Photo by David Matthews

Inside New York's pop-up rosé exhibit 

David Matthews
July 11, 2018

Sometime in my early 20s, I decided that the idea of a "guilty pleasure" is inherently flawed. Point Break and cheesy hair metal are fun and actually really technically accomplished, and no one should feel guilty for liking them. Now, as a bearded craft beer snob in his early 30s, I didn't immediately scoff at the idea of visiting a "rosé mansion" in Manhattan's subjectively worst neighborhood, because, like a movie where Keanu Reeves plays an undercover-FBI-agent-turned-surfer or the song "Round and Round" by Ratt, there are a lot of people who unabashedly freaking love rosé. It’s tasty to drink when it's hot out, and was it ever hot today.

With that in mind, I ventured to Manhattan's Fifth Avenue to visit the Rosé Mansion, a two-story open-bar-cum-museum-exhibit in a converted storefront. My approach to the venue was ominous: There were over a dozen fire engines working to put down a blaze in an adjacent six-story building. As I waited in line to enter the pop-up, a pair of cops directed traffic, doing their best to stem the tides of chaos. While no fire awaited, a crowd—adorned in sundresses, wearing floppy hats and sunglasses, waving hand fans—was getting antsy. It was wine o'clock.

Once inside, I was directed up a flight of marble stairs to the first room. Inside, a host in all denim directed us to take a plastic glass with the event's logo stamped on it ("your key to the evening"), a sheet of grape stickers, and a wine bottle pin to peel stickers off of the sheet and place them onto the all-white walls of the room. "It's designed to look like a Brooklyn patio," the man told us, since New York, outside of France, drinks the most rosé in the world. By the time the exhibit closes, if all goes according to plan, the stickers will turn the all-white room and its adirondack chairs into a lovely shade of pink.

 

Photo by David Matthews

The next room was devoted to wine-making around the world. In it, we received our first pour of the evening. It was cold and crisp and, as I was still sweating from waiting outside, extremely clutch. We were told that wine is made everywhere on Earth, with the exception of Antarctica. Visitors were encouraged to engage with the wall-spanning map of the world and place small pins on locations where they have had, or want to have, a glass of wine.

The next room was devoted to the history and science of sweet wines. Did you know that people have been digging sweet wines for over 5,000 years? Signage in the room said "don't let the haters get you down: if you like your wine sweet, then you have the taste and style of kings and queens." It's in this room that we were also informed that loving rosé is genetic, not that I or anyone needed a reason, but it certainly didn't hurt. If you're weasling for riesling, blame your DNA. 

Photo by David Matthews

The next room was devoted to vino from the Empire State. It featured a series of photos of Konstantin Frank, a Ukrainian emigree who built a small wine empire near Keuka Lake in upstate New York. The room is also home to a series of "living wall" installations from the artist Alan Burchell. Mr. Burchell, smartly wearing a cap to avoid the space's stage lights, told me that each one took about three hours to install. He'd created an "urban oasis" in the middle of the space. "It's clean, cool, and green."

Of the installations, my favorite was the one where thousands of thin tendrils hang from the ceiling; as you walk into the room, a light is activated, causing the strings to shine. Be careful though, a cushion sits at the back of the dressing-room-sized area and at least one reporter nearly ate shit, but did so without anyone noticing.

Photo by David Matthews

Following a hallway filled with hundreds of purple rubber balls, and then an info-wall containing the seven steps to make rosé (grow, harvest, crush, soak, ferment, age/bottle, enjoy), we arrived in the Blending Lab. This room offers yet another pour of rosé, but is unique in that it's made to order. Taking a small card and a pink pen, imbibers were invited to create a personalized glass of rosé by choosing the weight, acidity, and fruitiness threy want. While waiting for mine, the man taking orders placed my card under another woman's card, leading to a mix-up that resulted in the two of us receiving each other's order. Madam, I apologize for the confusion. Your order certainly was "light," "crisp & refreshing," and "light & delicate." I hope you enjoyed your "medium," "crisp & refreshing," and "fruity yet dry" rosé.

The next room provided the first taste of Instagram bait: a perpetually refilling rosé tower. I was honestly taken aback. I did a double take when a young gentleman declared to the young man and woman with him "this is like a basic bitch dream; it's so smart." Friend, if liking to get tipsy while learning how to open a bottle of wine with a sword is basic, then call me Anne Hathaway.

Photo by David Matthews

The next room was for discerning the different types of sparkling wine, the most famous, of course, being French Champagne. Italy's Prosecco is probably the second-most well-known, but as the info-wall told me, American sparkling wines from the East Coast have been experimenting lately and shouldn't be slept on.

The next room had a bathtub filled with rose petals and a swing. The room after that was devoted to the history of wine. There was a chandelier and a large throne. These rooms are great if you need need new pics for your Tinder profile and you want prospective sex friends to know that you're crazy about rosé. The chandelier room also features the Wall Hall of Fame ("Gamay Dismay: Snootiness Engaged") as well as a short timeline of the history of wine in the United States. I had no idea there were so many wineries in Texas.

Photo by David Matthews

The next room offered two chaise lounges and fake grapes for more photo opportunities. A harried young staffer talked about wine culture in ancient Roman times. The room featured faux, let's say Hellenic sculptures and friezes that had been modernized, showing figures in tunics with selfie sticks, laptops, lapdogs, and headphones.

The last room is expressly for getting your photo taken. There was a series of inspirational slogans on the walls. The best slogan captured my feeling about going into the event: "Say Yes To New Adventures." Who cares whether rosé is basic? Who cares about the concept of basic? When's the next time you're going to spend $35 dollars to learn something and get a little tipsy while surrounded by people who are having a blast?

Photo by David Matthews

After the exhibit, there was a woman doing tarot card readings and a bar stocked with the wines you sampled, plus some fruit and cheese plate. Further back there's a small room filled with pink-colored sand. Allegedly, the place will be opening early for brunch-hour tours, which that young guy from earlier said is "so smart." It is smart. They'll probably make a lot of money. Rosé is a bona fide phenomena—you don't do a four-month pop-up in an extremely expensive building with a weirdly aggressive tenants board for a passing fad.

As I left Rosé Mansion, the fire trucks were still there. The blaze wouldn't be extinguished for another ten minutes or so, according to reports. A new pair of police officers were whistling and directing traffic. I hope someone brought them a bottle.

 

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