You noted a dramatic increase in wine sales this year—what’s behind that?
Comparing December 2011 to 2010, our wine sales were up 25 percent. I brought on a young sommelier, Scott Ota—he shares my philosophy on pricing and the experience we want to deliver to the guests. We started doing weekly training and he’s reinvigorated the team; now we have two captains that are aspiring to be sommeliers. It’s become pretty contagious.
And it looks like a lot of your sales are in Champagne.
We’re recognized by locals as a special-occasion restaurant – to celebrate an anniversary or a graduation. If someone is celebrating, we want to have a great Champagne selection. We’ve started to emphasize the grower producers—we’re highlighting them with an asterisk so it automatically becomes a topic of conversation. I actually discovered Marc Hébrart by accident. I picked up a bottle at Austin Wine Merchants. A month later, when Scott mentioned his passion for growers, I threw out the name Marc Hébrart, and we both agreed it was fantastic.
I noticed several big names from California among your ten best-selling wines.
In the cabernet category, those wines are our top sellers—Stags Leap Wine Cellars, Faust. As a hotel restaurant, we get a lot of business travelers that conduct dinner meetings. It’s about quality but also name recognition; it’s about making a statement. We have to read the guests, to know when it’s the right time to encourage something new. Business settings are not the right time to do that. We order those wines by the case rather than the half case. In general, we sell more New World than Old World. It’s about comfort level. People hear more about them, read more about them. The only way we see sales in the Italian category is when someone really loves Italian wines or guests want to try something new. Outside of the New World, our Bordeaux wines are the next highest selling.
And then there’s Willamette Valley pinot noir, with several listed among your best sellers.
When it comes to pinot noirs, everybody recognizes that they’re food-friendly. We see Willamette wines ordered a little more because they work with the food here better than the California ones. Plus there’s a value factor. We have the Evening Land Blue Label on the list. When you taste it side-by-side with another wine in the same price category, it’s clear just what a good product and great value it is. We’ve had it for about six or seven months and it’s done very well. The name is starting to get recognized.
Why aren’t Burgundies and Bordeaux among your top sellers? Is it a function of price?
I think certainly price has an impact. My challenge at first was finding them. I don’t want to buy a case of something that I have to lay down for five to ten years before it’s ready to drink. I like to buy what’s drinkable now. But now, we’re forming good relationships with brokers and finding some ready-to-drink Bordeaux. We’ve added 15 Bordeaux including a couple of ’82s (Haut Brion and Lynch-Bages)…even got our hands on a ’59 Latour and a 2000 Pétrus. As you start adding these types of wine again, the true aficionados come back.
This is a W&S web exclusive. Get access to all of our feature stories by signing up today.