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Wine List Development

Updated: May 4, 2023

” A great wine list must support the philosophy of the venue, whether a casual wine bar or a fine dining restaurant.” (Raimonds Tomsons, Head Sommelier at restaurant Vincent’s in Riga, Best Sommelier in Europe 2017, and 3rd Best Sommelier of the World 2019).


Wine list development is an everlasting project that will be perpetually adding and removing wines from the list, but what will not change is the brand (focus) concept. A successful wine list needs to focus on four components, Passion, Brand, Theme, and Strategy.


Passion

” A great wine list must have passion and focus that shows why a person built that. Sometimes you see quite schizophrenic wine lists that go from one end to another, and that, for me, makes it a bit unbalanced Francesco Marzola: (Head Sommelier at Park Hotel Vossevangen and Nordic Sommelier Champion 2018).”


A wine list should be a collaboration of all the stakeholders. It should reflect the passions of all the restaurant’s stakeholders and not only the Sommelier. It needs to flow and have balance. The general manager, the executive chef, the servers, the F&B director, and the sommelier should all put their fingerprint on the list (Grube, 2019). The goal should be to personalize the dining experience for the customer. This inclusiveness will create enthusiasm and motivate all involved with presenting a list of wines that they can sell with confidence. Wine education will provide all the servers with the confidence to discuss all the wines on the list. The list will need strategy and structure that can only be achieved by focusing on the brand.


Brand

A good way to create a brand is to focus on a core value word to define the product. Look at the history of your restaurant or the chef and build a brand around that. For this blog post I will focus on the JW Lincoln Steakhouse at The Camelback Inn where I was recently hired as the restaurant’s Sommelier. This is a hypothetical example to show the way you could develop your own brand.


The JW Lincoln is named after John C. Lincoln who was an innovative American inventor, a true visionary with grit. Inventors never give up; they do not see failure as an end to an idea but instead a step to build on. Grit could be a core value word that embodies the passion, innovation, and perseverance of Mr. Lincoln. Grit is having stamina to finish long term goals, sticking with it until you have succeeded, it is a marathon not a sprint (Duckworth, 2013).




Theme

” If you have a wine list that is built from the venue and the menu, even though the sommelier goes somewhere else, you’ll still have the philosophy (brand focus) to rely on. The list needs to relate to the place. And you can always change the labels within the concept if the idea remains the same (Raimonds Tomsons).”


An American steakhouse should have a nice balance of American wines with a Reserve List that would include global wines. American wines from innovative wine makers that embody the power of grit.

Strategy


Innovation could be another Lincoln core value.


Seasonal wine lists should be a consideration, one for Spring & Summer, and the other for Fall & Winter, wines could be listed by the palate level, this would make it easy for anyone reading the menu whether a server or a diner to understand the flavor profiles. Wines could be organized by lighter to heavier (innovation).


Wineries invest a lot of money in label development that are designed to entice a shopper to choose their wine over all the other wines on the shelf. The visual aid of adding the label to the list would be an innovative idea.

For example,

Rombauer Chardonnay (2019), Carneros, CA




Two schools of thought on pricing strategies, use your normal profit margins, and run the risk of not turning your inventory. Or lower the profit margin on your high-end wines a little bit and bump up the profit margins on the mid-range wine to make back the high-end discount. By the glass, if possible, one glass of wine should cover the wholesale cost of the bottle to protect against loss in case no one orders a second glass of that wine for some time.


A glass wine list is a great way to have diners test the wines, new innovative wines could be listed on the by the glass list, then tracking those glass and bottle sales and would help add new wines to the wine list based on consumption satisfaction and sales trends.



In Conclusion



The wine list should focus on wine that relates to the venue and menu aligning with the theme (brand).

· The wine list is a collaborative effort of all stakeholders.

· Wine list sticks to the brand, incorporating passion and a focused strategy for the long run.

· The wine list could have a staff favorite section that changes out every month based on wine education classes and feedback/voting from the staff.

· The wine list could include a tasting glass of wines by the glass or a flight to promote bottle sales.

· Wine list should reflect the innovation of wine makers, stories can be learned from wine education classes and the servers can share with their customers (personalization).

For example, what is behind the name ZD, the winemakers were aeronautical engineers whose mantra when designing aircrafts was to achieve Zero Defects. A short fun anecdote.

· The wine list should be educational, reflective of the brand, paired well with the menu, and fun.







References


Duckworth, A. (2013). Grit: the power of passion and perseverance | Angela Lee Duckworth. In YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H14bBuluwB8


Grube, A. (2019, October). ”How to build a great wine list” – here’s what the top sommeliers say. https://starwinelist.com/wine-story/how-to-build-a-great-wine-list-here-s-what-the-top-sommeliers-say




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