Posted on | May 1, 2007
Written by | Laura Holmes Haddad
Taking the concept of “taste before you buy” to a new level, wine pouring systems are the newest trend among wine retailers. While the machines are a common sight in Europe, the first system arrived in the U.S. in 2004. Citing increased consumer choice, less breakage, and less waste, the wine pouring systems are catching on across the U.S.
Dubbed “push-button pours,” many retailers are investing in these pouring stations, which some are calling wine jukeboxes. The customer gets a prepaid card, technically called a chip card, that is filled with a certain amount of money (from $10 up to $100). The customer then inserts the card into each pouring station and the system discharges the wine. The retailer can program the card to deduct cash or “points,” depending on their preference.
The Italian brand Enomatic, invented by wine producers in Chianti, is the newest pouring system, joining brands such as Cruvinet and Wine Keeper. The systems keep the wine fresh by instantly replacing the oxygen with nitrogen gas through a tube that runs from the bottle to the sealed top. The wine stays fresh for three weeks, with some companies claiming a maximum of six weeks.
Enomatic has four types of machines that dispense between 4 and 18 bottles of wine, and are available with or without the chip card system. The machines come in three temperatures: room temperature, refrigerated, or climate controlled (for red wines), as well as dual-zone machines. The wine labels are clearly visible through the glass panels, and the price for each pour is shown on the display.
The machine can distribute three different amounts of wine, set by the client. In marketing their product, Enomatic emphasizes the popularity – and profit – of the wine by the glass programs. They also note that it eliminates wastage, overpours, and stock loss. Maintenance isn’t any issue: the machines are self-cleaning.
The first Enomatic system in the U.S. was installed in Tuscany Market in Austin, Texas, in 2004. With machines starting at $20,000, it’s a considerable investment. Since then, business has been steady: approximately 100 outlets, including wine bars, restaurants, hotels, grocery stores, and retailers are using the Enomatic system, according to Roberto Rinaldini of Rinaldini Distribution in Laguna Niguel, California. Rinaldini notes that his client base is split evenly between retail and restaurants. “The restaurants like the idea of pour control and the retail wine stores like the idea of ‘taste before you buy,” he says. “However, the ‘wine by the glass’ is more profitable than selling a bottle.”
Retailers: Taste Before You Buy
Union Square Wine and Spirits in New York City started using the Enomatic system in June 2006. Instead of a cash-based card, Union Square Wines offers its customers a card with a points system. Each customer who makes a purchase receives a complimentary card and customers receive 5 credits for every $1 they spend, “similar to an airline mileage program,” says wine director Jesse Salazar. He has seen a dramatic change in sales since he started using the system, and sees it as another tool for marketing the store. “You can have a wine completely hidden on the shelf that will sit there and then when people taste it you see the sales change instantly, that day, just from walk-through traffic,” Salazar remarks. “In addition to in-store tastings and email marketing, the sampling program helps build the brand.”
More than 100 wines are poured in 1-ounce tastes at VinoVenue in San Francisco using self-service pouring stations. Customers pay for a debit card-like tasting card with a dollar value to sample wines priced from $1 to $40 per taste. Embracing the “taste before you buy” philosophy, the wines are then available for sale in the back of the store. The stations are organized by wine type, and Vino Venue was one of the first retailers to adopt the system when it opened in September 2004. In late February, Vino Venue was purchased by Brunton Vineyards, a company that plans to expand the retail concept to include up to 9,000 outlets worldwide. Brunton Vineyards will begin the expansion by adding 100 retail stores throughout the U.S. over the next two years.
Tastings, a wine shop in St. Petersburg, Florida, offers its customers prepaid “Tastings wine cards” to try 120 wines. Any remaining amount is reimbursed when the customer returns the card. Stave Wine Lounge in Napa, California, also uses a cash-based card system, and a one-ounce taste is $1.10 to $8.80. Stave pours 32 wines from small Napa Valley producers as well as wines from Sonoma and Spain.
Wine Gallery, a wine retailer with two locations in Brookline, Massachusetts, took a different tact and offers complimentary pours using the Enomatic machine. The system dispenses 48 bottles of wine in half-ounce pours. Massachusetts law allows up to 6-ounces to be poured for a customer in a single tasting session. The machines were installed in 2005, and a Wine Gallery customer can choose from among 12 wines; they simply leave their ID at the front desk.
Even in states where tasting laws pose additional hurdles for in-store tastings, the pouring systems have been popular. Rod Veal, assistant manager of Wine ‘tastic, a wine store in Dallas, Texas, uses the machines to pour 48 wines, encouraging customers to sample the wines. “Sales are absolutely increased through tastes,” says Veal. Texas law, however, requires an employee to push the button and also requires the store to charge for the tastings. Wine ‘tastic charges $1 to $2 for a 1-ounce pour, depending on the wine. Wine ‘tastic has used the system since they opened in November 2005. Rinaldini notes the machines can be programmed to accommodate any sampling laws. “In a few states where the limitation of the ounces and/or the limitation of the time to use the card is required, these requests are easily managed from our software,” says Rinaldini.
Restaurants: By the Glass Benefits
Restaurants are also discovering the pouring systems. Nora’s Wine Bar & Osteria in Las Vegas has the only Enomatic system in Las Vegas. The self-service system pours 48 wines in 3 or 6-ounce tastes. To prevent excessive sampling, the machine is set to pour up to 9 ounces of wine. When that amount is reached it automatically shuts down and the bartender checks the customer’s card. Nora’s incorporates the system as just one element of their wine bar. In addition to the machines, Nora’s pours 60 wines by the glass and has a 400 bottle wine list. Nora’s offers wines from around the world in the pouring system at all price points.
Naples Tomato, a restaurant and gourmet market in Naples, Florida, began using the self-service Enomatic system in November 2006, offering an average of 70 tastes every day. Customers choose from two tasting portion options and the tastes range from $1.50 to $30 per pour. The wines are available for sale in the market, by the glass or the bottle.
Restaurants with substantial by-the-glass systems have invested in the pouring systems. A.O.C., a restaurant in Los Angeles, California, uses a custom-made Cruvinet system to pour 50 wines by the glass. The system is mounted behind the bar and is used by the bar staff. “It is a great marketing tool,” says partner and sommelier Caroline Styne. “The downside is that we happen to be very fortunate in that we are quite busy at A.O.C. and that means that we spend a lot of time each night changing the bottles in the Cruvinet. The Cruvinet is made so that one bottle of each of the 50 in it is connected to the nitrogen/tap system. This results in frequent bottle changes.” This requires Styne and her staff to keep an open bottle of each of those wines, in addition to the one hooked up to the Cruvinet, in order to maintain efficient wine service.
At Tosca, an Italian restaurant in Hingham, Massachusetts, wine manager Errol Joseph uses the Cruvinet for some of their by-the-glass selections. Another Cruvinet fan is Vinocity, a wine bar and restaurant in Atlanta that pours more than 70 wines using the system.
Wine pouring systems are here to stay, offering benefits to both customers and retailers, and they may just change the way wine is sold – and served – forever.