Wine’s Crisis On-Premise and How to Resolve It – Part 1

August 15, 2016 § 3 Comments

Winemetrics is halfway through its 2016 on-premise wine list surveys, and to be frank, there is very little good news to report. Wine lists are not only decreasing in size but also in variety. Selections are increasingly based on brands controlled by the top 10 suppliers. Since the start of 2015 we have seen many iconic independent wineries ‘absorbed’ by the largest suppliers. Benziger, B.R. Cohn, J. Winery, Orin Swift, Patz & Hall, Siduri, Talbott, The Prisoner to name just the ones that come to mind.  But this decline of wine on-premise is just half of the bad news for wine. The meteoric, unstoppable rise of craft beer and craft cocktails may spell the end of wine on-premise as we know it. The key, and most damning piece of evidence is the admission (in confidence) from wine professionals themselves. When not at company functions or on the corporate  expense account, they are drinking beer and cocktails, simply because there is more variety, flavor and value in the average beer and cocktail list. This is especially true in casual restaurants where the same wine products appear with monotonous regularity. For the record, I am not a proponent of the ‘small is beautiful’ school of wine marketing. Major national brands are extremely important to a segment of wine consumers that seek the comfort of a consistent, well-known producer. However, when these brands or their line extensions dominate wine lists to the exclusion of any innovative or more esoteric products, it is at that point that any wine consumer with a slightly more adventurous palate closes the wine list and orders a beer.  And, I confess, that’s what I do now.

If you believe my observations aren’t supported by facts please click on the link below to Lewis Perdue’s Wine Industry Insights where he features a recent Gallup survey.

From Winemetrics’ observations of hundreds of chains and independent restaurants, it does not appear that the wine industry is taking this threat seriously. As a 35 year veteran of this industry, I have seen trends, brands and fads come and go. I remember vividly a distributor presentation by a wine cooler executive in the 1980’s who extrapolated his brand’s 2 year growth curve a decade into the future, promising his audience of a massive windfall in profits. According to the executive, this was ‘guaranteed’.  It didn’t quite work out that way – has anyone seen a wine cooler recently?

Of course, we cannot lay the blame solely on the wine industry, as the restaurant industry is also complicit in this process. Possibly persuaded by off-premise sales figures and incentives of the larger suppliers, restaurateurs have yielded too much control of their wine lists to big corporate interests. In Part 2, I’ll discuss steps restaurants can take to not only invigorate interest in the wine segment, but actually take ownership of innovation for their wine selections.




Growler USA – Setting High Standards in Beverage Management

July 13, 2016 § Leave a comment

Our readers may have taken note of a recent FSR article on Growler USA, a beer-centric chain boasting 100 tap lines and dedicated to serving  craft beverages (including beer, cider, mead and, yes, some wine). According to the article, the chain has plans to expand from 3 to 35 units by the end of 2017. We should note that this concept has precedence with World of Beers, which started with one location in Tampa, Fl in 2007 and is planning to grow to over 100 units by the end of this year. Additionally there are numerous growing regional chains offering a dozen or more drafts and many more craft brews by the bottle. The ones we have surveyed have partnered extensively with local and regional craft brewers and provide vital opportunities for endorsement and consumer trial.

So what compels me to draw your attention to Growler USA? First, they have an unparalleled commitment to serving a superb product, equivalent to a craft brewery tasting room. Second, they are seriously dedicated to providing consumer education, with all of their bartenders qualifying as Cicerone Certified Beer Servers. Third, they are devoted to supporting local, innovative craft beverage producers. Finally, and this is key, every Growler USA location provides a continuously updated list online of all their 100-plus selections with prices, something offered by virtually none of the hundreds of chains and independents that Winemetrics currently surveys. This means that a consumer can be pretty certain that what is on the website is available on tap. I know this is a relatively simple process from a technical standpoint, yet when it comes to craft beer selections, most chain websites merely state, “Ask your server about our selection of craft beers” or words to that effect.  Apparently, informing potential customers about what is being served and at what price, by location, is too much work for the average chain IT department. In fact, there are an increasing number of chains that provide no beverage information on their websites and even fail to provide prices on their printed menus! (More on that issue in a future post).

Congratulations to Growler USA; I hope it prospers and reserves some of its taps for innovative, regional wine producers.


(Note: Winemetrics has no relationship whatsoever with Growler USA or anyone associated with the company)

Craft Beer vs. Wine: Innovation vs. Stagnation

July 13, 2016 § Leave a comment

While wine lists across the board are decreasing in size and variety, beer list trajectories are  in the opposite direction, expanding in both size and diversity in even the most casual chain restaurants. Moreover, there has been a quantum leap in beer-oriented chains at all levels of the chain spectrum from national chains such as Yard House and World of Beers, now 70+ units strong, to regional chains such as Eureka  and Plan B.  These chains have certainly been helped by the explosive interest in craft beer,  which has seen growth in both the mundane e.g. Pumpkin Ale, to the esoteric e.g  Gose and Brett-fermented ales.  So why hasn’t the wine industry begun introducing exciting and buzz-worthy products to keep pace with their beer brethren?

The answer lies largely in the attitudes prevailing among the thought leaders in each industry. With few exceptions, the wine industry has doggedly remained loyal to the European concept of wine, that wine is a product of terroir and tradition, e.g. the fixation that the best wines are representative of a specific variety and place. Estate-grown wines of approved varieties or blends that follow traditional production methods are held in the highest esteem by an increasingly narrow group of gatekeepers in both wine production and wine media circles.  Had the beer industry followed the same path, the majority of producers would still be following the Rheinheitsgebot, which dictates that beer consist only of malted barley, yeast, water and hops. And we would never have had the vast array of products that has vaulted the American beer industry from mediocrity to its current apex of innovation and growth.  Fortunately, American beer producers rightly found this European model too constraining and began experimenting with untraditional flavors, fermentation techniques and aging methods.  In a few short decades, American craft beers have become the global standard of beverage innovation. If you had suggested 30 years ago that American brewers would be opening facilities in Germany, the birthplace of modern brewing, you would have been laughed out of the bierstube. In the 1990s, hypothesizing that someday small American brewers might have a market value of over $1 billion (Lagunitas, Ballast Point) would have earned one a trip to a local asylum.  Yet it has come to pass.

What remains puzzling is that, despite craft beer’s incredibly successful example, which has been eating the wine industry’s lunch for the past decade, few wine producers have dared to defy the ossified old guard who continue to enforce the standard of European wine production.  Is it arrogance or merely ignorance that prompted the wine industry to relinquish an entire segment that it should rightfully own –  cider ( a low alcohol fruit wine), to the American beer producers?

Having been in the alcoholic beverage industry for over 3 decades I have a fairly good ideaof  how this saga will play out, unless drastic measures are implemented very soon.

The wine industry today is much like the U.S. auto industry of the 1970’s, which took the attitude that the public will buy what it tells them to purchase. We have all seen how successful that approach has been. Now Toyota is the world’s largest car company. Hopefully, the wine industry will come to its senses before it is too late.

5 Reasons Why Wine Is Losing Share to Cocktails and Beer On-Premise

September 4, 2014 § 2 Comments

5 Reasons Why Wine Is Losing Share to Cocktails and Beer On-Premise

  1. Competition
    When I first began selling on-premise in the early 1980’s there was no competition to wine. Craft beer and spirits were rare and wine was the recognized companion to food. Fine dining restaurants eschewed beer and had, at best, rudimentary cocktail lists. Wine was the only option and it developed in a competitive vacuum. Those conditions no long exist and wine is having its primacy eroded.
  2. Profit
    Wine is the least profitable alcoholic beverage a restaurant can serve. Bottled beer is more profitable, draft beer, properly managed, is even more profitable and cocktails provide the best margin of all. This means it is in the best interest of the restaurant to promote these other beverages, not wine. This does not even factor in the fact that a cocktail and bottle/draft are guaranteed to be fresh, unlike a BTG serving of wine which may have been opened for over 24 hours prior to serving.
  1. Price/Value
    I have witnessed (and can objectively verify) the contraction and ‘specialization’ of BTG wine list at a time when cocktails and beer are moving in the opposite direction (see 4. Innovation). Given the options of a 20-ounce glass of iconic craft beer or imaginative cocktail versus a mass-market common varietal (which may be the most expensive of the three) what would the average Millennial choose? My guess is the wine would be dead last.  Here is a concrete example. I was in a South American restaurant having dinner. There were no craft beers on the list (surprising that can still happen but it does) and a glasses of the most ubiquitous brands of the most common varieties were in the $9 range. For a dollar more I could purchase a grilled pineapple and cilantro margarita made with Don Julio Reposado and Cointreau. Which would you purchase? By the way, that margarita was magnificent and judging by the condition of the open wine bottles on the back bar, there was no choice.
  2. Innovation
    The explosion of flavored and uniquely aged spirits as well as specially craft and aged beers and ciders has placed the United States in the forefront of innovation in these industries. Foreign beer and spirits producers are in awe of what has happened here. Fifteen years ago, American beer was still largely a joke in Europe, now we are making products that totally surpass most of what is offered there. I can find a better beer selection in my hometown bar in rural Pennsylvania (from mostly local producers) than I could in Frankfurt or Berlin. While America does not have this edge yet in spirits, we are most certainly the innovation leader is crafting superior cocktails from domestic and international ingredients.  Our success in beer and cocktails can be directly attributed to disregarding the European models. The European model for beer was the Rheinheitsgebot, where pure, natural beer could only be composed of yeast, barley, hops and water. European cocktails used only local or country specific ingredients (English gin and Italian vermouth in the same glass, never!)
  3. Image
    Wine no longer has a leading-edge image, it is the beverage of choice of Boomers (aka parents of Millennials) while Millennials themselves have more eclectic preferences. On of the reasons I started drinking wine was it was a beverage my parents didn’t drink. With wine as the Boomers top choice it is no surprise that their offspring are seeking out different libations. Craft beer and artisanal spirits have captured the imagination and discretionary income of this younger segment of the population.

Best Drink Lists of 2014

August 7, 2014 § Leave a comment

Winemetrics has expanded its database to encompass a vast amount of drink list information. Our inaugural 2014 Drink List Report will be available for purchase next week. To give you a snapshot of this innovative report, which surveys the largest national and regional restaurant chains, please see our choices for the Top Casual, Upscale Casual and Fine Dining Drinks List Winners and Runner-Ups below.  We have identified the exceptional programs, based on size, pricing, diversity and web presence.

Best Drinks Lists of 2014


Casual Chains

Winner : Yard House

Web Presence: Excellent, detailed information by location but without pricing.

Wine BTG:  Average in size but a diverse selection with excellent pricing.

Cocktail List: Well above average in size (35+) with a wide variety of imaginative libations.

Beer List: Off the charts, over 25 draft beers and more than 100 in bottles and cans

Pro: Most comprehensive beer list we have surveyed.

Con: Menu is the size of the Gutenberg Bible and drink prices are not listed online.


Runner Up:  BJs Brewhouse

Web Presence: Excellent, detailed information by location but without pricing.

Wine BTG:  Above average selection with 25 wines; very reasonably priced.

Cocktail List: A selection of 35, many from original recipes by BJ’s bartenders.

Beer List: Nearly 60 different brews, at least 10 of which are brewed in-house.

Pro: Entire menu and beverage list available on one sheet, the ultimate in convenience.

Con: Beer list selection lacks excitement.



Upscale Casual Chains

Winner:  Lucky 32 (part of Quaintance-Weaver Restaurants and Hotels, a small restaurant group in NC)

Web Presence: Excellent, complete drinks lists in PDF, location-specific with pricing

Wine BTG:  Excellent, 50 wines offered in 3 sizes, including 3 oz. tastes. Nearly every BTB selection is available BTG. Three wine flights offered.  Superb value and diversity.

Cocktail List: Has 20 very imaginative offerings often with artisanal spirits, attractively priced

Beer List:  Excellent. Over 40 brews, mostly local and nationally known craft beers.

Pro: Probably one of the best overall drinks list we have ever seen. Con: None



Runner-Up: P.F. Chang’s China Bistro

Web Presence: Excellent, detailed information and prices by location

Wine BTG:  Superior, 40+ wines, nearly every BTB selection is available BTG. All wines available by the half-glass.

Cocktail List: A selection of 13 is about average for the segment, but their Asian-influenced libations are unique to this chain.

Beer List: A recent upgrade to the beer list has put it on par with its highly regarded wine selection. About 2/3 of the selection is composed of a diverse selection of fine craft beers.

Pro:  Beer program has caught up with the category-leading wine list. Con: Getting to account specific information was a little cumbersome online.



Fine Dining

Winner:  Flemings

Web Presence: Very Good.  Lots of detail available but no prices. Lists must be perused segment by segment which is inconvenient.

Wine BTG:  Superb, 90+ wines, the largest BTG selection of any major chain.  Pricing on the high side, which is expected, given the support required for such variety.

Cocktail List: With 22 selections, Fleming’s cocktail list is slightly above average in size but also above average in pricing

Beer List:  Solid list of 17 beers, half of them well-known craft brews,

Pro: Excellent wine selection carries the day here.

Con:Searching the selection online was somewhat difficult and lack of pricing and BTG designations omits vital information.  As each Flemings has a wine list addendum specific to their restaurant, it would be beneficial if this information were provided online.


Runner-Up:  Seasons 52

Web Presence: Excellent, detailed information with prices

Wine BTG:  Excellent, 50+ wines, most BTB selections are available BTG. Very diverse and well-priced

Cocktail List: With just 12 libations, Season’s 52 is below average in this segment. It also appears to rely on just a handful of spirits brands.

Beer List: A serviceable list of 18 with a handful of craft beers.

Pros/Cons: Extremely convenient drink list both to read and download.  The remarkable wine selection carries this beverage program but a few adjustments to the beer and cocktail list could make it a contender for the top spot.

10 Ways Restaurants Undermine Their Beverage Programs

June 3, 2014 § Leave a comment

The best planned and well-conceived beverage program can be derailed or at least minimized by common mistakes. Here are 10 of them and they are far more common than you would expect.

  1. Failing to post wine and drink menus on the restaurant website OR.
    • Leaving outdated information on the site
    • Posting ‘sample’ lists that don’t reflect the diversity and scope of the beverage program
    • Incomplete list e.g have wine BTG but no BTB list or fail to include craft beer and/or a complete cocktail list
  1. Failing to provide pricing on drink list (common problem for beer and cocktails). Would you order from a dinner menu that had no prices? So why the double standard for drinks?
  2. Failing to include drinks (wine BTG, beer, cocktails) on the food menu.
  3. Using the words “Ask your server about our (reserve wine list, craft beers, small-batch bourbon, etc) .” If it’s worth selling, it is worth placing on a menu that may have to be reprinted once and a while.  Server’s have a hard enough time memorizing the daily food specials – don’t expect them to recite and describe the 20 craft beers you pour.
  4. If there is a drinks menu: failing to place the wine list, drink list, beer list on the same menu. While a ‘complete’ beverage menu  is common in casual chains, many upscale-casual and fine-dining establishments force their patrons to juggle menus.
  5. Not having a craft beer list (or a cocktail list)
  6. Not training your bartenders to have a background on what they are serving.
  7. Treating beer taps as faucets (bartenders who let a beer tap ‘run’ prior to pouring a draft is one of greatest sources of lost beverage revenue)
  8. Excessive pricing of mass-market brands.  Consumer seeing over a 3 times retail price for a wine they frequently see on an end-aisle display at their local liquor store will assume the restaurant is overcharging for everything and will probably not return (FYI, I don’t)
  9. Not having tastings or flights of wine and beer (some enterprising chains offer cocktail flights by the way).

Eureka! The Future of Upscale Casual Dining?

June 3, 2014 § 2 Comments

I recently visited the San Luis Obispo location of a small, 10-unit restaurant chain based in California named Eureka!. And yes, like Archimedes, I do believe I found something extraordinary. Eureka! has a cutting-edge beverage list with an artisanal and local focus for its wine, beer and cocktails. The food focus is local and affordable. Only hormone and antibiotic free beef is used in the gourmet burgers which range in price from $9-$12; nearly all entrees are under $20 (their Hangar Steak is $23.50).

The beverage program, however, is what distinguishes Eureka!  By my count there were 33 draft beers available, with not a single mass-market beer among them. The taps were divided into 19 ‘tried and true’ offerings (Lagunitas IPA, Allagash White, Stone Ruination) at $5-$9 and 10 Rotating Taps that offered more expensive ($6-$11) esoteric drafts. The 10 offerings of bottled beers were mostly rarities priced over $20/bottle with the highest-priced offering $65.

The cocktail list remained true to concept with 27 artisanal spirits and 9 Classic Cocktails. The focus here was on the cocktail ingredients, not the mixology. Again, the focus was local (California) and no mass-market brands were listed on the drink menu.

Eureka!’s wine selection was the smallest segment of the beverage list, just 14 by-the-bottle and 10 by-the-glass offerings. Wines were primarily from the Central Coast area but far from artisanal. Again, no mass-market brands made the cut, but the selections were far from cutting edge.  All the offerings were from mainstream varieties (half of the selection was comprised of Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir); there were no stand-out rarities. By-the-glass offerings ranged from $6-$12 and bottles from $22-$69. It appeared that wine was placed on the menu merely to appease the occasional wine drinkersthat might happen to stumble in. This assumption is reinforced by the fact that Eureka! offers both a ‘build your own’ beer and spirit flight yet no such option is offered for wine.

The only flaw in Eureka!’s execution is there is no way to see how inventive and extensive its beverage program is as no drink lists are posted on its website. (See our post “How Restaurants Undermine Their Beverage Programs”.

Evidence that the Eureka! concept resonates with Millennials can be substantiated by the success of similar concepts around the country. Umami Burger, Plan B, Slater’s 50/50 and Square 1, among others, follow the local, artisanal, beer-centric model and are adding new locations at a rapid pace.  In all of the gourmet burger chains I have visited, wine plays a secondary role, yet I doubt there is a more burger-friendly beverage on earth than a brambly, full-bodied Zinfandel. Perhaps it’s time for the wine industry to address this gap in its on-premise coverage.

(Note: Eureka! is not a client of Winemetrics, nor do any of its employees have an affliation with anyone associated with our company. Also, Eureka! has not been nor will it be solicited for any future compensatory relationship with Winemetrics).

10 Ways Craft Beer is Outmaneuvering Wine

May 23, 2014 § 1 Comment

(this post still needs some editing but I wanted to get it out to the public as I have not seen these important issues addressed elsewhere)

  1. Value
    As I write this I am reviewing the beverage list of a national chain with a decent wine, beer and cocktail selection.  In this restaurant I can spend $9 and get a 6 oz. glass of Blackstone Merlot or for slightly less, a 22 oz. bottle of Stone Brewing’s Arrogant Bastard Ale. I will confess that I know both of these products very well and the beer is an exceptional value, priced about twice the retail price. On the other hand I can probably buy a full bottle at retail for the glass price, a 4 times retail mark-up. Oh, the ale is rated 93 by The Beer Advocate, the Merlot I doubt is held in such high esteem.
  2. Innovation
    In 30 years the United States beer industry  has gone from and object of international ridicule to the epicenter of brewing innovation.  While European brewers remain mired in tradition, American craft brewers are creating completely new products, even partnering with wine and spirits producers to create new hybrid products e.g. Dogfish Head Noble Rot, a combination of botrytis-affected Viognier grape must and beer.
  3. Promotion
    Craft brewers have been able to do everything wine has done and more.  The basic difference is that the preponderance of local brewers means that the person attending the beer dinner is the actual owner or brewmaster, not a stand-in from the distributor or importer. Brewers are willing to  take risks to promote their products in ways that most wineries would find ‘uncomfortable’. If you are a fan of the HBO hit series, “Game of Thrones” you know  that there are multiple references to wine and wine regions. The leading characters are all seen drinking wine. Beer on the show is portrayed as the beverage of the common man and never mentioned by name. Yet the highly respected Ommegang brewery of Cooperstown has now released its 4th Game of Thrones beer under licensing from the show’s creators. According to industry sources these beers account for 8% of Ommegang revenue. So where is the Game of Thrones wine? Or perhaps a better question is, where is there a winery with an equivalent reputation to Ommegang willing to take the risk of producing a Game of Thrones wine?
  4. Community
    This ties in with number 3. Who is a local consumer and restaurant going to support more, a brewer in his/her state (or hometown) or a winery 2000 miles away. Local nearly always trumps global. Also, and this is very important. Brewers and their gatekeepers don’t trash talk other brewers! During the 4 years I served as Director of Sales at New Amsterdam brewing, I never heard one brewer malign another, even if it were Budweiser (which performed remarkably well in blind tastings). Compare that with the nasty treatment received by wine blogger s and certain sommeliers regarding the products of America’s largest wineries.  If it weren’t for Gallo and Kendall-Jackson making wine accessible to wine drinkers, most of us in this industry would not have jobs, yet the unrelenting  vitriol directed at most mass-market wine in the blogosphere has no parallel in brewing.  Sam Calagione, the founder of the highly regarded Dogfish Head Brewery once said, “The craft brewing industry is 99% asshole free.” Can the wine industry make the same claim? Those of us who have spent years in the wine business chuckle at the proposition.
  5. Venues
    Beer has national and regional chains devoted to it. Yardhouse, Rockbottom, B.J.s Brewhouse, Gordon                 Biersch, even local San Diego brewer Karl Strauss has 7 restaurants devoted to its output. Where is the                 equivalent for the wine industry, where is a national chain of wine bars? Craft brewers have their ‘temples’           spread across the country, proselytizing thousands everyday to the glories of beer.
  1. Cross-Fertilization
    Craft brewers have used wine yeast, used bourbon and wine barrels, fruit, spices, wine must even                             Brettanomyces to make new products. Their imagination and experimentation seems limitless. They are willing to release small amounts of these products to the general public in the form of limited release bottle or draft and create a new product to replace it when it runs out.
  1. New Traditions
    There was a time that fall meant one thing to beer lovers, Oktoberfest beers. Now it means Pumpkin Ale and the start of Winter Warmer, Christmas Ales followed by spring’s Bock Beers and then summer ales, Hefenweizen and shandys.  Granted, brewers have more flexibility when creating seasonal products than wine producers, but their model of collectively releasing a specific product seasonally creates anticipation by the consume and a great deal of positive PR. The only equivalent in the wine industry is Beaujolais Nouveau which, after years of hype and relatively sub-standard product has pretty much eliminated any Beaujolais from mainstream wine list.
  2. Customer Loyalty
    Craft brewing loyalty is based on location and innovation. You want to test this – ask a Vermont beer aficionado about Heady Topper or a one from Northern California about Pliny the Elder or one from Chicago about Bourbon County.  The are all cult beers , all in high demand, 95+ rated products that any working class beer drinker can afford.  And all are in limited supplies that appear just once a year. Does the wine industry have an equivalent?  Of course there is Screaming Eagle et al. but these cannot be accessed or purchased by commoners, 1-precenters only need apply.
  3. Food Compatibility
    American food (comfort food that is, not the elitist American cuisine created in the past generation) is first and foremost a beer compatible cuisine. Burger, barbecue, fried chicken, all type of picnic fare is working class, food for the masses, all of whom grew up consuming beer.  In the world of casual dining, it is beer that has the advantage by virtue of its historic association with American ‘peasant’ food and the fact that the mainly northern European immigrants that brought this food to America also brought their brewing skills.
  4. Gatekeepers
    In comparison to wine, the beer gatekeepers are fewer in number and less strident in their opinions.  This allows them to embrace new products, technologies and promotions with greater ease than the opinion shapers in the wine industry. Do you recall the reaction by Italy’s DOC when the Antinori family wished to release wines made with non-traditional grapes in Tuscany. They were forced to use a table wine designation. In the 1990’s, when I was presenting Sonoma Wine to NYC restaurateurs at a time when Sonoma was winning more medals in competition that Napa wine in all varieties except Cabernet Sauvignon, it was extremely difficult to break into Napa-centric wine selections.  The prejudice was found when introducing  ultra-premium Chilean wines that clearly outmatched its Californian and European competition in its price range. The critical difference with beer gatekeepers is they have not built barriers to accepting new ideas and concepts.

Casual Chains Slash Wine Selections

April 7, 2014 § 1 Comment

According to Winemetrics preliminary 2014 wine list survey, 8 leading casual dining chains have reduced their wine selections, most  by double digits.  The following data indicates the steepest across the board decline we have ever witnessed in on-premise wine selections.  This may portend a trend by national accounts to shift emphasis from wine to the faster growing craft beer and cocktail segments of their beverage programs.

Winemetrics compared its mid-year 2013 wine list data with recently acquired data from identical chains this year.  Our findings indicate the following combined by-the-bottle and by-the-glass wine listings decreases by percentage.

Carrabba’s                       -6%

Longhorn Steakhouse      -22%

Olive Garden                   -28%

Outback Steakhouse        -18%

Red Lobster                      -6%

Romano’s                          -22%

Ruby Tuesday                   -17%


We will post more insights on this trend as our 2014 wine list update continues.




Wine – No Longer Winning By Default

April 7, 2014 § Leave a comment

There is a saying in the wine business: “On-Premise is where beverage trends begin and brands are built”.  As someone who has monitored on-premise trends for the better part of the past 4 decades, I have witnessed trends on-premise shape the wine industry. I have also seen trends, categories and brands, come and go and I honestly believe  that the alcohol beverage industry is at an inflection point, an instant when market forces and demographics can change the dynamics of an industry dramatically in a short period of time. In the alcohol beverage industry there have been several recent inflection points, for example, the rapid decline of Scotch and Blended whisk(e)y after 1980 (and parallel rise in vodka consumption). More recent examples of inflection points would be the transformation of still wine from declining consumption to robust growth in the early 1990’s and the spectacular recent expansion of craft beers which now accounts for 14% of the total US beer market.

If we follow the logic of trends originating on-premise, there are indications that wine consumption may be primed for dramatic changes. Based on Winemetrics intial 2014 survey of wine on-premise, wine’s popularity may again be in decline.  This is not due to a rejection of wine as the beverage of choice but rather the rise of formidable competitors in the form of craft beer and cocktails. In the past, wine was the go-to beverage for dining out.  This was not necessarily because the wine list offered a particularly good assortment of products at reasonable prices; it was often because there was no reasonable alternative.  Wine came to prominence on-premise at a time when beer lists were a monotony of light lagers, imported and domestic, and the cocktail list, if there was one, contained either insipid sweet drinks or simple standards composed of uninspired ingredients. Essentially wine won by default and diners put up with red, white or rose choices, especially in casual dining venues. This scene changed in the early-mid-1980s with the arrival of a younger, hipper restaurateurs seeking to redefine the dining experience.  The restaurant boom of the 1980s and 1990s provided a platform for wines of new varieties from new wine regions.  Wines became exciting and Boomers abandoned the beer and spirits diet of their parents and embraced all manner of exotic wines from around the globe. Around this time period, wine production took off and California went from Napa Valley to AVAs  encompassing the entire West Coast.  Craft brewing consisted of Anchor Steam and Sierra Nevada and several smaller brands (such as New Amsterdam where I worked) and the cocktail culture, as it was, resided with Dale DeGroff at the Rainbow Room bar.

Now, in the second decade of the new millennium, wine is now the old man of the beverage world, and it shows in the innovation, promotion and marketing of their products. Brewers are blending technology and tradition to create new flavors, acting more like Michelin-starred chefs than brewmasters, producing a vast array of incredibly unique and complex products. They are even employing used wine barrels to age their more sophisticated brews.

Spirits producers have followed suit with artisanal spirits aged in two sometimes three different types of barrels. Natural flavors have been added, beginning with vodka and migrating to brown spirits. Mixologists are barrel-aging cocktails and designing their own bitters and mixers. At cocktail destinations in major US cities, the drink architect is very likely the person behind the bar. His/her wine counterpart, the sommelier, may be lucky to collaborate on a single label with a talented enologist, but he/she plays merely a (wine list) editor’s function  to the mixologist’s role as author.

The beer and drink artisan are now prepared to assault the bastion that wine has occupied for decades, the role of food’s companion.  They have technology, innovation and imagination on their side, plus a Millenial audience that eschews artifice and spin.  Slapping a cute label on a bulk product won’t work on them, much to the chagrin of wine marketers who think that is a path to the next Yellow Tail or Little Black Dress.

As someone who has been in the wine business for over 30 years, I have a unique and surprisingly sober view of our industry.  I have seen trends and brands come and go, NY State Wine, Portuguese Roses, Wine Coolers, German Liebfraumilch, Alsatian Whites, Chilean wines (remember when those used to be on every wine list).  But those trends cycles aside, there was always one constant.  Wine was always the go-to beverage when dining out.   That is not the case anymore, and wine will have to either meet its beer and spirits competitors head on or be satisfied with a diminished role on-premise.



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