launched his brand to global stardom.

“What it’s supposed to do is give you the same style throughout. The difference is the intensity of each product, with an extension of complexity,” explains Lichine during an interview while in New York last week.

This approach results in a paler, drier rosé—on purpose to distinguish it from darker rosés, which are often (and sometimes falsely) associated with sweetness. Lichine describes this process as “a game changer” for the rosé industry, with which many other Provençal are still trying to catch up.

“As far as I’m concerned, competition is healthy. We’re interested in growing the category,” Lichine says. “Growers are pleased because it has sort of elevated the price, but they all know we only buy the best quality, so if they want to get that price, they have to make the effort.”

Lichine credits female consumers with propelling the brand to success, notably English women who would often visit the Cote d’Azur for weekend jaunts, bring bottles back home, and recommendations spread via word of mouth. Similarly, he observed Americans from the East Coast (especially those with summer homes in Nantucket and the Hamptons) and Los Angeles would follow suit.

On Instagram, rosé has since become practically a lifestyle of its own—just look up the hashtag #roséallday—inspiring everything from clothing to pop-up museums to gummy bears.

“People were looking for something festive as well. It’s the only wine, besides a few white wines, that comes in a clear glass bottle,” Lichine says, reiterating that the wines’ very pale hues are key to their popularity. “The consumer was looking for something new to associate themselves to.”

Sacha Lichine at the Celebration of Rosé and Roses on May 3, 2019 at Saint Joseph's Art Society in San Francisco, Calif.
Drew Altizer Photography

However, with great popularity often comes great backlash. Whispering Angel is often synonymous (for better or worse) with being an expensive wine by the glass at rooftop bars and nightclubs.

Thus, the new Chateau d’Esclans wine, which will be bottled within the next two weeks, is meant perhaps more for sommeliers and wine directors more than anyone else. As Lichine describes, somms might not want to add Whispering Angel to their wine lists, and Lichine understands why. Thus, this is a way for the company to get a new wine with a certain level of sophistication on those lists without all the baggage of Chateau d’Esclans’s most famous bottle.

The initial run will be dispatched in a much smaller batch than its predecessors with a select allocation of 3,000 cases distributed to target markets.

As the wine will be exclusively focused in the on-premise sector, there is no suggested retail price from the house, but a representative for Chateau d’Esclans says wine directors should place it as they determine in the vein of an estimated $100 per 750-milliliter bottle.

An exact release date has not been set yet, but the new wine will be available starting at luxury and boutique hotels and restaurants in Dubai, Japan, Switzerland, Greece, Ibiza, Thailand, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Australia, with more locations planned soon.

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