Sacha Lichine of Château d’Esclans / Photo Courtesy of Château d’Esclans
Rosy Outlook for Sacha Lichine’s Château d’Esclans and Whispering Angel
It’s difficult enough to build a brand in one country, let alone globally. But channeling his late father Alexis Lichine’s legendary sales moxie and expert wine skills, Sacha Lichine has defied skeptics. In a mere seven years, Lichine has gained distribution of Château d’Esclans’s quartet of quality rosés from France’s Côtes de Provence appellation in more than 60 countries thanks to numerous 90+ scores. With his popular Whispering Angel leading d’Esclans’s charge, Lichine reports that worldwide sales will easily exceed 100,000 cases in 2013.
Located inland less than ten miles from the beaches of St. Tropez on the Côte d’Azur (named after the sparkling blue waters of the French Riviera), Lichine’s Château d’Esclans has jumped to the forefront of the Côtes de Provence appellation thanks to bold innovation. From the start, Lichine says he sought to create “a Burgundian-style Provençal rosé.” A category still viewed by many as the ultimate summer or beach tipple, d’Esclans is now tinged (pun intended) with a new gravitas thanks to Lichine’s paradigm-breaking vision. With the help of Lichine’s consulting enologist, the respected Patrick Léon, former winemaker at Château Mouton-Rothschild, the duo have created a trio of oak barrel-fermented rosés – Château d’Esclans, Les Clans and Garrus – each a blend of estate-grown grenache and rolle (the latter a white grape, known as vermentino in Italy).
But some in the wine world say a rosé is a rosé is a rosé, and remain un-persuaded by Lichine’s bid to make a serious wine.
Undeterred and in an audacious strategy to gain maximum finesse, flavor and complexity, d’Esclans’s three top wines see barrel-fermentation, itself a bit unusual, but by no means original as other rosé producers have utilized this practice for a portion of their rosés. (For example, see Oregon’s 2011 Luminous Hills Aura Yamhill-Carlton Pinot Noir Rosé.) Here is what is unique for d’Esclans’s trio of higher-level bottlings, says Léon: Each and every barrel is individually temperature controlled (see photo). Léon asserts this approach is practiced nowhere else in the wine world. And it is this barrel-by-barrel control of individual lots that permits Léon, via 24/7 computer-controlled monitoring of each barrel, to attain the elegance a wine such as Garrus achieves; it is now the world’s most expensive rosé, says Lichine, and retails for a suggested $100 a bottle. (Note: Whispering Angel, says Léon, is 100% vinified in temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks; it retails for about $20 a bottle.)
Of the 2013 harvest, Lichine predicts, “This will be a more elegant vintage than 2012, something quite refined.” While the property’s top seller, Whispering Angel, accounts for the lion’s share of its sales in the U.S. and abroad, it has been Lichine’s ambitious focus on innovation for Château d’Esclans, Les Clans and Garrus that continues to arouse generous measures of praise and controversy.
For Sacha Lichine’s top three vintage-dated wines — Château d’Esclans, Les Clans and Garrus — each and every barrel benefits from 24/7/365 temperature-controlled fermentation and aging, a first in the world of wine, according to Patrick Léon, consulting enologist to Château d’Esclans. Photo courtesy of Château d’Esclans
Château d’Esclans is marketed by Shaw-Ross International Importers.
A version of this article appeared in the December 2013 issue of The Tasting Panel Magazine, on page 44; the author would like to thank Meredith May, Publisher and Executive Editor, for permission.