SUMMING IT UP
• Test out new wines with members and guests by offering tastings and asking for their feedback.
• Offer flights on your menu; include one familiar varietal, one that’s less common, and something very unusual.
• Make sure your list has price options from low to high.
• Survey your members to find out what they like and what they want on the list.
• Offer guided tastings for members. Do the same for serving staff.
To keep wine offerings competitive, clubs and resorts need a balanced selection that reflects a diversity of varietals, styles, regions and prices.
Americans are developing a very European attitude toward wine. Consumption, once reserved for special occasions, continues to rise, as more and more people see wine as something that can enhance foods or be enjoyed on its own, any day of the week. Michael Cimino, Food and Beverage Director at Arcola Country Club in Paramus, N.J., reports that members are even opting for crisp refreshing whites as an alternative to beer or soda after a round of golf. So it’s more important than ever to have a good list. That doesn’t necessarily mean long or deep; these days, variety defines a savvy, successful wine list.
“Clubs have great potential for wine sales,” explains Randa Warren, master sommelier and one of just 17 women in the world to hold that title. “But they need to be more competitive, with a balanced selection that reflects a diversity of varietals, styles, regions and prices.”
A consultant and educator based in Tulsa, Warren recently shared tips with attendees of a regional meeting of the Club Managers Association of America on how to strengthen a list’s appeal. “Consumers are getting more knowledgeable about wine, and many like to try things they’ve never heard of,” she says. “Clubs are responding, or should be, by branching out beyond the limited, traditional—and often stuffy—selections they’ve always offered.”
Warren suggests mixing in unusual wines with more familiar ones, citing southen Italy’s Greco Di Tufa and Falanghina as examples. To win fans, she says, it’s important to provide free samples or include them in flights, and also suggest pairings with dinner specials. “Your list has the potential to make the dining experience fun and exciting, and not just another meal at the club,” she says.
Cassie Shelton is Sommelier and Bar Manager at the Oklahoma City Golf and Country Club. She took classes with Warren and is currently the state’s only certified sommelier. Shelton and General Manager Oliver Boudin, CCM, have reinvented the club’s wine program since they came on board about a year ago, going from 80 to 420 bottles with a focus on flavors and styles compatible with the chef’s cuisine. The by-the-glass offerings also got a much needed makeover.
“They had been serving the same few wines for two years,” Shelton says. “Now we have 12 whites and 13 reds by the glass, and the selection keeps changing.”
One of the most innovative moves was to separate the bottle book—brought to the table on request—from the by-the-glass pours. “A fifteen-page, leather-bound book can be overwhelming,” Shelton notes. “Our by-the-glass list makes ordering easier, and guests are more likely to find something different. We include flights, too, and have a featured winery of the month, with a picture of the label and a detailed description that we also put in our member newsletter.”
Patrons are doing more sampling, reports Shelton, and choosing specific, better quality, and more expensive wines, instead of asking for the generic house red or glass of merlot. “A strong by-the-glass program definitely increases sales,” she says.
Halves Make Them More than Whole
Half-bottles are winners at Woodlands Resort and Inn. Stephane Peltier, Sommelier at the luxury retreat near Charleston, S.C., has stocked the cellar with close to a hundred of these smaller-quantity labels and varietals, many quite special, to satisfy the needs of guests who are drinking less, but still drinking well.
“It has been a very good approach for us,” Peltier says, “especially on week nights. Once wine is opened, it starts to oxidize, and quality diminishes after a day. With half-bottles, they get very good wines, uncorked right in front of them and served at their best.”
Through this approach, Peltier can sell reduced-size bottles for as much as from $100 to $300. But it’s a challenge to source them, he admits, as far fewer vintners package their wines this way. By promising to buy in quantity, he’s been able to persuade some wineries to make special half-bottle runs just for him.
Woodland Resort and Inn’s full, 70-page wine list features selections from 18 countries, with prices that start at $28 and can go as high as $4,000. “We need big names that customers recognize,” Peltier explains, “but I put a lot of small boutique producers in there like Sonoma’s Williams Selyem and Kistler, for the connoisseurs who don’t want to see the same things they can find at the store.”
Arcola Country Club’s Michael Cimino, a member of the Sommelier Society of American and a certified Wine Captain, also aims to deliver value by offering wines that are not over-exposed at the retail level. “Some wineries have special lines that they reserve for restaurants,” he says. “That’s what Kenwood of California does with its Yulupa series. People know the name and associate it with quality, but these bottles are new to them.”
For affordable quality, Cimono turns to lesser-known regions and producers, and generates buzz by recommending and pouring. “These wines are very reasonable,” he says. “I don’t hesitate to pull the cork so guests can have a taste.”
Despite a well-heeled membership, La Jolla Country Club now offers many more wines priced between $45 and $75. “That’s the ‘sweet spot’ for us,” says Paul Krikorian, Certified Sommelier and Director of Wine. “This is what those who come in regularly are looking for.”
While he’s expanded the number of selections, Krikorian manages costs by reducing inventory. “I’m buying in three-case quantities instead of ten, and reordering based on what’s popular,” he reports.
He uses a handsome, bound, cork-covered book for his 250-bottle list, and keeps it up-to-date by reprinting individual pages, which are in plastic sleeves, as needed. The book is organized by grape type. “People who might not consider ordering a Spanish or South African red are willing to give it a try when it appears under a heading they know, like Merlot or Cabernet,” he notes.
To keep the book length manageable, Krikorian focuses on about 175 selections, and writes concisely. “I don’t do ‘flowery’,” he says. “Descriptions are limited to a couple of sentences of useful information: structural components, body, whether it’s dry or sweet, what it pairs well with, and maybe a rating by Robert Parker to boost interest in a slow-seller.”
Jim Fisher, Food and Beverage Director at Westwood Country Club in Austin, Texas, has added bin numbers to his list. “It’s an alternative for someone who can’t figure out how to say the name of a wine they want to order,” he explains. He has also moved the more esoteric and boutique wines to a separate Captain’s presentation board. The regular two-page list reflects the prevailing preference for well-known standards.
“Only a small portion of our guests are interested in learning about wine or will ask for suggestions,” Fisher says. “The other 70 percent are here to have a good time. They don’t come to be educated, and they know what they like. It’s important to create a list that’s right for your particular clientele.”
New Energy from a ‘Listless’ Approach
In perhaps the most dramatic new approach of all, The Reserve Wine Bar at the Grand Sierra Resort and Casino in Reno has gotten rid of its wine list all together. Instead, ten state-of-the-art, self-serve Enomatic machines now dispense Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Zinfandel in 1-, 3-, and 5-ounce portions. Each machine holds eight different wines, protected by argon gas. Most are from California, and tasting notes are posted for each wine.
Resort patrons purchase debit cards in any amount, insert them into the machines, and push a button to dispense their selected wine. Paul Mazurowski, Senior Vice President for Food and Beverage, tracks sales on his office computer and adjusts selections according to the popular vote.
“Both the budget-minded drinker and those who don’t care about cost have choices,” Mazurowski reports. “The system makes it easy to try a lot of different wines, and eliminates any self-consciousness someone might have about ordering less expensive things. But if someone wants Opus One or Cakebread, it’s here. People have never seen anything like this, and are responding with enthusiasm.”