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Get that (Wine) Money

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Spring means more than dragging out the patio furniture and stocking up on allergy medications – it’s also a time to refresh your wine menu. More importantly, it’s time to look for wines that are cheaper in the wholesale market and a better margin for you – all the while keeping your customers happy.

Here’s some advice on what to look for (and what to avoid) to get good wines and great margins.

Look for: Wines from lesser-known regions.
Wines from certain areas are more expensive simply because they can be. Not only are wines from the Bordeaux delicious, they’re also recognizable and easy to sell on name alone. If you’re willing to do a little extra staff training and educate your customer, you can get great margin out of wines from lesser-known regions. If you’re looking for Bordeaux, you might be able to do better looking for some of its less-heralded (aka marketed) neighbors. Instead of Bordeaux, try Cahors or Cabardès.

Avoid: Last Year’s Rosé
Only a few years ago many thought of rosé as cheap and unsophisticated. As beverage directors, critics and chefs began to embrace the wine for what is was – fun, food friendly and maybe too drinkable, customers reaped the benefits. But where there is a trend, there is also the danger of buying into the wrong thing. A wine rep will probably visit you, bottles in tow, and try to sell you on a great close-out deal for last year’s rose. Don’t do it. While some rose can age, most does not. If they couldn’t sell it last summer, there’s probably a reason.

Look For: Wines in alternative packaging.
When we imagine a bottle of wine, we think of that tried and true 750ml bottle, but the wine industry has some better ideas worth exploring. Some Austrian wines are now coming in 1L bottles, cutting down on packing costs and making for a better deal. Some wineries are also putting wines in cans (yes, cans…) and (here it comes…) boxes! This isn’t necessarily a reflection of the quality of the wine, but a new willingness by winemakers to find cheaper ways to package their wines for sale. Since packaging wine in a box is cheaper, so are the wines.

Avoid: Anything you see in a grocery store endcap.
This is an easy mistake to make – a sales rep shows you a good wine for a great price and you start glass pouring it for a killer margin. Yet, for some reason customers aren’t buying it. What happened? You’re not the only one who realized that wine was a screaming deal – so did the buyer at the grocery store down the street. Now all your customers know that wine is $8 a bottle, and you’re selling it for $9 a glass. When you see a deal, always ask your rep who else is buying it.

Look for: An exclusive deal with the distributor.
Every state is different in terms of how you can negotiate wine prices with your distributor (it varies mainly on which former bootlegging organization paid which state senator in 1933, but I digress.) If possible (and trust me, it’s always possible) try and lock down a couple affordable wines for your own exclusive use. This tactic can have a couple advantages. First, it avoids the grocery store issue. Second, you may be able to negotiate a better price for taking the whole shipment off the distributor’s books. They might even let you store it in their warehouse and deliver it as you need it. Long story short, make it clear to your reps you’re willing to make deals and see what they can do for you.

Avoid: Being closed minded.
Finding a good deal requires a bit of openness. You need to explore alternate regions, be open to new ideas about packaging, and be willing to wheel and deal. While the fun of running a beverage program might be in the selling, the real skill is being creative when buying.

Jack Hott

Jack Hott has more than 20 years experience in the hospitality industry. Along the way he’s flipped burgers, tossed pizzas and spilled a lot of wine on white table cloths.

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