Sourcing the right wine for your customers

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The increasing importance of wine to the pub trade means that outlets need to offer a more diverse wine list that they did a year or ago. John Porter...

The increasing importance of wine to the pub trade means that outlets need to offer a more diverse wine list that they did a year or ago. John Porter looks at the supply options open to licensees.

For some wine enthusiasts, buying different wines and filling up the wine rack provides almost as much pleasure as actually uncorking and drinking a bottle itself. As a publican, the chances are you don't fall into that category - not because you don't enjoy the occasional glass of wine, but simply because time is a luxury which is in short supply when running a business.

The increasing importance of wine sales to the pub trade means that most outlets today need to offer a wider and more diverse wine list that they did even a year ago.

If you take a few different occasions, you start to understand the range of varieties and pack sizes you need to stock:

  • a couple having a meal out
  • a group of friends ordering a bottle each of red and white to split
  • someone in a round drinking by the glass
  • a group celebrating a birthday or anniversary with champagne.

Graham Threader, sales director of Waverley Wines & Spirits, said: "In establishing the correct range, publicans should consider such factors as the food on offer, the type of customer and customer preference for country and grape variety.

"Customer sophistication has moved on significantly and "house wine" is arguably an obsolete term, given the number of excellent value-for-money entry-point wines currently available."

Brewers' wine operations

If you are the tenant of a brewery which has its own wine buying and wholesaling business, your tie may well cover wine as well. Even so, it is still worth taking a regular look at the wines available rather than simply including a case of red and a case of white with every order.

As the market for wine in pubs has grown over the past few years, most brewery in-house wine operations have become more sophisticated, and so there may be a wider range available through the tie than you think.

You may also be able to get some marketing and promotional support for your wine sales from this source.

If you are not tied for wine, you should also consider using one of the regional brewery-owned wine buying operations, which are geared to the needs and buying patterns of pubs, and usually quite happy to take on freetrade customers.

Other suppliers

The other main options open to you are:

  • The cash and carry: The big groups have a good range of wines, such as Booker's Malt House Vintners range. Most also have a wholesale arm which will deliver orders.
  • The national specialists: These are normally owned by one of the major drinks companies. such as Waverley, owned by Scottish Courage, and Percy Fox, owned by Guinness UDV.
  • The national wholesalers: Perhaps the best-known example is Matthew Clark Wholesale, which supplies the Stowells of Chelsea and Grants of St James range from Matthew Clark Brands, as well as other wines.
  • A specialist local wine merchant: You may get a higher level of personal service, although some publicans observe that local wine merchants tend to be more geared to the needs of restaurants than pubs.

Building a wine list

Ultimately, you are still the best judge of what your customers want. If you don't feel you have the time to oversee the wine list yourself, you might consider delegating the job to a member of staff with an interest in the subject. However, the right supplier will be willing to put in the time to work with you.

Steve Holt, marketing director of Grants of St James's Wine, said: "Wine is a very broad category that will have something to appeal to most people, but an outlet has to establish what will work best for them in terms of the range and styles of wines offered. Suppliers can help with this in a variety of ways, such as providing assistance with drawing up as a wine list appropriate to the pub and its customers, and in some cases organising wine tastings and education sessions for pub staff."

The biggest-selling wine brand in the on-trade, Stowells of Chelsea, indicates that many publicans place a great deal of value on a supplier who takes away as much of the guesswork as possible. The Stowells range includes a good mix of Old and New World varieties, in standard 70cl bottles, three and 10 litre wine boxes for back bar or bar-top dispense, and the increasing popular single-serve bottle size.

Richard Wilson, business unit director on-trade for Australian wine producer BRL Hardy, said: "Particularly if your wine sales are small, consideration should be given to smaller bottle sizes of branded wines to help minimise wastage." Hardy produces the Stamp of Australia range, which is one of the most successful New World brands in pubs. Mr Wilson also suggests that a limited wine list of about 10 wines is a good starting point for a pub looking to develop a wider range of wines.

"Make sure your wine list has a strong representation of the best-selling wine brands from a selection of different countries. Think about your customer profile and demographics to ensure your wine list reflects their tastes and profile," he said.

Hands-on approach

However, there are publicans who like to take more of a hands-on approach. At the Kaye Arms, in Grange Moor, West Yorkshire, Nicola Quarmby, one of the five family members who are partners in the business, said: "It's practically a full-time job to manage the wine list, but I've always been very interested in wine, and have taken the time to learn about it. We all regularly look out for new and interesting wines when we're out, and I enjoy selecting wines for the pub."

Reflecting the importance of food to the business, the wine list is substantially bigger than most pubs could successfully manage, with up to 75 wines on the main list, as well as regular special offers and a "bin end" list. The Kaye Arms works with a number of wine merchants, and Ms Quarmby takes ultimate responsibility for updating the wine list. "I produce it myself on a computer, which means that I can update it whenever I need to."

Related topics: Wine, Spirits & Cocktails

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