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What’s a Rosé Anyway?

What’s a Rosé Anyway?

From the start, we knew we wanted to create a limited-edition rosé just in time for summer. Because who doesn’t love a gorgeous blush wine to usher in the season of barbecues, lawn games and vacations?

Part of what we love about being winemakers is the crafting of our wines (not to mention we get to do it in Napa). We are passionate about the intersection of science and creativity that is the art of making great wine. 

For our first rosé, we chose to make a whole cluster pressed rosé of pinot noir. The pinot noir grape is a classic for making premium rosé (which is not to be confused with the sweet, inexpensive rosés of 80’s fame). We set our sights on crafting a wine that is on par with other fine rosés of California and Oregon, and we did a great job, if we do say so ourselves. Our rosé is crisp and cool, with a delicate apricot color and subtle floral aroma.

So how did we do it? Well, let us first tell you that rosé is not made from a pink grape and it’s not a combination of red and white wine. In California, Washington and Oregon, rosé is most often made with pinot noir grapes because they prefer the cooler and more damp growing conditions of those areas. They are finicky and delicate and are considered the most difficult grape to grow. Their skin is very thin and so they are more sensitive to everything terrior – weather (not too hot or too cold) soil, wind, rain. They are susceptible to disease and need to be tended with a careful and delicate hand. But they also have the best characteristics for producing the type of rosé we wanted to make: complex, fruit forward, fantastic aroma and lush color. But pinot noir isn’t the only grape used for making rosé. Carignan, cinsault, grenache, mourvèdre, sangiovese and syrah are all used to make this fabulous wine. It just depends on what the winemaker wants to create, and that informs which of three methods they use. 

DIRECT PRESS METHOD

This style of making rosé is the most traditional and sometimes considered the truest way to make a rosé. Its process is closer to white winemaking than to red, and creates very pale rosés, even when pressed from darker skinned grapes. Direct press involves almost no maceration (soaking) time and grapes are pressed to separate the juice from the skins almost immediately. The longer the skins touch the juice (which is clear in all grapes before coming in contact with broken skins), the more color you’ll get. This method produces a delicate, light colored rosé with citrus notes and hints of strawberry and melon. This is the method we use, but we take a page out of the French method described below – we use the whole cluster press method which means the grapes are left on the stems and the whole cluster is crushed at once. This helps create a wine that is delicate and also complex, with the stems acting as a natural filter. This method is also how we got our signature apricot blush on this summer’s batch.

A note on the French Direct Press Method:

Grapes are sometimes grown exclusively for making rosé (as is done in the Provence and Languedoc-Roussillon regions of France) and are then crushed whole clusters (like we do) and pressed until the juice reaches the winemaker’s desired color. This approach is more deliberate and grapes are picked at a lower brix (the measurement of sugar level and potential alcohol content while the grape is still on the vine) to enhance acidity and lower alcohol. This method helps yield a rosé with perfumed aromatics and the delicate fruit notes mentioned above. 

SAIGNÉE METHOD

The saignée (pronounced “san-yay”) method is sometimes considered a byproduct of making red wine, and not as true or pure a method as direct press, because it produces both a rosé from siphoned off juice, and also a red by letting the grapes continue to macerate after the rosé juice is bled off. In saignée, the weight of the grapes press on each other and break the skins open, letting their color come in contact with the juice. But after a short time, anywhere from several hours to a few days depending on what hue and taste profile is desired, the winemaker will bleed off some of the juice and put it into its own vat to ferment, producing a bolder and darker rosé, with notes of blackberry, blueberry and cherry. The rest of the grape juice and skins is left to ferment, increasing the intensity of the red. 

Pinot noir whole cluster grapes ready for pressing.

LIMITED SKIN MACERATION

This method is more common and though it is similar to saignée, the intention of the winemaker is different. The grape skins, like in saignée, are allowed to sit with the grape juice, but for an even shorter amount of time. While saignée rosés can be left to macerate for anywhere from several hours to one week, with limited skin maceration, the skins and the juice interact for as little as two hours and top out at 20 to 48 hours. For comparison, a regular red can be left to macerate for several weeks or months. 

Instead of bleeding off some of the juice, like in saignée, when the winemaker is ready, they remove all the juice from the skins and make an entire batch or rosé from that single limited press. The winemaker can create a rainbow of rosé colors this way, depending on the maceration time, and they can produce a rich and often darker rosé than direct press or a lighter and brighter rosé than saignée.

Glass of rose sparkling wine

BLENDING

We mention blending here – though no serious winemaker blends to make a rosé, and French wineries don’t even allow it – there is one exception – Champagne.

Because Champagne plays by its own rules, blending to make a rosé Champagne is accepted, even encouraged. Winemakers in Champagne, France craft their bubbly from one of three grapes: chardonnay,  pinot noir or pinot meunier. To create a rosé Champagne, winemakers will add up to 15% of either pinot noir or pinot meunier. 

We love wine here at BOXT, and as we reimagine the way we all drink a glass at home, including rosé, we are part of the ongoing evolution in winemaking around the world. We believe in making a premium fine wine, but also in not making things complicated and snobbish. We want everyone to love wine as much as we do, and rosé is such an easy introduction, especially for those who think they don’t like wine. (Are there really such people? We’ve only heard stories.) Besides leveling the playing field for who gets to enjoy a great glass of wine, and giving people permission to like what they like, we want to make sure that we’re adding to the world, not just with new accessible wines, but by our inclusive company culture, our stewardship of the earth and how we approach winemaking.

Because when our kids’ kids are adults, they should get to enjoy a summer full of vibrant outdoors, lawn games and a great glass of rosé.

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