restaurant wine list

Wining and Dining: How to get people to “wine” with yours

Larry Chandler blogs about how a small winery can find their way onto a restaurant wine list.

It’s the goal of most, if not all, wineries to get onto a restaurant’s wine list. The reasons for this are fairly clear. It’s more prestigious to be on a list, especially if the restaurant is well regarded. Even if a winery can sell that particular wine “out the winery door,” being on a list can help sell other wines they produce not on that list.

People may see a wine on the list and may remember it even if they don’t buy it then, especially if the sommelier talks about it and touts it to the diner. If a diner is not familiar with the winery, yet orders it and enjoys it, he may contact the winery and order more.

So how can a small winery get on a restaurant’s wine list?

If the restaurant is located in the same general area as the winery, then it may not be particularly difficult. Restaurants like to promote local wineries as people frequently travel to wine regions to sample the local product. But even where it is difficult, it is worth pursuing.

Local restaurants have out-of-town visitors who may seek your wines back home.

One winery owner I talked to discovered receiving orders for wine as well as requests for membership in states where the winery did not distribute. They asked their new customers how they heard of the winery. The response was they had visited the region, enjoyed this winery’s product, and when they discovered they could not buy them locally, ordered them online.

If the restaurant is out of the area, then it might be more difficult, especially if your winery is not a well-known brand. But it still is very doable.

While many or most restaurants do need to include the famous names and highly scored wines on their list to satisfy their customers, some restaurants are eager to offer lesser known labels for their more adventurous customers.

Lesser known varieties can work to your advantage.

Perhaps your winery makes a little-known variety. If you have gotten press on it, or awards or high scores, letting the restaurant or sommelier know about it can help. If you kept up with who those people are, you could even invite them to your winery and offer them the entire range of your product. Or if you can visit them, you or your wholesaler (if you have one), can offer to taste them on your wines.

Menus may change with the seasons. Wine lists too.

Does the restaurant change its list often? If so, even if you are not on the list now, perhaps you make a wine that will pair well with the food they plan for next fall. Keep in touch with them even if they don’t need your wine right away.

“Audition” your wines

Encourage a restaurant to plan a once a month “tryout” dinner. Here the restaurant prepares new dishes to see what their customers might enjoy. This could also include wines not currently on their list. It’s a great way to introduce new items that may eventually make it to the menu.

Look for a wine list’s Achilles Heel

Restaurants like to think their wine lists are perfect. Or close to it. But that is frequently not the case. They may not realize that there are no mid-priced Cabernet Sauvignon, for instance. They may have a Cab for $40, and a Cab for $125, and think that’s it, they do have Cabs on the list. But what about a better Cab than the $40 yet the customer can’t afford the $125 one? And you just happen to have a beautiful Cab that the restaurant can sell for $75 and everyone will be happy. Find those blind spots on a list. It may take some doing, but hey, that’s why you get the big bucks.

Regional promotion:

A wine region could also promote its wines in a distant area. It wouldn’t just be one winery, but many from that region. A wine store or restaurant in a distant area could then get people interested in wines from that lesser known area. This could build on itself as local restaurants and wineries could have increased traffic.

The “good old days”: Ahhh. Nahhh.

Many wineries simply rely on the traditional methods of just “hoping” for reviews and increased word-of-mouth. But with so many wineries these days (over 8,000 at last count), there needs to be more of an activist approach. The “good old days” may have been good once. But reminiscing about it doesn’t really work beyond a rocking chair and the front porch.

Now that’s how a small winery get’s on a restaurant wine list.

Larry Chandler
  • Mike Kobler
    Posted at 16:49h, 19 May Reply

    So what’s when you’ve gotten the name of the buyer and emailed and followed up but can’t seem to get them. Should you attempt to go in the restaurant in person?

    • Steven T. Smith II
      Posted at 13:28h, 26 May Reply


      The short answer is, yes. Essentially, you are putting a lot into the hope that the buyer will respond to your email. All the while, you are competing for their attention as vendors are doing the same. The name of the game is loyalty/trust. You should build those things by visiting the restaurant. Have a drink there and ask questions. Or better yet, go to dinner and order from the list to potentially talk to the buyer/sommelier without being salesy first. If nothing else they will remember you – but you might get the opportunity to leave your card or a bottle of your wine.

      There’s no quick path, unfortunately. But respecting the buyer’s time and palate will be helpful. Stay relevant and good luck.

  • Kelsey Anderson
    Posted at 14:25h, 30 August Reply

    Very helpful! Our winery is just starting to dip our toes in the outside sales pool. It was an intimidating thought at first but I think these tips are going to be super useful!


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