Article

Soapbox: I hate house wine

The whole concept of house wines is a recipe for an uninspiring night for your customers – and  lower profits for you


I hate house wine. It is the most pointless, witless and damaging concept our industry has ever come up with. Separating out the cheapest two wines on a list and flagging them up like a beacon is nonsensical. It’s the vinous equivalent of picking up a shotgun and aiming for your big toe.

We all know that selling wine is easy, but we also know that selling good wine at a profit is bloody hard. Every customer who says, ‘Can I have a glass of wine?’ is a potential saviour for our industry. Every member of bar or floor staff who replies, ‘Red or white?’ is a dinosaur, playing a role in killing that hope.

Which other industry puts its cheapest, least exciting products front and centre and then expects to make money? We wouldn’t dream of chipping in to recommend a bag of crisps when people ask us for a food menu, so why do we do the equivalent with wine?

Too many venues meekly offer up a dull pair of house wines

In truth, I’m not against all house wines but I’d love to change the definition to an old school idea of ‘vins de la maison’ – wines the house is proud to serve rather than wines that can be bought for less than £3.30 ex-VAT, much to the owner’s delight.

My contention is that if we start focusing on the wines which we want to sell, these will almost definitely be the bottles that will have consumers coming back for more.

We are blessed in the UK with the pick of wines from around the world. The choice has never been wider and the quality never better. In the search for value, grapes such as Godello, Picpoul and Aglianico offer incredible bang for your buck. Wines from regions such as Bierzo, Washington State and Sicily can light up a list.

Yet rather than focus on this sort of wine – on bottles that will put a smile on drinkers’ faces – too many venues meekly offer up a dull pair of wines from an even duller corner of France.

In recommending ‘vins de la maison’, operators would have to throw the GP calculator in the bin – a bitter pill for many to swallow. Promoting more expensive wines as ‘house’ might mean that they see a lower percentage profit on every bottle sold.

It should, however, mean more cash in the till – and this is the crux of the issue. Selling your cheapest wines as the default option means you bank less money at the end of the night, and
in the final reckoning, cash is always king. Happier customers who are spending more money are the holy grail of the hospitality industry. Let’s throw away the old idea of house wine for good, be proud to put a glass of red in front of people and say, ‘Drink this.
I love it and think you will too.’ 

John Graves, sales director (London), Bibendum


You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry... What makes you turn into the Hulk? Email imbibe@imbibe.com

Editorial feature from Imbibe Magazine – March/April 2012

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