The Wrath of Grapes: Overcoming Wine-timidation

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Image: SLO Down Wines

The mere mention of wine can cause some people anxiety. For many years it was considered the realm of pretentious snobs with their own language. Those factors have caused some bar and nightclub operators to either put wine on their menus as an afterthought or eschew the category altogether. To sommelier, cicerone, spirit innovator, home brewer, cocktail guy, and industry expert Jeff Josenhans, that’s a big mistake and a missed revenue stream.

Wine presents opportunities and operators should avoid allowing their perception to get in the way of profits. Josenhans says that consumer opinions are collective rather than individual. Your target market will bring guests to your venue who belong to a different target market, and that means opportunity. In terms of an operator’s perception influencing their decision to feature wine on their menu, the focus should be on consumer perception, which is in a constant state of flux. Operators need to show equal love, as Josenhans says, to everything on their menu.

It’s easy to focus on your wine menu, which should help ease wine-timidation for operators. To be honest, bars and nightclubs usually face limited wine options from suppliers. That’s good news to those who would rather not be bogged down by massive portfolios. Even better, once the initial legwork is completed only periodical reviews of the menu and wine offerings from suppliers should be required. The best part? Your guests will appreciate your efforts, and that means more revenue generated.

Wine intimidation can also be eased by comparing wine to other alcohol beverage segments and finding common ground. For centuries, all alcohol beverage products has started with farmers. After all, someone has to grow the grapes, grains and hops that eventually produce wine, spirits and beer. Farmers are also needed to grow oak trees, the origin of all of those fantastic barrels that help to age and flavor beer, wine and spirits. Operators should also consider how different generations gravitate towards different brands across all beverage segments and make their choices accordingly. And just like spirits and beer, wine has its big players and its small local players.

For some, it’s possible they aren’t experiencing wine intimidation so much as facing the challenge of dealing with Millennials and (soon) Gen Z. Luckily, wine works well with Millennial values and expectations. They desire locally sourced products, supporting the little guy, and new experiences, and they seem to reject the big corporate mainstays. Many wines fit that bill. While it is dependent upon the area, many states have good local wines made by the little guy. All of the varietals, experimentation with blends and wine production methods, and the number of countries producing great wines offer consumers a new experience every time a bottle is opened. And whether or not it’s exactly true, many consumers perceive winemakers as being free from corporate control. Rather than wring their hands over Millennials, operators should look forward to leveraging Millennial values to offer guests new products and experiences and build their bottom lines.

So how do operators re-evaluate their wine menus once they’ve gotten past any wine intimidation they may have been facing? First, they should identify with their wine offerings. And next, they should plan to go through the systematic process of evaluating the value of their wine program. Next comes the fun part – finding a wine producer (or producers) that an operator loves. If they and their team love the wine, that enthusiasm will show and inspire guests to try it. Another thing for operators to keep in mind is that, similar to beer, the next generation of winemakers have arrived and many of them are “rebels,” trying new things and offering new experiences. Perceived value is also something that must be kept top of mind when selecting wine for menus. One wine producer that offers perceived value and also a new experience is SLO Down Wines, a brand that Josenhans describes as identifiable with Millennial consumers, approachable, “Instagrammable,” and tasty. The juice, as they say, is good!

One wine has been chosen, value of experience needs to be addressed. Concepts with price as their primary advantage over their competition with spaces, food and beverages that reflect that can get away with selecting the cheapest wines available. However, there will be many wines at that price point and operators will have to reckon with how to choose the wines that best reflect their brand. The best approach is to find a label that best fits the concept, identify the best juice (sustainable if possible), and communicate that more is being offered for the same price as a lesser option. Those concepts that wish to leverage exclusivity will want to use the bottle service approach, described by Josenhans as the “You’re lucky just to get a sip of this wine” approach. Operators will want to select wines that are either only available at their venues or perceived to only be available to them. What is being leveraged with this approach is a winemaker’s desire not only to be sold but to be sold at a venue that is best for their brand.

Josenhans had several suggestions for what to do once wine-timidation has dissipated. First, operators should make certain they’re fully committed to developing their wine program. Second, they need to know what they want: types of wine, price point, looks and feels of labels, critical acclaim, the source, organic, etc. He then suggests reaching out to 10 distributors. Next, plan a wine tasting day and taste wines side by side. Finally, operators need to aim to meet the criteria of the Holy Trinity of Value: Price, Exclusivity, Experience. Or, as the Holy Trinity relates to wine: Price, Quality of Juice, Label/Feel/Experience.

Since operators will be contacting so many distributors, Josenhans explained how to best handle the reps. Operators need to know that it’s the job of the reps to sell you as many SKUs as possible. They should also know the total dollar value of their business when asking for brand support. The operator’s concept is more important than the vendor’s, whether they like to hear that or not. It’s also crucial to preserve relationships and to do the math when considering multi-brand commitment.

Wine doesn’t need to be intimidating, and Josenhans’ advice can help to alleviate any pain points operators may feel when considering their wine programs.