Searcys Friday Chat with Ronan Lieugard & Whispering Angel19 August 2022
Whispering Angel Rosé needs no introduction. A shining example of how a brand can seemingly overnight become synonymous with long summer nights and chic celebrations, the pale and sophisticated rosé is beloved by celebrities and wine connoisseurs alike. As we kick off our Pop-Up at the Searcys at the Gherkin with Whispering Angel this summer, we sit down with Brand Ambassador Ronan Lieugard to learn more.
First of all, tell us about the background of Château d’Esclans and Whispering Angel.
Our founder Mr Sacha Lichine was born in Bordeaux and raised in the US, so he has the advantage of really understanding both worlds. He bought the wine estate Château d’Esclans in the heart of Provence in 2006. He fell in love with the castle, which is like a Tuscan castle in France, surrounded by parkland, forests and vineyards. He decided it was going to be the top area for growing a blush rosé, with blended black grenache and white vermentino.
Tell us about the name Whispering Angel. It’s so iconic – where did it come from?
There are lots of legends about how the name was chosen, and even I am not 100% certain, so I’m going to share two of my favourite stories. The first is that it’s inspired by when the whispering sound when the wind blows through the vine. As for the angel, it’s born out of an association with the daily Holy Communion, with wine and bread. So, this is one idea.
The other story comes from when Mr Lichine was having a long and leisurely brainstorming lunch with a winemaker and the rest of his team, to try and get their creative juices flowing. There is a little chapel inside the Chateau, and he stepped inside. There, he saw two angel sculptures on top of the altar, and a whispering sound as the door blew open.
Whatever the exact origin, it’s an immediately memorable name which I think is a big part of our success in the US – people try it at dinner, and two weeks later they still remember (and can pronounce) what it is they tried.
What does a role of a brand ambassador entail?
My role with Mr Riviere and Mr Sangster three years ago when I started for the UK market was to build the whole distribution network, figuring out how we can develop in the right way, following on the success in the US. To start with 85% of our drinkers were in London, with only a few pockets in the countryside, but we had great success during Covid pandemic because we had the time to develop and reach out to new markets stuck at home.
The first week of lockdown, no one wanted to even talk to me on the phone. After 10 days people wanted some samples, but also to buy +240 bottles up front.
Whispering Angel shot to worldwide fame a few years ago; what is the secret?
There’s no secret at all. When you start with a new product no one knows about, you have to care about everyone. When Mr Lichine and Mr Riviere started in America, where our sales strategy was to visit restaurants not only to meet the restaurant manager but also to learn about the guests. They grew in popularity because people would perhaps try our rosé at a lovely Sunday lunch, and we had a name that people remember so easily, so they’d order it again. Normally you need 5 or 6 generations of wine growers to create a brand that’s instantly recognisable by so many people, but it only took 15 years for Mr Lichine to do it
Mr Lichine always told me, “You need to be in the right place at the right time with the right people. If you lose one part of it, you lose the opportunity. Focus on this, and don’t go anywhere else.” It’s simple, but it works.
What’s the story behind the name, and also the new Rock Angel name?
After five years of success of Whispering Angel in the US market, it started to be available everywhere from the Caribbean to remote Greek islands, but it wasn’t powerful enough to pair with a lot of the food available there. Rock Angel is the punchy and robust big brother, and people can enjoy a glass with lobster, seafood, spicy food. It needed to be creamy, a bit toasty, to hold its own with great food.
And what about re-positioning rosé as a drink in general?
Rosé used to be a summer drink only, mainly for BBQs and picnics, and summer events at home. It wasn’t for dining out, it wasn’t popular and it wasn’t posh. In the south of France 20 or 30 years ago, we’d fill it up in plastic barrels to drink at home, but never think of exporting it. Our job to share the product and make people change their minds. To help drive that educational curve. The most difficult thing was to change the minds of sommeliers, who would never have believed that it was such a great wine. After 10 years, 45% of our rosé is now drunk in the wintertime, which is a huge step.
Tell us about how it spread to the US and then British and international market.
Whispering Angel was developed with the US market in mind. At the beginning, because the team is very small, it wasn’t feasible or sensible to invest in getting ourselves known in 10 different markets. We needed to focus on one, so we aimed for the USA, and especially NYC, Miami and LA. After 4-5 years, Mr Riviere then came to the London market. The interesting thing is that London is incredibly cosmopolitan, so the same people go to Dubai, Hong Kong, Singapore etc., and we started getting known there.
What are the best food pairings for Whispering Angel?
I always say that the best pairing of all is to drink with a nice person. There is no ‘right’ time to drink Whispering Angel – what’s always important is where we are with who. That said, Afternoon tea is pretty special, which is part of what we’re doing with our pop-up at Searcys at the Gherkin. It also goes very nicely with soft and gently Japanese cuisine, and prawn cocktail is delicious with it. Something like a creamy Caesar salad on the other hand is better with Rock Angel.
Tell us about why you chose Searcys at the Gherkin as one of your spots for summer activation in London this year.
Mr Riviere knew the Searcys team for more than 10 years. I know the place well. And we know the way you work with your clients, and the clients you have, and for us it’s very important. Secondly, Martins Davis, the general manager at The Gherkin, is a friend of the brand, so that’s an important part too. Finally, Searcys organises a lot of events – you do a lot of weddings, parties, and events that customers are going to remember for life.
What about working with social media and celebrities?
To start with, Whispering Angel’s social media presence was created by the clients, not by us – if they want to share it, they do. Of course, working with celebrities plays a part, but it’s about everyone, and most importantly it’s about the quality of wine, and communicating this. The relationship we’ve built up with journalists who know a lot about wine, and how effectively we managed this has become a case for business studies.
SEARCYS AND WHISPERING ANGEL
Discover the new Whispering Angel Pop-Up at The Gherkin
WHISPERING ANGEL AFTERNOON TEA
Enjoy Afternoon Tea at Searcys at The Gherkin with 360-degree panoramic views over London, served with a selection of our finest teas and a glass of Searcys English Sparkling Wine or Whispering Angel Rosé.
ROSÉ TASTING TRIO
Take to the sky and enjoy our Rosé Tasting Trio as part of our rosé pop-up in collaboration with Château d’Esclans’ Whispering Angel, featuring a glass of three of our favourite rosés: The Pale by Sacha Lichine, Whispering Angel Rosé and Rock Angel Rosé. All you need to do is decide which one to try first!
Dine overlooking unrivalled panoramic views from the top of one of London’s most iconic skyscrapers. Perched high above the city, London’s original sky-high restaurant and bar, Searcys at The Gherkin pairs contemporary British dining with a perfectly paired glass of Whispering Angel.