How Whispering Angel’s Sacha Lichine built the world’s most successful rosé brand (against the odds)

“Bankers wouldn’t give me an overdraft, and the trade would say ‘rosé doesn’t sell’”

The first time I tasted Whispering Angel was watching a polo game during summer, and, just as the champagne flowed, so did the rosé. With its alluring name, pretty, pale pink tint, and delicate flavour, a bottle of Whispering Angel is a refreshing accompaniment to an elegant afternoon at the polo.

But when founder of Whispering Angel Sacha Lichine launched the label in 2006, it wasn’t such an easy sell, as historically rosé hasn’t been seen as a sophisticated tipple.

“Around the 1990s there was a bit of glamour associated with rosé wine because of Cannes Film Festival – a lot of Americans went to Cannes and took the rosé they’d been drinking back to the US with them, so it became quite chic and associated with the lifestyle of the French Riviera,” says Lichine. “The problem was the lack of quality, and people would get a headache from it, as it wasn’t well made,” he goes on to explain. “I knew if I could give people a taste of a rosé of quality, it could really take off.”

Sacha Lichine, founder of Whispering Angel

Sacha Lichine, founder of Whispering Angel

“I knew if I could give people a taste of a rosé of quality, it could really take off” 

How did Lichine have the intuition that rosé wine was on the brink of a boom in popularity? He looked at rosé champagne and figured that if it could be sold at such a premium, rosé wine had potential, too.

It also helped that he grew up living, breathing and of course, drinking wine. Born in Bordeaux, he was raised in New York, but he went back to Bordeaux every summer to his family estate, Chateau Prieuré Lichine. During his teens he hung out in the cellars with the winemakers, and he drove tractors around the estate before he drove cars. His father Alexis, who was in the wine trade, received many people for lunch and dinners at Chateau Prieuré Lichine, and in his words, “I was a sponge, and took it all in.”

In 1999, Lichine sold the family estate in Bordeaux to find a sizeable place in Provence, and it was in 1994 he first set eyes on the magical Chateau d’Esclans – now the magnificent home of Whispering Angel (in its seventeenth vintage) – before finally acquiring the estate in 2006.

“After visiting 34 properties over a seven-year search period, I ended up back where I first started, Chateau d’Esclans,” says Lichine. “And that’s where the name Whispering Angel was conceived.” One evening, Lichine was in the chapel on the estate gazing at some cupids whispering to each other above the alter, and he decided this would inspire the name of the finest rosé in the world. And it’s working.

“Together with celebrated winemaker Patrick Léon, we started making real rosé wine,” he reminisces. “To do this, we replanted 75% of the vineyard at Chateau d’Esclans, and we worked on achieving the right level of quality, which is an accumulation of detail. We knew we had to make a wine we enjoyed drinking. So, we spent a lot of time getting the grapes, soil and quality right.”

Indeed, at the start, he describes himself as “a salmon swimming upstream”. “Nobody believed in it,” he said. “Bankers wouldn’t give me an overdraft, and the trade would say ‘rosé doesn’t sell’. People told me I was crazy for trading my family estate in Bordeaux for a rosé business. We were building the brand as well as building the category – so we had two mountains to move. We had everything against us. But what we did have is a quality product that had never been properly made before. And I achieved it because I was driven.”

Chateau d’Esclans, Les Clans, Garrus

Chateau d’Esclans, Les Clans, Garrus

Once the wine had been produced at Chateau d’Esclans and the bottle and packaging had been designed in London, Lichine set out to promote and sell Whispering Angel around the world. “At the time, the market was looking for something a bit more intense and precise, yet easy to drink. So we made a very pale rosé – the paler the better – and started pushing it.”

Slowly but surely, from Miami to Hong Kong, Whispering Angel popped up on the wine menus of all the best brasseries and most glamorous roof tops, and Lichine made sure “all the key areas were flooded with pink wine.” The rosé wine category was also expanding, and today restaurants such as La Petite Maison now offer a full page of rosés on its wine list. “Eight years ago, rosé was on p10 and there was maybe one by the glass,” laughs Lichine.

So, he’s ignited a global rosé renaissance, but Lichine’s not ready to rest on his laurels just yet. With seven rosé wines now in his portfolio at Chateau d’Esclans, he intends to keep getting more rosé on fine dining tables, and at more polo games.

“There are so many people who give up when they’re so close to success. The most difficult thing is to keep going and not give up.”

His secret? “I read a bit of Winston Churchill – it helps!”

This interview was taken from Gentleman’s Journal’s Summer 2023 issue. Read more about it here…

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