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Superficially Rosé

Taking pink to its trendy heights in Saint-Tropez
Photo by: Robert Camuto
Grégoire Chaix is an able winemaker in Provence who also sells millions of bottles of a pink wine cocktail called Ice Tropez.

Posted: Jul 25, 2016 4:00pm ET

It is an early summer day in the Saint-Tropez port, which is lined with mega-yachts and suntanned tourists, and Grégoire Chaix fills my glass with a pink liquid he predicts I will not like.

“You are not the target market for this—at all,” the Tropezien winemaker and entrepreneur says at a table of his restaurant, the Bar du Port.

He is pouring—over ice—his 10-year-old invention called Ice Tropez, a sweet and fizzy pink wine cocktail flavored with peach extract that comes in a cylindrical clear glass bottle or a pink can. It tastes like a cross between rosé and Snapple and comes in two versions: one with a low alcohol level of 6.5 percent and a non-alcoholic one made with grape juice.

“The target is young, mostly women, who want something festive and sweet,” he explains. At 45, with a shaved head, tails-out white shirt and jeans, he is the image of a southern French businessman. “Today we need new ways to get young people into wine.”

So, why am I here?

Because pink wine is booming and fashionable, and Chaix represents a wing of the trendy camp here in jet-set Saint-Tropez: “Rosé is about vacation, pleasure, the beach,” he says. But also because when Chaix is not making his wine cocktail, he is a serious-minded Côtes de Provence producer at his Domaine Tropez, in neighboring Gassin.

The son of a surgeon, Chaix studied business and marketing. At 25, he began taking over vineyards that had been worked for decades by his grandfather, who sold his wines to a local cooperative.

Chaix produced red, white and rosé wines, working nearly 30 acres with little help and without herbicides or chemical fertilizers. From the start, he was determined to break from the anonymous wine mold of his grandfather.

“It was a time when Provence rosé was beginning to take off,” he says. “I tried to take an approach based on marketing—something more in tune with my generation.”

As Domaine Tropez’ sales grew, he took over more and more acreage from his grandfather. Then in 2000, when he inherited his family’s traditional bar-tobacconist at the Bar du Port, he broke with the past again and turned the place into a late-night bar/dance club.

Ice Tropez came about, says Chaix, because “I decided to mix my two worlds—the milieu of wine and the milieu of party.” He began with 5,000 bottles sold mostly at the bar.

“I started with the idea of a rosé with peach flavors, like a Bellini,” says Chaix, who employed an enology lab to help perfect the recipe. Ultimately, he abandoned the idea of using real rosé wine in the mix, as there was too much color variation among batches. Instead, he settled on a “neutral” white wine from the Languedoc region that is colored with red fruit extract, flavored with peach, watered down, sweetened and carbonated at a Provence bottling plant.

He now sells about 3 million 9-ounce bottles of Ice Tropez a year, exporting to 40 countries. With its high profit margin, Chaix says, the beverage has helped him invest in his restaurants and winery.

Domaine Tropez produces more than 18,000 cases of estate wines in Chaix’ modern steel-and-glass winery. At its sleek roadside tasting boutique, along with whites and reds, the domaine offers three well-made and refreshingly tasty Grenache-dominated rosés (ranging from 9.50 to 18 euros at the winery shop, or $10.50 to $20). The main rosé is a typical citrusy Provence rosé; then there is White Tropez—a smooth and aromatic, almost-white rosé—and Black Tropez, a slightly more structured, pale salmon–colored wine from a plot of old vines.

Chaix also releases 50,000 cases from his négociant business under the labels Sand Tropez and Crazy Tropez.

None of his wines are easy to find in the United States. But in the south of France, where a 12-pack of Ice Tropez costs 31 euros (or about $35), they are hard to miss.

Meanwhile, Chaix’s Bar du Port is growing up. This season it was transformed into a seafood and Mediterranean restaurant with a wine list featuring Provence classics such as Domaine La Suffrène Bandol red and Château Simone red and white from the Palette appellation, along with rosé Champagnes topped by Dom Pérignon and Cristal.

The bar also pours Provence rosés by the glass, including one of Saint-Tropez’ original ultrapale rosés, Château Barbeyrolles Pétale de Rose.

For an extra charge of 2 euros, the bar serves its rosés (and Champagnes) “en piscine” fashion—literally “in swimming pool”—in an oversized glass full of ice cubes.

Ice and wine? In recent years, that’s been debated in France. But when summer heats up in Saint-Tropez, and the pink stuff starts flowing, no one seems concerned.

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