Going local

A couple of weeks ago, my old friend, Jim Trezise, President of the promotion and research office, the New York Wine and Grape Foundation (NYWGF) wrote a piece in his newsletter titled: Why Don’t New York Restaurants Feature More New York Wines? 

Jim told the story of having dined in a seafood restaurant located in the state’s capitol, Albany, where he found not one New York wine on the wine list.

This is a restaurant that apparently has taken part in an annual event that NYWGF sponsors to acquaint restaurants and retailers in the state with New York wines from all appellations and AVAs.

Yet, on this regular working day, the restaurant offered Riesling from Washington State, but not one from the state that arguably does that wine best in the U.S., and the state in which the restaurant is located!

Jim wanted to know from the manager why there are no New York wines on the list. When he asked if her choice had to do with quality, the manager said no, the quality of New York wine is not a problem.

Jim pressed on. Is it pricing? No, she isn’t concerned about the pricing of New York wines.

He didn’t give up. Jim asked if she was unhappy with the promotion of the wines. No, she is glad to participate in the annual get acquainted promotion hosted by NYWGF.

One more time: Do the wines lack recommendations? Not really. In fact, the manager told Jim that the NY Restaurant Association encourages restaurants to feature local wines.

The only thing the manager did say that seemed to be nice to hear is that even though New York wines have been receiving decent magazine ratings lately, those ratings don’t really matter in a restaurant setting—good news, if you ask me.

Baffled, Jim wanted to know what the problem is.

The manager’s answer was that wholesalers bring specials to the restaurant, print the wine lists, and make her life easy.

Jim was of course incredulous. He cannot understand why the manager would forgo wines on the list that she admitted are a good match for her restaurant just because the wholesalers make her life easy, to which I ask: why not?

Why shouldn’t the manager respond to a promotional mechanism that makes her life easy? Isn’t that why the wholesalers do it? They make her life easy; she buys wine from them.

Obviously, the wholesalers don’t offer specials on New York wine, and even wholesalers who offer the wines don’t seem to readily print them on the wine list. Should we blame the manager for accepting the specials she is offered and the printed wine list?

First, let’s address the specials.

The wholesaler provides the specials to the restaurant, but they are generally sponsored—and paid for—by the producer. The producer provides the wholesaler with what is called in the business a “program.”

A program can come in a number of forms, but each form is a way to reduce the wholesale price of wines while increasing the incentive to buy in large volume. Both wholesaler and producer get behind the program and help promote the wines so that they move well and the restaurant makes a profit.

A program is also designed to motivate the wholesaler’s sales team to push the wines in the marketplace.

I suspect that New York wines need more programs and they need to push the wholesalers harder–either that, or get customers to demand their wines in restaurants.

Loyalty to local wines is a fine thing for the NYWGF to promote and for a restaurant to engage in, but it’s profits that the restaurant needs in order to stay in business. The annual New York wine promotion event is proof enough that the promotion must either bring more people or better wine prices to the restaurant. If the promotion is not extended or added to throughout the year, and the hordes stop asking for local wine, the restaurant goes back into “easy profit” mode.

Now, for that wine list printed and provided by the wholesaler.

In this day of desktop publishing, there’s no excuse for a restaurant to rely on it. And by not using desktop publishing to create its own wine list, the restaurant shows that it isn’t much interested in giving its customers revolving and dynamic wine choices. To me, that’s an even worse offense than shunning local wines.

If you are reading this entry anywhere other than on the vinofictions blog, be aware that it has been lifted without my permission (and without recompense), and that’s a copyright infringement, no matter that the copyright information appears with it.

Copyright Thomas Pellechia
February 2009. All rights reserved.

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