French wine may be the ultimate category when it comes to credibility; there’s few who are unaware of its long-held reputation as a region that produces some of the best liquids and vintages available. But can that extend to French gins? A number of new brands hope it might.
What happened to all the tequilas? Skip back over the past few years and the booming agave category has been where most drinks-curious celebs have planted their investments. And it probably isn’t because they’re passionate about tequila. Cha-ching!
So it’s been curious to watch how over the past few weeks there’s been a plethora of celeb gin launches. Gin, surely not?
You wait all day for a celeb gin…
Margot Robbie launched a bottled ode to her home nation with her brand Papa Salt Gin last week. In development for five years, it uses native Australian ingredients as botanicals, including oyster shells, roasted wattleseed and pink peppercorn. Makes sense.
Next up, we have Mr Brad Pitt. Now, as we know, he’s had his foot in the drinks industry for many years with his wine brand, Château Miraval. Now – in partnership with former Tanqueray master distiller Tom Nichol, and Pitt’s previous winemaking partners, the Perrin family of Château de Beaucastel in Southern Rhône – he has launched Gardener Gin. With “light, aromas and flavours of the French Riviera” it aims to capture the sunlight, fresh citrus and wild herbs of the region with a liquid made with pink grapefruit, lemon and sweet and bitter oranges from the south of France.
And as much as gin, oddly, seems to be the liquid of the moment, France especially seems to be the next big thing when it comes to provenance. Harry Potter’s Hermione herself has also launched a French gin, again with links to winemaking.
Inspired by winemaking
Renais is a new gin brand from actress Emma Watson and her brother Alex. This time its inspired by the terroir and traditions of Chablis wine because the Watson’s family have a vineyard in the region. The spirit is combined with Kimmeridgian stone distillate (said to be responsible for the region’s terroir) and pressed Grand Cru grapes picked from high elevations, which gives the liquid a unique minerality and fruitiness.
Of the launch, Alex Watson said: “I wanted to do something that no-one had ever done: to capture the essence of a specific terroir, the uniqueness of Chablis, by drawing on the traditions, techniques and ingredients from the land, and embodying those characteristics in a gin. Renais is our family’s love letter to Chablis, taking inspiration from the heritage of the region but combining it with an innovative and forward-thinking, yet sustainable approach to spirit making.”
That ‘je ne sais quoi’
So why are we seeing so many French gins? For both Pitt and the Watsons, rooting their products in France gives them an authentic reason for creating their products. Both have long associations with France, and in particular the French wine industry. Being inspired to expand their portfolios to gin doesn’t feel like an incredible, or tenuous stretch.
And in both cases, but particularly for the Watson’s, tying their launch to both France and wine adds a little ready-made credibility. France’s place as a producer of some of the world’s finest wines is both well-known and undisputed. Therefore, both brands get to piggyback on that association of quality. And with British produced gins massively oversaturated, it’s also a shrewd choice for ensuring standout.
Shiny and not so new
Because right now, gin doesn’t seem like an obvious choice for ‘standing out’. These brands are joining a very, very crowded market. In the UK – one of the most competitive regions for gin – there’s over 1700 on the market. And according to the Office of National Statistics, there’s currently over 820 UK gin distilleries, growing by 110 from 2021 to 2022 alone.
And consumers may be getting restless. Data released by CGA in March 2022 revealed that sales decreased a whopping 38.5% compared to the same period in 2019. It’s not surprising in a category that has churned out product after product over the past ten years, for consumers to be a little bit overwhelmed by their options, or to have enjoyed the category for a time and then moved on.
Is the lure of a celeb name enough to draw them back? Is the differentiation of a French gin enough to interest them? That we’ll have to see. But both products are a welcome disruption to a market that has been flooded with flavoured or else ‘craft’ options in recent years. And Renais in particular offers an interesting new take by including wine terroir essentially, as part of its liquid. For gins, France is emerging as the next big thing in provenance, twinning association of quality with an aspirational and easy to visualise reference point for consumers as well as brands, to tap in to.
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