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Somm Sez: Tampa’s Wine Oasis

Posted on  | May 30, 2013   Bookmark and Share
Written by |

Craig Dean, Wine Director/Manager, The Wine Exchange, Tampa, FL

The Wine Exchange, in Tampa’s Hyde Park Village, is a relaxed bistro and wine bar that conjures up the feel of sidewalk cafés in Europe. Catering to a diverse clientele, the two-decades-strong spot serves up a menu and list, with 40 wines by the glass. Under the direction of Craig Dean, the staff is well-versed enough to talk the wine talk with aficionados, or to suggest simple sippers to accompany a sandwich. A nice selection of half-bottles and some obscure cellar gems help elevate the Wine Exchange well above street level in terms of wine appeal.



THE BEVERAGE NETWORK: What is a favorite current pairing from your menu and list?

CRAIG DEAN: Jerk-grilled salmon with Jamaican banana butter and Eroica dry Riesling.

TBN: What kind of wine promotions do you do?

CD: Tuesday is cheap bottle night, Wednesday is 20% off wines over $60. We think we have great prices every day though.

TBN: What are some wines that have done especially well for you by the glass?

CD: MAN Vintners South African Chenin Blanc, Conn Creek Cab, Laurenz Grüner Veltliner.

TBN: What software system do you use?

CD: Excel for inventory, and I do the list using Pages. Pages is simple and clean, yet powerful. (I’m a long time Mac geek.)

TBN: How many distributors do you do business with?

CD: All of them! Everyone has something special to offer. Although I tend to work with the big three a lot right now. It comes down to relationships with reps, a love of particular wineries or winemakers, as well as the simple “best wine for the price” theory.

TBN: Do you have a routine for managing your wine orders?

CD: Tuesday during the day. I look at what’s low, what’s moving, what isn’t…. Then I evaluate and tweak the lists, feature wines and wine flights to suit that week’s situation. I place orders weekly, by text. I like having my sent orders easily retrievable.

TBN: Do you have a strategy for displaying wines at the restaurant?

CD: There isn’t much “display” space. Basically just the reds by the glass.

TBN: You must get varied levels of wine experience among your guests.

CD: I’d say we attract three different types of wine drinkers. 1. I-Know-What-I-Like (nothing new there!). 2. The Blank Slate, who will try anything, just not too expensive. 3. The Cork Dork, searching for something new and will pay for it. My goal is to make all three types happy.

TBN: How is the success of your wine program measured?

CD: Customer satisfaction and profitability
are tantamount, but it’s a simple balance of inventory, sales and expenditures. Since wine isn’t perishable like food, it takes a year for a program to show its worth.

TBN: What tips do you find yourself frequently telling your staff?

CD: Read the labels on the back of the bottle, Google any questions, read the wine bibles on hand when you’re slow. Taste, taste, taste with others on the staff and hear how they describe the wine. Tweak words like “sour” into tart, and “fruity” into fruit-forward. Simple stuff really.

TBN: What are some other wine lists/programs that you admire?

CD: Empire State South in Atlanta has a cool menu. Ravenous Pig in Orlando. Mise En Place, Sidebern’s and Cru Cellars are all doing great stuff in South Tampa. Also in Tampa, Bern’s is, of course, legendary and mind-boggling. I just wish I didn’t work nights so I could go enjoy them. Every wine buyer must finesse a list that they would want to drink from while also creating one that appeals to a broad range of tastes.


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