Are California roses any good?


A few posts ago, I stated that I wanted to engage in a mini-research project that would examine the quality of California rosés in the marketplace.  Since I started toying with the idea of someday starting my own wine brand, one of the things that naturally came to mind was – “If I had my own brand, what would I want to make?”

This research project is something that will help kick-start the creative process for me.   Because this business idea is just that, a business idea, I have no clue what I want to make yet.  One thing I can tell you with certainty though, is that whatever type of wines I decide to make, that decision will have been based on a lot of product research and will be a combination of what I enjoy drinking along with what makes good business sense.

Rosés are a category of wine I would consider making.  I used to drink rosés on a purely seasonal basis, but found that I enjoy them as a drink of choice any time of year, rather than only in the spring or summer.  Most of what I reach for on the shelves tends to be from Provence, simply because I think Provence makes some of the worlds most enjoyable rosés.  Seeing how the quality of California rosés stand on their own and how it stacks up against benchmark Provencal rosés becomes my first official business start-up project.  Here is what I found:

  • Most retail shelves are dominated by import rosés or have an import ratio that is skewed towards having more import rosés than domestic.  I’m not sure why, but I have to believe that at least part of it can be attributed to dry rosé production being far more commonplace in other countries than the U.S., thus offering more supply opportunities.
  • Whatever domestic rosés I did see on the shelf, tended to come from small artisan producers.  This may also be due to the local market I live in.  There are many small, neighborhood wine shops in my city that specialize in wines from local producers.  Even the local grocery stores are stocked with wines from the independent, artisan winemaker more often than wines from the “big brands.”
  • The overall quality of what I tasted was very good.  As my individual tasting notes will attest, all the wines I tasted were pretty damn good.  I was really impressed with the overall quality.  All of the wines had character, were well made and most of all, were very tasty and extremely enjoyable to drink.
  • The type of grapes used in each individual bottle varied greatly.  One was made with malbec, another with Portuguese varieties, pinot noir and syrah were used in one and finally, the typical Rhone varieties of grenache, and mourvedre and cinsault were used in another.  One thing they had in common was that they all contributed to making good wines.
  • Quality to price point sweet spot looks to be right at the $15 range.  I rarely saw any roses over $20 from a California producer except for the Arnot-Roberts.  I think few wineries want to invest in grapes with the sole intention of using those grapes to make a rose as a final product.  Doing so would mean having to charge $20+ bottle, which I believe is a tough market for rose regardless of region.

Based on my experiences above, the domestic California rosé category looks promising for an aspiring winemaker like me.  For one, it shows that California producers can make rosés that rival and stand on the same ground as those from Provence.  Second, the retailers from where I bought these wines obviously support the smaller handcrafted wine making operation.  This bodes well for me.  I’ve always known that the consumers in the Bay Area, especially San Francisco, have an affinity for exploring and supporting wines made by small operations, so it’s no surprise that retailers make an active effort to stock wines from the small guy.  Lastly, this small exercise in some sense has helped me define my target market.  The kind of wine I would want to make would probably target the demographic (whatever that may be) of people who would shop at the neighborhood wine shop and upscale grocery stores.  I understand that it was a little bit of an exercise in self-fulfilling prophecies going to these places knowing I would probably find what I did find.  What am I supposed to do?   I know what I want and hopefully I can eventually create something that will have the same desired effect on consumers as these roses had on me.

Wines tasted in this project:

2012 Arnot Roberts Rosé

2012 Vaughn Duffy Rosé

2012 Atrea Rosé

2012 Birichino Rosé

Some other California producers making excellent rosés I’ve had in the past:

Luques (Wind Gap)

CEP (Peay Vineyards)

Farmer’s Jane


Porter Creek