Saturday, December 19, 2009

Jeferies unique but not alone in terms of regional eateries wanting to serve regional wines

Had no luck Friday finding out when John J. Jeffries Restaurant in Lancaster, Pa., is scheduling its next food and wine pairing dinner. But there's no question that the restaurant located in the Lancaster Arts Hotel will be having more, featuring foodstuffs from local providers and regional wineries such as Chaddsford and Pinnacle Ridge. The pairings are a bargain, featuring multiple courses matched up with either local wines or beers at an agreeable cost. And someone from the featured winery or brewery will be represented to offer insight into how each wine was made.

This all leads into a subject the Pennsylvania Winery Association president Sam Landis and I had several months ago about the difficulty regional wineries have had getting their product into area restaurants. Indeed, he mentioned some local research that was being completed on the subject, something I need to try and obtain.

Landis noted that the PWA (and he could just as well had been talking about the winery run by his folks, Vyncrest Vineyards & Winery in Breinigsville, Pa.,) has put that initiative on hold for certainly the near term. Some eateries, such as Jeffries, don't need to be sold on carrying local wines. But those are the exceptions rather than the rule. Landis called it an uphill battle. "The only restaurants we've had success with are the ones that have actually solicited us and wanted to have a local presence," he said. "But to go the other directions, to try and convince restaurants to carry your wine espeically now with the economy. They're going to pick 7 or 8 dollar bottles of wine and sell them for 30 [dollars]. and they're going to go for name recognation. It's something we've consciously put on the back burner here. If it happens, it happens."

Chaddsford has probably had more success than any other winery in the region in placing its wines in local eateries. Co-owner Lee Miller said in a recent phone conversation that they have in a sense gotten out of the business of trying to push their wines into restaurants.

She said during the time period when they were focused on that aspect of their business, they "hired a sales manager and several salesmen, we put them out on the road and . . . knocked down doors and they sold a lot of wine. But the problem for us was that it was very expensive to have four people on the payroll, with cars and expense accounts, since they are traveling all over selling wines. And then the second part, there's such turnover. Restaurants change constantly. The managers change, the sommeliers change, the beverage manager changes and we found that we were placing things and then two months later they'd change and they'd want something different."

Plus they would require plenty of support such as printing menus and providing small wine glasses and training the wait staff. In other words, lots of promotional materials. "It was a very expensive proposition," she said, "and on a business level, we said, you know what, this isn't getting us anywhere. We have hundreds of thousands of dollars in staffing costs and we dont have that much wine and we're running out of things ,so we just decided we weren't going to pursue it on that level.

"It's not that we weren't successful at it. If you do it right, and this is what these other wineries don't realize, you have to do it RIGHT. Big wineries have staffs and they go out and sell. When you're a one-man show . . . you can't expect to do it, because that's a service industry, so you've got to be out there every week, and most wineries right now don't have the staff to do it. If you have it, you know, we were very successful at doing it. We had every restaurant in Philadelphia using our wines, but they have come to expect because most restaurants buy from wholesalers who have a staff who is out there every week because those salespeople are living on commission. So they're in there, they're taking samples, they're having dinner, they're talking, they're sitting at the bar, and most small wineries don't have the have the staff to do that."

Instead, she said, they're quite content to work with restaurants such as Jeffries and nearby Brandywine Prime and the White Dog in Philly that WANT their product. "And they come to you and they say, 'I really want to use local products,' and then you work out a program with them. And we're happier to do that, because Eric and I can do that. So right now we're concentrating on people who want the wine, who want to work with us, who know that we're different . . . we decided we like it better that way. So I'm not disappointed. I think there are a lot of restaurants that are realizing that local is good and that are adding some local wines to their menus. But right now we have maybe 50 wine accounts where at one time we used to have 400 all across the state."

No comments: