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What Are Sommeliers Really Looking For When They Select New Brands?

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02/09/2019 Here are a few factors that sommeliers look upon before selecting a wine brand.

There are a variety of reasons why sommeliers select wine brands for their wine programs. At the end of the day, restaurant wine programs need to be profitable, so sommeliers are particularly aware of how wine brands can help them to deliver on their underlying financial and performance goals. With that in mind, there are several types of wine that are top-of-mind for sommeliers.

Wine that fill a gap in an existing wine portfolio

Perhaps the most common reason why sommeliers select a new brand to work with is because they are facing a particular gap in their wine portfolio. If wine brands can help to fill that gap, then they could become a very important addition to the overall wine program. For example, say that a steakhouse already has a very impressive lineup of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon on the wine menu. If a wine brand reaches out to them with the idea of adding a new California Cabernet Sauvignon to the wine menu, it’s understandable if the sommelier is less than enthusiastic about pursuing this further. But what if, instead, the wine brand is able to propose another type of steakhouse red - such as a hearty Malbec from Mendoza - that might be a hit with diners? A sommelier might sign on for this. And, as an added bonus, if the Malbec sells well, the sommelier might then be willing to talk about adding that Cabernet Sauvignon to the by-the-glass wine list.

Wines that can boost By-The-Glass wine sales

For restaurants, the highest margins and profits are actually on by-the-glass wine sales, and not on bottle sales. Thus, it’s perhaps no surprise that sommeliers are looking for BTG winners that can provide an immediate boost to the bottom line. On any given night, the highest-margin wines being sold are those that are on the BTG list. Thus, if a wine brand is able to offer a popular wine - such as a Chardonnay or Cabernet Sauvignon - at a very attractive selling price, that might also get the attention of sommeliers. The biggest wine brands do so much volume nationally that they can consistently offer the lowest sale prices to sommeliers,

The important point here, of course, is to find the “right” wines to offer for the BTG list. Wine brands should be familiar with the current wines on the list, and understand how many different types of each wine a restaurant might offer. The greatest opportunity here is with wines that are starting to trend, where wine directors might be scrambling to lock up supply before any of their other rivals in the marketplace.

Wines that are “on trend” and resonating with restaurant patrons

Wine brands can give themselves an immediate boost in the eyes of sommeliers if they can provide access to new wines that are currently trending in the marketplace. For example, wines like Rosé and Prosecco are now incredibly popular, and when these trends first started to emerge in the marketplace, wine brands that were able to offer a supply of these bottles were top-of-mind for sommeliers. Wine trends can be based around a number of different key variables. For example, a wine trend might be based around varietal. Or it could just as easily be based around origin. Certain wine nations - such as Portugal - are constantly showing up in reports about new consumer wine drinking preferences.

And, sometimes, the wine trend that is cresting to the top of the wine-drinking zeitgeist involves the style of the wine. Natural, organic and biodynamic wines are all popular choices with restaurant patrons. The same consumer who shops for organic fruits and vegetables at a store like Whole Foods, for example, is also looking for organic wines that can be enjoyed over dinner at a restaurant.

Wine that come with their own social media marketing buzz

In the social media era, it’s perhaps no surprise that social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are playing a leading role in determining which wines are sold in restaurants. Celebrities, online influencers and digital trendsetters all play a role in getting people to talk about certain wines, wine regions, or wine varietals. Thus, it makes the job of the sommelier much easier if a certain wine already comes with its own marketing support. Instead of worrying about new promotions or new marketing collateral, it’s helpful if wine consumers already have a good idea of which wines they want to drink, and why. As the Wall Street Journal has pointed out, a celebrity influencer like LeBron James can start a new wine trend literally overnight. By the next day, restaurant patrons around the nation might be asking sommeliers and wine directors for “the wine that LeBron is drinking.” As a result, the more that a wine brand can show and demonstrate a massive upswell of grassroots support, the more likely that a sommelier will be to select that wine brand for their wine portfolio.

Wine brands that are trusted business partners

The most successful wine brands realize that wine sales are not a transactional business. Instead, it is a relationship-driven business. Thus, it is vital that wine brands can demonstrate that they are (or will become) trusted partners. This involves a number of different variables. One of these, of course, is simply being able to be counted on to provide a regular supply of high-quality wine at the right time. This is easier for larger wine brands than smaller wine brands. For smaller wine brands, then, it’s important to think about logistics, and how they can compete with their larger rivals. And, thinking beyond logistics, there are plenty of other ways that wine brands can become trusted partners. Simply showing a willingness to partner on new marketing campaigns, for example, might be one way to attract the attention of sommeliers. Wine brands that are very active on social media, or that run very slick on-premise promotions, are going to be more valuable to sommeliers than wine brands that simply drop off a supply of new wine bottles every two weeks.

Of course, wine quality matters when a sommelier is selecting a new wine to add to a wine list. However, quality is not the only factor that matters to the modern wine consumer, and thus, quality is no longer the sole criterion that a sommelier might use to choose a new wine brand for his or her wine program. By taking a big picture view of why and how sommeliers select wine brands, it’s possible to put together an effective selling proposition to ensure that your wine brand is chosen.

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