Educating the Wine Consumer?
November 22, 2013 § Leave a comment
In the over 30 years I have been employed in the wine industry, I have often heard sommeliers and beverage directors refer to their role as wine educators. In some cases, this claim is valid. In those establishments, the wait staff is familiar with the wines offered and the wine list provides flights or tasting for exploration, with both well-known and esoteric producers in the selection. Additionally, the wines are presented in a user-friendly, unpretentious manner. However, based on three decades of experience, I would say that restaurants providing all of the above comprise less than 1% of all restaurants. The environment for wine appreciation on-premise has, I’m afraid, taken a turn for the worse.
In Winemetrics most recent survey, we recorded a drop in wine selection size as well as wine list features such as flights, tastings and half-glasses. Also, we have witnessed a decline in the number of regions and varieties offered on wine lists, limiting the opportunities for experimentation and education. Research from the Cornell Hospitality Research Center indicates, categorically, that larger lists sell more wine (up to 150 entries), but I think there may be a rationale in the restaurant business that a smaller list will save money on inventory and wine drinkers will order what is available. The reality is that smaller lists sell less wine because of a lack of choice, and lack of choice inhibits purchases. Wine consumers, in the face of limited (and/or overpriced) wine selections, will order a glass instead of a bottle or choose a craft beer or cocktail in lieu of wine. While have have been a wine drinker for my adult life, I will gladly drink a craft beer or cocktail if the wine lists offers no viable options. I know Millenials feel this way, in fact, from the behavior I have observed from countless Millenials in my restaurant visits throughout the country. For the most part, Millenials ignore wine lists and focus on cocktails and craft beer on-premise(and in retail stores). The only way restaurants will sell more wine is to reverse the downsizing and homogenization of their wine selections. This current strategy of downsizing wine lists as a cost-saving maneuver will result in continued loss of wine revenue. The logic is, wine sales are down, so let’s reduce inventory to cut costs, these reductions result in further revenue losses, triggering additional inventory cuts. In the end, the wine list becomes an afterthought, as it is in many casual restaurant chains, even casual steakhouses, and no one interested in wine will order from it or more importantly, ever dine in that chain again.