Although it would be nice to have one, there is no singular historic milestone of rosé showing up in the Golden State, principally because, in the early times, many of the original red wines were more the color of today’s rosé. And while plenty of rosé wines were made in California before the advent of White Zinfandel in the mid 1970s, few were documented, and none sincerely worthy of being recognized or called out.
California Rosé Wine Timeline
George West of El Pinal Winery in Lodi, California, made what is documented as the first White Zinfandel.
Debut of Beringer White Zinfandel. Along with Sutter Home, Beringer’s entry fast became a category leader.
White Zinfandel skyrocketed in sales.
Bob Trinchero of Sutter Home Winery created White Zinfandel as a by-product, to concentrate his red Amador County Zinfandel. He gave his first experiment the nickname of Oeil de Perdrix, which translates from French to “Eye of the Partridge.” United States regulators weren't happy with Trinchero’s labeling, and insisted that a description of the wine be printed in English on the label. As a result, the label also stated, in very fine print, “a white Zinfandel wine.”
Tony Soter, then-winemaker at Etude Winery, debuted Etude Rosé, a vin gris of Pinot Noir, one of the earliest successes in this Burgundy-style rosé.
San Francisco restaurant operator Jim Kopp initiated an annual summer spotlight on rosé wines at his now-closed Rumpus Room -- the first on-premise promotion focused exclusively on the rosé category.
Frosé, a frozen rosé-based slushie, became a huge popular success at Bar Primi in New York City’s East Village. General manager Justin Sievers created the viral drink, blending rosé wine with strawberries and vermouth.
According to AC Nielsen, off-premise sales of rosé wines in the United States were valued at about $151 million. As of January 2020, off-premise sales of rosé wines rose to over $576 million — an increase of 281 percent!
Sales of rosé wines, domestic and imported, shot up 53% in the United States year on year from 2016.
Sutter Home White Zinfandel became the number 1 White Zinfandel, with a 29.1 percent dollar share of the $300-million White Zinfandel market and 73.1 percent of the 187 ml category. (Source: AC Nielsen: All Nielsen Data, 52 weeks ending 27-Jan-2018)
The Rosé Mansion opened in New York City as an interactive wine experience, combining wine bars, Instagrammable stage sets, education and science into an epic rosé wine theme park.
California wineries accounted for 241.5-million nine-liter cases distributed in the United States in 2019, with an estimated retail value of $43.6 billion. White Zinfandel/Blush wines accounted for 3.3% of the overall total, with other types of rosé wines representing 3.1%. Rosé was the only category to grow at double-digit levels over the previous year’s sales.
While rosé wines account for just 5% of the overall wine market in the United States, the rosé category currently enjoys the highest growth rate.
An admirable aspect of rosé is that, to a degree, it reflects the classic virtues of freedom and equality. As you will see below, there is no fixed recipe for making rosé. While California’s earliest successful efforts were rooted in White Zinfandel, today’s winemakers have considerable liberty in choosing grapes, blends, and styles. And rosé levels the playing field a bit, too, allowing less well-known regions to compete on a more equal footing with geographically recognized leaders.
In contrast with the past, today’s rosé wines appeal to men (can you say Brosé!?) and women both, which is to say that it’s non-gendered. Rosé is also non-ageist, with marketing campaigns targeted at millennials and boomers alike. Anyone today can enjoy a rosé without worrying about image: Rosé is cool, easy-drinking, non-elitist, and all-round fun!