Walk into any wine shop this summer, and you’ll quickly notice stacks of rosé wines. The diverse colors range from pale pink to deep salmon hues, and most of the wines have essentially dry finishes without noticeable residual sweetness.
Since wine drinkers cannot buy enough dry rosé, wine producers must be creative in trying to capture attention in a crowded field of choices.
None is more relentless than Charles Bieler. He recently rolled into Pittsburgh in a vintage pink Cadillac as part of a 60-day, nationwide tour presenting his dry rosé from Bieler Père & Fils in Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence, France. Passersby admired Bieler’s ride and chatted with him as he sat at a sidewalk table outside of The Warren Bar and Burrow, Downtown. He explained how his current journey has roots in trips from 20 years ago.
Bieler, who is Swiss and American, started in the wine industry in the late 1990s when his father, Philippe, bought the Chateau Routas estate in Coteaux Varois en Provence, France. Despite Provence’s reputation for producing world-class, delectable dry rosés, Philippe struggled to sell wines, especially in America where decidedly sweet “white zinfandel” pink wines reigned.
In the pink
To open minds and have people at least try his dry rosé, Charles channeled P.T. Barnum’s promotional playbook. Bieler made road trips in a vintage pink Cadillac while wearing eye-catching pink tuxedos. “The pink Caddie has a mythic place in American culture, and it always made everybody smile when they saw it,” Bieler recalled. “And when people were happy, they let their guard down for a moment to consider the idea of drinking a dry pink rosé. They at least tried it, even if they didn’t eventually like it or buy it.”
Bieler targeted wholesalers, distributors and restaurants, mostly on a “cold-call” basis. The road trip extended over three years with stops in Seattle along with cities all the way down the West Coast and in the Southwest and the deep South. Then he shot up the East Coast to the Mid-Atlantic and New England. Bieler circled back through upstate New York and the Midwest including a brief stop in Pittsburgh where it snowed. Afterward it was on to Cleveland, Detroit and Chicago with the trip finally ending in Colorado.
The hard work paid off. By 2005, Chateau Routas became the best-selling dry rosé brand in America. Philippe Bieler sold the domaine before joining Charles in creating Bieler Père et Fils, a new commercial wine company specializing in dry rosé from the nearby area of Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence. Instead of again growing grapes themselves, they began buying high quality fruit.
“We purchase fruit from vineyards at high elevations with the goal of achieving lower potential alcohol and higher acidity,” Bieler points out. “Our vineyards are at 1,200 feet above sea level, and we generally pick the grapes two weeks later than in Côtes de Provence.”
“In Provence the red fruit wants to dominate,” Bieler says. “But for me the definition of dry rosé is to have a tug of war between a little bit of delicious red fruit — cherry, watermelon, raspberry — and a lot of savory elements of salty, grassy, herbal, mineral and floral.”
Selling the dry
Bieler says the period in 2014 and 2015 created a pivot point for dry rosé sales.
“The LA set — actors and entertainers — starting drinking and investing in it, and retailers started stacking it out,” Charles says. “For three years in a row now, dry rosés have been the fastest growing category of wine sales.”
Today’s market creates a golden age for dry rosés, according to Bieler. To capitalize, many producers are converting warmer climate vineyards previously used for making red wines into rosé production. So more and more wines flood the market. The resulting wines, Bieler notes, can be dull with red fruit dominating the fresh, savory elements.
To highlight a more balanced wine style amid the growing hype over dry rosés, Bieler reprised his pink Cadillac journeys from 1999. He set out on April 15, for a grueling 3,000-mile, 60-day trip beginning again in Seattle. The journey included stops in most of the destinations from earlier trips, but this time Bieler received enthusiastic greetings and appointments.
“Twenty years ago I was just introducing people to dry rosés, but now I want to talk truth about Provence dry rosé and show the type of wine that really originated the trend,” he says.
In Pittsburgh on May 31, Bieler visited the Andy Warhol Museum for a photograph in front of the “pink cows” wall mural.
Then on the evening of June 6 in Detroit, catastrophe struck. The pink Cadillac exploded into flames and was a complete loss. Despite the disappointment, Bieler rates the journey as a success.
Try the delicious 2018 Bieler Père et Fils, “Sabine” Rosé, Aix-En-Provence , France (Luxury 77788; $12.99), a blend of grenache, syrah, cinsault, cabernet sauvignon and rolle. The pink “onion skin” color offers raspberry, peach and light herbal notes opening to pure, ripe flavors balanced with crisp, fresh acidity and mineral notes. The wine finishes fruity, but dry. Pair it with classic Mediterranean salade niçoise. Highly Recommended.
Also try the 2017 Charles & Charles, Rosé, Columbia Valley, Washington State (6640; $12.99), a dry rosé collaboration between Bieler and Charles Smith. Syrah dominates this blend for a deeper salmon color. But it delivers ripe, red fruit delicately balanced with overt savory freshness. Pair it with cheese and charcuterie. Highly Recommended.