Wine and spirits tastings are once again alive at retail with customers embracing opportunities to socialize, swirl, sniff, taste, and buy in-person. “People are thrilled we are doing events again and we’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback,” says Peter Granoff, owner and partner of Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant & Wine Bar and Mission Bay Wine & Cheese in San Francisco, as well as Oxbow Cheese & Wine Merchant in Napa, California. “We resumed tastings at both Ferry Plaza and Mission Bay in May because we were free to do so, and there was a lot of pent-up demand. We have a full calendar for the rest of 2021.”
The Ferry Plaza location usually hosts Flight Night tastings from 4-7 p.m. on Wednesdays, and the Mission Bay store holds events on Thursdays. Owner and partner Debbie Zachareas, who also serves as wine buyer, organizes the tastings. “The events are a nice boost for the wine bar business on any given night,” Granoff says. “Depending on the wines, we typically offer a retail discount for anyone who orders the flight.”
On July 14, Vineyard Brands presented white Burgundy wines at Ferry Plaza in celebration of Bastille Day. Each flight of five 2-ounce pours cost $35, and offerings included the 2018 Thierry & Pascale Matrot Meursault ($37.50 a 375-ml.) and the 2018 Etienne Sauzet Montrachet Grand Cru ($136 a 750-ml.).
At Exit 9 Wine & Liquor Warehouse in Clifton, New York, there were 14 wine and spirits tastings this July and four educational in-store wine classes with wine director, Dave Madigan. “We very cautiously opened the tastings when restrictions were lifted with a Louis Jadot event on April 2,” says owner Mark O’Callaghan. “We would only have one tasting at a time in the store, but now we have up to 10 throughout our 28,000 square-foot-sales floor on busy days. They are usually hosted by the vendors.”
Callaghan notes that 70% of the tastings are for spirits and 30% are for wine. July events included Espolòn Tequila and the wine brands Bolla and J. Lohr, along with the spirits-based seltzers Jose Cuervo Playamar and High Noon Sun Sips. “It seems as if spirits companies have bigger budgets for tastings,” O’Callaghan says. “Around the holidays we will have more wine and Champagne tastings.”
O’Callaghan is waiting until fall to re-open Exit 9’s Cruvinet System, which features wine bottles on tap for sampling. “It’s a real sales driver,” he says. “We did a study a couple of years ago. The items we put onto the tasting bar increased 400% from when they were just on the shelf. Even when we took wines off the Cruvinet, their sales were still up 200% prior to putting them in the tasting area. When we looked at the numbers, we were shocked.”
At The Wine House in Los Angeles, live tastings appear to generate greater retail sales traction as compared to virtual classes. “Sales have definitely been lacking since all of our classes were in-house,” says owner Glen Knight. “After a class, people could simply go downstairs and buy what they liked.” He notes that many customers purchased wines from the store in advance so they would have them for the Zoom classes.
Knight is looking forward to resuming live tastings at The Wine House in September. “We can’t wait, and our consumers can’t wait either,” he says.