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So there’s clearly a great deal of opportunity, and it seems that innovation is the key to unlocking it:


If guests are looking for more experience then it might pay to take cues from some of the industry leaders.  Central London merchants The Sampler have 80 wines on offer to sample in each of their shops at all times, charging from 30p a go. Their Icon machine enables you to try some of the most expensive and highly sought after wines in the world without having to re-mortgage your house to buy a bottle.  At Ten Green Bottles in Brighton, the line dividing wine bar and wine shop has been blurred even further with the team leading tastings for 2 to 30 guests who can also purchase from the shop for a corkage of just £5.  It’s the same dynamic at the D&D owned New Street Wine Shop in The City, where guests can shop and sample and order from a light menu.  City Winery in NYC take it a step further, combining an award-winning food and music venue with an in-house winery where members are mentored through the winemaking process.

Closely linked with experience is knowledge, but not just in terms of flavour.  As with food, guests want to know much more about the story of who’s behind the wine, how local is it, was it sustainably produced etc.  So you’d better be thinking about that during your team training.


In common with recent food trends, Enotria are reporting an increasing level of interest in stronger flavour.  Ultimately this is the key to breaking out of the Pinot Grigio related race to the bottom.  This trend is manifesting as more fruit, aromatics and floral tones and its opening the door for a whole range of new blends to rescue the category.  In particular, millennial guests may be more likely to appreciate the benefits of blends over the brand recognition of varietals.  Your job is to make sure the team can explain the benefit.  A terrific example is the 2013 Black Label ‘PGR’ from NZ winemaker Yealands, mixing Pinot, Gewurztraminer and Riesling, to create a delicious and unusual blend. In addition, you might want to think about Vinho Verde or Malvasia as varietals giving a lot of flavour that have recently been overlooked. And while we’re on it, Spain and Portugal look best set to provide the right level interest and fun required to get guests turning back onto wine.


Actually having a serve strategy is probably the starting point here!  After all, if you’re moving your lunch offer to a fast-casual version of your core offer then it doesn’t make much sense to leave most of your wines available by the bottle for your time strapped lunch guest.

The wine offer needs to match the occasion. So if you only ever sell a main course over £16 Thursday through Sunday, then its probably right to supplement your offer with special or reserve wine menus on those days, same for special occasions.

What size should you dispense?  Wine by the glass provides accessibility as discussed, so it might be right to extend that to a carafe serve (25cl/50cl/75cl).  In Russell Normans Central London empire, carafe sales outsell bottles allowing guests to upscale affordably. In addition, his own label (Polpo) are his biggest sellers. Fraser McGuire reckons magnums are the right call for this years festive season, especially with fizz.

Over ice?  All Bar One are launching a bottled sangria product called Lolea to take advantage of the warmer months and the demand for over-ice serves. And lastly, don’t abandon Malbec.. still trending thanks to red meat demand.


Sparkling is the wine category’s strongest performer thanks recently to the huge popularity of Prosecco. So it makes sense to explore the options and guests are rewarding a number of different approaches. Cava has suffered somewhat because of aggressive supermarket discounting, but you can make it work for you by exploring some of the newly available fully flavoured, barrel-aged wines such as Torello Cava. Other Italian varieties also trade well such as the Ferrari Brut available at Carluccios, and don’t ignore ‘lost’ genre’s such as trendy-again Lambrusco which is firmly back in favour, re-styled and bursting with fruit. English sparkling is a good call here if you can get the volume, local and often great quality.


Front bar merchandising is effective but its incredibly rare to find it done well. Bar Boulud in Knightsbridge provide a gorgeous crushed ice bath sunk into the front counter, it’s irresistible.  In Soneva Fushi, Maldives, you stroll past the iced white wines situated in the dining room on your way to the table.  Commonly, in Spain, the red wine is already on the table.  Making it easy is key. And making it fun and interesting is everything.

Thinking carefully about back bar set up and the visual cues the labels give is a good call.  If you’re able to merchandise your wine then you might want to give some thought as to the messages the labels give to help with guest choice. Does it look like a traditional classic, is it radically modern.  There’s a trend towards the full bottle wrap that gives a lot of impact, and for more texture to the label.

As Enotria’s Danyel Harris says, “If you can make wine fun and interesting for the guest again, then you have a head start.”  And not everyone thinks wine decline is a long-term problem.  “We’ve tested it long enough in enough markets — this is a program that works,” Starbucks Chief Operating Officer Troy Alstead told Bloomberg News recently. “As we bring the evening program to stores, there’s a meaningful increase in sales during that time of the day.” (20,100 locations worldwide). 

Bottom lines: if you think Millenials aren’t the key to your future wine growth, you’re probably wrong; if you think more entry-level bottles are a good idea on your list, you’re also probably wrong; if you think more expensive wine has no real place after the recession, you’re.. wait for it.. wrong; if you think wine by the glass leads to lower sales, you’re also, maybe.. wrong; if you think blends can’t be popular because they’re not taking advantage of the brand recognition of well-known grape varieties, you’re probably wrong again, and if you think you can’t do anything about overall wine volume declines, you’re very wrong.

“We are now in the second wave of the wine bar.” pronounced The Independent last month.  Wine bars, it seems, are not what they used to be.  Which is a surprise given that much of the industry is looking at long term wine category decline.  And it’s especially interesting given that it wasn’t so long ago that wine bars were often regarded either nostalgically, or tragically. Either way most people had stopped going.

But suddenly we’re witnessing an outbreak of Brooklyn influenced rooms across the country, light on pomposity, high on hip-factor and often operated by women.  Charlotte Wilde of Hackney based Sage & Wilde references trendsetters such as Paisley Kennett at Trullo, or Emily Harman at the Zetter in Clerkenwell, which is a departure from the old-guard.  Women, says Charlotte “tend to be a little more relaxed”.



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So something significant is happening, because at the same time that new wine businesses are proliferating, CGAPeach are reporting industry-wide wine declines. In the on-trade -2% for still wine across 2013 and the same thing is happening in the off-trade according to the WSTA (Wine and Spirit Trade Association), with an increased level of decline particularly over the last 12 weeks.

Fraser McGuire, On Trade Commercial Director at leading wine merchant Enotria thinks he might know why.  “Duty is eating away margin for the retailer and that’s stifling innovation in the category”.  One of the issues, it would seem, is that in the clamour to maintain margin, entry-level wines are stretching across lists resulting in a poor experiences for the guest.  “Having a good spread across the list is crucial as the consumer suffers in the end.”  And, of course, that’s also a problem because even with the duty escalator frozen, the cost of entry-level wine is rising creating a race for the bottom in terms of quality and experience. “Ultimately, £14.50 bottles of wine are just not going to engage people.” says Fraser.


That’s absolutely not whats happening with the resurgent independent wine operators.  There are a number of success factors that stand out from successful operators such as L’Entrepot in Hackney, or 28-50 in London.  First amongst those is frequency of change. Smaller lists changing more often adds interest and encourages interaction between the team and the guest.  Next comes an absence of pretension: no starched cloths, no lecture from the sommelier here which makes the experience much more accessible.  The focus is less on heavy-handed education and more on satisfaction, so no extensive tasting notes, no poncy language.  "What's happening with wine is what happened with cocktails in the late 1990s. A few bars have started doing things differently, which gives the customer higher expectations, which they then carry with them to the next bar," says Michael Sager of the aforementioned Sager and Wilde.

There are two other important lessons. Firstly, food is key to the offer and not an after-thought. Often, small plates are being used to add to the accessibility and keep the headline prices down.  They also tend to be more serious about 125ml and 175ml glass sizes than your typical branded operator and the pricing tends to prefer a set margin uplift on the bottle price, meaning that better wine is a better deal for the guest.

Enotria’s Director of Sales Danyel Harris agrees with the strategy, “Smaller sizes will mean sustainable success for wine and help defeat the race to the bottom. And smaller lists work because they enable you to offer everything by the glass, you can work seasonally and swap varietals more easily and at less risk. “

“Redemption in your wine category lies with innovation, and that doesn’t mean adding another Pinot Grigio.”

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I’m a restaurant developer, living in Brighton and working with the UK’s top restaurant brands. I’m  usually travelling around the world working with bars and restaurants; in London helping start-ups; or in Brighton at our cafe in the beach. This site is about how to interpret whats going on, hope its of use. 

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A version of this trend report appears in the Peach Report (2016), the market-leading publication for the UK eating-out and drinking-out market