Provence in the south of France is where it’s at when it comes to the best rosés. Easy drinking, light and fresh, but still complex, are some traits that have elevated their status in recent years. That and a lot of marketing and media hype—just ask Magrino which worked with Château d’Esclans back in 2015 to put Whispering Angel in the spotlight.
Celebrity associations have also helped. Brad Pitt’s Château Miraval is widely available, and Kylie Minogue is also getting in on the act by putting out a product under her own name. It was inevitable that the multinationals would come knocking and two in particular—Moët Hennessy, the wine and spirits division of luxury conglomerate LVMH, and rival Pernod Ricard—are embarking on strategies to further lift the Provence rosé niche.
In early 2022, Pernod Ricard took a majority stake in Château Sainte Marguerite en Provence, one of 18 prestigious ‘cru classé wines from the region. The Fayard family has owned the house since 1977 and under the deal, one of the brothers, Olivier Fayard, would continue to lead it with the current team left in place.
However, an integration with inevitable—Château Sainte Marguerite is now bundled into Pernod Ricard’s luxury division which includes Mumm and Perrier-Jouët champagnes, and Martell Cognac—and it has also taken control of the brand’s international expansion.
A year later, in February 2023, Moët Hennessy took a majority stake in Château Minuty located close to the billionaire playground of St. Tropez. Just as with Château Sainte Marguerite, the agreement allowed the Matton family, which runs the house, to keep day-to-day control.
Of the two houses, Minuty already had an international footprint as Moët Hennessy had distributed the wine in the Asia-Pacific region. The LVMH division also has the benefit of having taken a 55% stake in another Provence rose, Château d’Esclans (home to Whispering Angel), so it knows the ropes to some degree.
Pernod Ricard on the other hand is finding its feet. The decision to put Sainte Marguerite into its luxury division is an indicator of where the drinks giant wants to take it. “Côtes de Provence wines are always seen together with Champagne, whether it’s in a premium liquor store or high-end bar,” says César Giron who heads up that division.
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Being seen together gets the luxury message across and this will be a feature of Sainte Marguerite’s retail expansion in target markets such as the United States, Britain, and Europe. The distribution in the United States will mainly be on the West Coast, New York, and Florida in both the on- and off-trade, but high-end locations only.
According to Pernod Ricard several top hotel bars now carry the brand including the Faena Hotel in Miami Beach, Virgin Hotels and Public Hotels in New York, Chateau Marmont and 1 Hotel in Los Angeles/West Hollywood, and The Langham in Chicago.
Pernod Ricard did not divulge the percentage of Sainte Marguerite’s production that is exported outside France in 2022, nor the percentage it was aiming for in the coming years. But it will be more than it is today as Pernod Ricard scales the brand globally as part of the group’s champagne portfolio.
This was, after all, one of the main reasons the Fayards partnered with a €10 billion+ turnover wine and spirits player. However it was not a volume play but a push for quality recognition, in the United States in particular. Optimizing the price per bottle might also be part of that strategy.
The story is very similar for Minuty, even though it has far wider global distribution. Speaking with François Matton, who along with brother Jean-Etienne, runs the company, he admits that as a family “we reached our limit in terms of expansion.” To make a difference in export markets like the United States needed the heavyweight clout of Moët Hennessy which has existing relationships, sales teams, and brand ambassadors in the market.
“In the U.S. we are more expensive that Whispering Angel,” says Matton but he was keen to point out that being the most pricey was not his aim. “That’s not part of our DNA. Instead we want the best quality/price ratio in the market.” Like Sainte Marguerite, Minuty is making its first moves in the on-premise. “We are not looking for volumes as we are still building the brand as we did in Europe. For that we need the right places, the right on-premise.”
All of this sound familiar. High-end bars, hotels and restaurants are where the brand is in Europe “and that’s where I want to be in the US,” including the right wine shops. Minuty, as with Sainte Marguerite, does not have big volumes to play with and it’s therefore more important to build the brand’s reputation.
How this is done will differ. While Pernod Ricard will probably manage the marketing and PR of Sainte Marguerite more centrally, Moët Hennessy is likely to be more hands-off with Minuty, giving the house a large degree of freedom, but bringing more resources in at the category level.
“Minuty is well known in the U.S, but not well enough. We are in most states but not at significant levels so now its a case of leveraging that,” said Matton. “I feel the team of Moët Hennessy and Minuty will be very competitive. My father used to say to me, ‘you should be in the trendy places but you should not be the trendy wine’ and that’s a good philosophy if you want to stay for the long term.”
As for the rest of the independent rosé producers in Provence, their days could be numbered. When competitors join big groups others tend to follow. More than that, existing multinational investors will probably look to buy up more land and vines to increase volumes if attempts to develop in large international export markets like the U.S. prove fruitful.