Boca Raton resident and Château d’Esclans owner Sacha Lichine has put rosé on the map, changing its reputation from a cheap to an elegant wine.
When Sacha Lichine walks into Kaluz in Fort Lauderdale with three magnum bottles of rosé for our lunchtime meeting, naturally, people’s heads turn.
In his signature pink button-down, the jovial and rosy-faced Lichine would have attracted attention even without the impressive trio. But Lichine hardly notices.
He begins by sipping the first—and at about $20 a bottle, the most affordable—of the rosés that we’ll try that day. It’s his famous Whispering Angel that was dubbed “Hamptons Water” this past summer. Socialites and revelers couldn’t get enough.
“The whole idea behind this is we wanted to make something that we wanted to drink … in the event that we couldn’t sell it,” he says, smiling. Clearly, that wasn’t an issue. The wine is light and refreshing, not sweet. It’s a rosé that you can drink all day, Lichine says, which was one of the main reasons for its popularity in the Hamptons.
Lichine, who lives in Boca Raton with his wife and children and owns Château d’Esclans in France, comes from a lineage of French winemakers (his father, Alexis Lichine, was nicknamed the “Pope of Wine”). Yet he became his own world-class brand with the 2006 debut of his rosés—Whispering Angel, Rock Angel, Les Clans and Garrus. The latter of which shockingly sells for nearly $100 for a standard, 750-milliliter bottle.
Even with his heritage, success wasn’t guaranteed—especially since it hinged on proving to restaurateurs that rosé could be refined and upscale. That’s not an easy task considering its long-standing reputation as lowbrow, cheap pink wine. And it’s especially not an easy task when he decided to make Chicago his first target—a frigid and windy market that seems to embody everything rosé doesn’t.
“I figured if I could get it going in Chicago, I could sell it everywhere else,” he says, adding that a local Chicago restaurateur bought two cases for himself. While he didn’t exactly triumph in Chicago, his savvy marketing mind and determination helped him to win over other crucial markets such as Nantucket and South Beach. He attended wine and food festivals from Miami to Charleston to Nashville to get people to taste the product.
“It really was pounding the pavement,” he says.
Lichine, who says he’s held nearly every job within the wine industry, was well aware of the effort it would take to make his product succeed. Born in Bordeaux, he spent summers working at his family’s property, Château Prieuré-Lichine, where he remembers driving the tractors and sticking wine labels on the bottles by hand. He was educated stateside and graduated from Boston University. He stayed in the city for four more years, earning his authentic wine education as a sommelier at Anthony’s Pier 4 restaurant. From there, he moved to California to work as a Southern Wine and Spirits account rep in Beverly Hills.
“There was this restaurant on Sunset—Le Dome. It was the place. I hit it at the right moment. I came out of there one day with $140,000 worth of Bordeaux,” he says, fondly recalling the sale that landed him a Southern Wine and Spirits expense account.
His career took off when he returned to France to run Château Prieuré-Lichine at age 27. Today, he has multiple ventures including a negociant business and a line of New World wines from France. Yet his passion is in his rosés.
As we sip and savor the last—and the most expensive—of the wines, Lichine describes how the barely there pink color, almost the shade of onion skin, alludes to the price of the wine. In the rosé industry, the paler the better.
Lichine calls over the waiter to ask how his Whispering Angel rosé sells here.
“It’s very popular,” the waiter says.
Lichine may have cracked the code at Kaluz, but he wants his rosé in all of the high-end restaurants in Fort Lauderdale and Boca. From his perspective, there’s no better fit for a rosé than a market that’s bathed in year-round warmth and sunshine, he says.
If it sold in Chicago, then surely it will catch fire here.