Rosés are not new in the wine world. Winemakers in countries like France and Italy have been making pink wine for centuries, and the style has garnered great reception in countless New World wine regions as well.
Over the past decade, consumer infatuation with rosé has been on a meteoric rise, resulting in a pink wave of wines hitting the market from both classic and new wine-producing regions.
With a portfolio of rosés that spans hemispheres and decades of winemaking experience under his belt, Roman Roth, partner and winemaker of Wölffer Estate, sat down with Wine Enthusiast to discuss his expanding pink-wine domain and give his insight on the latest rosé trends.
Wölffer started producing pink wine long before it was trendy and 2022 marks your 30th year of rosé winemaking. What about the rosé style drew you to start producing it three decades ago?
On the day I arrived in August 1992, the founder Christian Wölffer hosted one of his famous parties. There was French rosé flowing and enjoyed by an attractive crowd. After that impression, followed by observing in the next couple of weeks our vineyards and our climate in the Hamptons, which is blessed by the moderating sea breeze from the Atlantic, I thought we should make a dry—a serious—rosé.
The thought of making a dry rosé and taking this category seriously came naturally, as I was lucky to have had the experience making for many years a delicious rosé [style] in Germany called Badisch Rotgold, a 50-50 blend of Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir grapes that needs to be co-fermented. Additionally, my brother in-law married a Monégasque and lived in Monaco on the Côte d’Azur, and we spent many vacations there enjoying great rosé and seafood.
Also very important was that Christian Wölffer immediately embraced this dry rosé idea with full force and put his weight behind it. It was a perfect wine for his and his friends’ lifestyle and for the lifestyle of the Hamptons in total.
Why do you think the rosé style has grown so much in popularity with consumers?
Thirty years ago, the pink wines in the U.S. were sweet, cheap and many times oxidized. They were an afterthought or a bad byproduct, and any serious wine drinker would not touch a rosé.
However, there was a small community of wine drinkers that understood dry and well-made French rosé and Wölffer Estate did its fair share to help make this a serious category and make it a staple now in the U.S.
“A good dry rosé should be elegant, easy drinking and light in alcohol. Together with soft tannins, it’s a fun wine to drink and a wine that easily pairs with food.” —Roman Roth
The category as a whole is attractive to young wine drinkers who don’t have to be intimidated by the seriousness that can surround white and red wines.
Last but not least, I think it was easier for New Yorkers or East Coast wine drinkers to endorse and embrace a local rosé while still keeping face by drinking French or Italian whites and reds. So our dry rosé broke the prejudice and the glass ceiling and became cool. And, with the addition of our Summer in a Bottle Rosé in 2015, even became a cult wine.
You make rosés from Long Island, Argentina and now, with the new release of Summer in a Bottle Côtes de Provence, a pink wine from France has joined your portfolio. What are the differences in style of rosé across the areas?
I have always made rosé by using up to nine different grape varieties of red and white grapes. We believe rosé should be elegant, balanced, dry and playful, but in order to make it a quality wine and to add texture, character and layers, it is important to use different grape varieties that all add something to the wine.
We have stuck to this style and as a result made very consistently a high quality dry rosé. We also felt confident to bring this style to Argentina, Mendoza, where most rosé was and still is made by bleeding—saignée—which makes it impossible to be a fresh and vibrant rosé.
Our style and goal is to make deliberately a dry, elegant, vibrant, food-friendly rosé and it is amazing and a dream to work in three distinct wine regions. However, there are big climatic, soil and altitude differences and the fundamental difference is the use of different grape varieties.
On Long Island, we use predominantly Merlot; in Mendoza, Malbec; and now in France it is Grenache. So, the base in each region is already very different and if you add all the different additional grape varieties—Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer on Long Island; Torrontés, Bonarda, Chenin Blanc and Pinot Gris in Mendoza; and Cinsault, Syrah and Vermentino in Provence—you end up with very distinct and unique rosé wines that have character and finesse, yet all are true to our Wölffer style.
Why did you decide to expand your rosé portfolio to Provence?
In the last couple of years, the Wölffer brand, driven by the popularity of our rosé wines, has garnered a big following in the U.S. The owners Marc Wölffer and Joey Wölffer, who take a very active part in the success of Wölffer Estate, together with our CEO Max Rohn and myself, felt that we could bring and offer something very unique to Provence, the heartland of rosé. Bringing our passion, our integrity, our style and our unique and stunning packaging and combining all that with the Côtes de Provence appellation.
We worked diligently for two years to find the perfect grower so that we could compete with quality. The growing, making and bottling is all done in one area and under one roof. All the grapes are even going through three optical sorting machines to ensure only the pure fruit is being used. We wanted to capture the pure and true flavors and characters and not lose them or dilute them with négociant bulk wine purchases or unnecessary pumping and trucking.
We are absolutely proud and excited about the result of our first Summer in a Bottle Rosé Côtes de Provence.
Now, making wine in the Hamptons, NY; in Argentina and in France, in addition to our wonderful and innovative dry cider program, is giving us four legs to stand on. It makes the entire estate more sustainable and helps Wölffer Estate to continue to push forward and take risks. In a time of climate change, this is a very important strategy to ensure that this family-owned winery can continue to flourish in the future.
This article originally appeared in the May 2022 issue of Wine Enthusiast magazine. Click here to subscribe today!