Sunday, September 7, 2008


I am often vexed by the wines available only to restaurants. I would not normally take issue with those wineries except that many of these wines end up reviewed, and most wine consumers, many of them new to wine, see the accolades dumped on a particular wine and winery by Wine Spectator, and they immediately head to the store to track it down, unaware that the winery with said accolades is voraciously intent on selling their product only to restaurant (referred to in this business as “on-premise” accounts).

When I have customers ask for these wines, it becomes tiresome, not because they are asking for them, but because I have to tell them I can’t get them. I am in the business of customer service, and the last thing anyone in customer service, no matter what aspect of it, wants to do is tell a customer “no.” It’s bad for business. Certainly there is a level of understanding when you make them aware of just how limited a particular wine is, but if they just had it at a restaurant down the street, you cannot make them understand that it is a restaurant-only wine. They saw it available in the neighborhood so it should be available to buy.

Take Cakebread for example. Sure some of the larger markets have access to small amounts, and we even see a bit from time to time (it’s kind of like seeing a Solar Eclipse around here), but for the most part, forget it. We hear this story and that story, but in the end, we can’t get it, and that infuriates customers. It makes me wonder, if they aren’t able to buy it in a retail store, why would they want to buy it at a restaurant? Especially when most customers are savvy enough to realize the enormous markup restaurants put on wine.

Again, I can understand when a winery makes 300 cases of something for the year, and the demand is for 3000 or 30,000. It makes sense to limit it to “on-premise,” but it still begs the question, “Doesn’t wineries like that want some kind of brand loyalty? How can they expect customers to want their wines if they aren’t available, at least to some extent, to retail shops?”
And how can any winery expect anyone to pay over $100 a bottle in a restaurant these days? Restaurants are hurting as it is, and you think that a $300 bottle of Hundred Acre Cabernet Sauvignon is going to sell at all, unless it’s to some Russian oil baron or the Sultan of Bhutan? It’s crazy. Merry Edwards and Cakebread are probably my two biggest gripes, yet there are a lot of them. I feel like every time I have to tell a customer that a wine isn’t available to retail, I want to call that winery up and tell them to tell my customer.

Nothing like the taste of sour grapes for the weekend, eh?

No comments: