This week I have been more or less focussed on rosé since tomorrow is National Rosé Day. Well, that is not entirely true. I am writing about rosé this week for three additional reasons: First, summer is essentially here for most of the Northern Hemisphere and most people think that rosé is a warm weather wine (although as I have said countless times, it really should be consumed year-round). Second, I am up to my eyeballs in rosé wine samples, so it was time to thin the herd a bit. And third, I am sitting on a ton of notes that I took last fall when I visited Provence for a week.
Thus, today, I turn to Provence, perhaps the region that most people envision when they think of rosé wine production.
The trip started on the Côte d’Azur (the French Riviera) in the sleepy beach town of St. Raphaël. After a wonderful dinner on the Mediterranean the day we arrived, we started the next morning at the Provence Wine Council (Le Conseil Interprofessionnel des Vins de Provence or CIVP) in the tiny town of Les Arcs sur Argens, a short 30 minute drive from our hotel in St. Raphaël.
There, we got a good overview of world-wide rosé production in general and wine in Provence in particular. My main take-away? The Provençeaux (the people of Provence) take their rosé seriously. Very seriously. The CIVP, which was created in 2004, conducts technical, economic, and market research to promote the Provence brand for its nearly 600 members located across the three main appellations in the region (Côtes de Provence, Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence, and the Coteaux Varois en Provence for those of you scoring at home—or even if you’re alone).
There is also the Rosé Research and Experimentation Center, which analyzes over 1000 rosés from all over the world every year and performs scientific experiments that it disseminates to winemakers across the region.
We were presented with many of the statistics that the center produced, which I found fascinating, but then I am a bit of a stats geek. While I was eating up all the data with a spoon, most of the others in attendance seemed to be fighting off narcolepsy. I realize that there are not many that share my affinity for figures, so here are just a few highlights:
- All Provençal wines must be a blend of at least two varieties. At least 50% of the blend has to be from the region’s primary grape varieties (Cinsault, Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Tibouron) all other individual varieties can be no more than 20% of the blend. The exception: one can make a white from 100% Rolle.
- 88.5% of all the wine produced in Provence is rosé, 8% is red, and 3.5% is white.
- France produces 30% of all the rosé in the world and consumes 36% of the world rosé production. Rosé consumption exceeds that of white wine in France.
- Globally, rosé represents 10% of still wine production, but it has been steadily growing since 2002 (up 20%).
- From 2014 to 2015, U.S. imports of Provençal rosé increased 58% from 5 million liters to just under 8 million. In 2009, the total was 1 million liters (an 800% increase in six years).
- The Mistral (the legendary wind of Provence that often has sustained winds of over 40 mph and can reach 2-3 times that) usually comes after strong rain and lasts almost always in multiples of three days: 1,3,6,9 days, and has a profound effect on the wines.
- Rosé color around the world is based essentially on location and is more reliant on climate than on soil. Generally speaking, the closer to the equator, the darker the color. But Provençal wines are quite pale, due in part to the specific varieties and part due to wine making techniques.
I could go on and on, but I won’t—I can see your eyes rolling back in your head.
After a a quick tasting of four rosés, we loaded up the van and headed to Château Thuerry, another 20 kilometers away in Villecroze.
The owner of Château Thuerry, Jean-Louis Croquet, met us at the gate and toured us around the property. To say that M. Croquet is a bit of a character, is akin to saying that Donald Trump is a bit polarizing. Most of what he said during the tour, I can’t publish in good conscience, but there were several tidbits worthy of sharing here:
- What is a bit unusual for Provence, half of Château Thuerry’s production is red wine, with 40% rosé, and 10% white.
- Also rare in the region, all of Château Thuerry’s rosés are produced using the saignée method, where a bit of juice is bled off fairly soon during red wine production. The remaining juice is thus further concentrated since there is a higher skin/juice ratio (most of the flavor and all the color of red wine comes from contact with the skins during fermentation). The bled off juice (saignée means “bled” in French) is then made into a rosé wine.
- According to Jean-Louis, the screw top closure does not work in France so they use synthetic stoppers for wines to drink young. French think the screw-top should be reserved for Coca-Cola.
- Jean-Louis plans to gradually increase rosé production to meet the increased demand, and might even increase white production–20 years ago couldn’t sell white in Provence but that is changing, too.
- Jean-Louis’ son Thomas is married to Sophia Coppola. Yeah, that Sophia Coppola. But he is likely better known as the lead singer with Phoenix, where he goes by the name Thomas Mars.
All of Château Thuerry’s wines were impressive, with the reds probably some of the best in the region. I was less enamored with the rosés, but once he told me they were all saignées, I found it hard to give them a fair shake (I am not a big fan of most saignées).
Stay tuned next week for more on the trip….