Moët Hennessy, the wine and spirits division of French luxury titan LVMH, has made a big bet on pink, purchasing a 55 percent controlling stake in luxury Provence rosé winery Château d'Esclans for an undisclosed sum. Château d'Esclans is known for its Whispering Angel brand, which has been a driving force behind the premiumization of the rosé category in the U.S.
Moët Hennessy is acquiring 50 percent of d'Esclans from Singapore-based investment group Alix AM PTE Ltd, and 5 percent from d'Esclans president and founder Sacha Lichine, who will retain the rest of his shares and continue to oversee the business.
Lichine told Shanken News Daily (SND), a sister publication of Wine Spectator, that he was looking for a partner to help him expand globally. He says that sales of Whispering Angel and offshoot The Palm by Whispering Angel will surpass half a million cases in the U.S. this year, with the rest of the world accounting for about 300,000 cases. "We were looking for a strategic alliance to help us premiumize our higher-end marks outside the United States, specifically in Asia, South America, the Caribbean and parts of Europe," he said.
The son of the late wine importer and Bordeaux château owner Alexis Lichine, Sasha sold his family's Château Prieure Lichine in 1999 and began focusing on rosé in the south of France. He bought Château d'Esclans in Côtes de Provence and invested heavily in viticulture and modern winemaking, even partially fermenting some lots in oak barrels. D'Esclans introduced three rosés in 2006 and priced its flagship rosé, Garrus, at more than $100 a bottle. It was blasphemy, but quickly became the must-have drink in St.-Tropez.
While Garrus grabbed headlines, Lichine's entry-level rosé, Whispering Angel, became a best-seller at just over $20 a bottle. Lichine's sales team worked overtime to convince Americans that rosé could be a year-round wine. Among d'Esclans' top-end wines are Les Clans (retailing at around $70) and Garrus ($100), which have been making inroads in developing the prestige rosé segment.
"We sell out the top-end range as we do with Whispering Angel," Lichine told SND, adding that d'Esclans' recent deal to purchase a neighboring estate "will add [148 acres] of vines to our current holdings of nearly [183 acres]."
Stay on top of important wine stories with Wine Spectator's free Breaking News Alerts.
Based in the Var area of Provence, d'Esclans' original château dates to the 12th century, with the current château built in the mid-19th century. The vineyards are planted primarily to Grenache and Vermentino (Rolle).
Philippe Schaus, CEO of Moët Hennessy, credited Lichine with "revolutionizing the world of Provence rosé" and said the group "will bring the full support of our worldwide teams" to assist in further developing the business. Château d'Esclans will join Moët & Chandon, Veuve Clicquot, Dom Pérignon, Ruinart, Krug, Mercier, Chandon, Newton, Terrazas de los Andes, Cloudy Bay, Cape Mentelle, Numanthia, Ao Yun and fellow Provence producer Château du Galoupet in the Moët Hennessy wine portfolio.
According to Impact Databank, Provence rosé sales in the U.S. have risen from only 27,000 cases in 2005 to 2.1 million cases last year. For more on what this deal means for rosé and for LVMH's growing strength in luxury wine, visit Shanken News Daily.