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Doug Wregg, Les Caves de Pyrene

Published:  11 August, 2011

The on-trade supplier's view


Self-styled centre of the world wine trade, the UK is a clearing house for fine wines, a massive import market and the spiritual home of wine writing. Despite that, we have a second-rate restaurant wine culture which needs a radical shake-up. A restaurant wine culture is more than a Verre de Vin machine, a EuroCave, some fancy racking and a 500-bin list; it concerns the overall feel of an establishment from the way the wine list is laid out, to the pricing and, most importantly, the quality of the service.


Compared to many similar establishments in the US, Australia, France, Spain and Italy, wine lists over here can seem drab, conventional and unimaginative; mark ups are prohibitive and brands still dominate every level of the trade. Even in certain high-end restaurants sommeliers are content to kowtow to the "hypothetical customer" and list the classic rather than the adventurous option. There is not enough passion or risk-taking, and far too much defaulting to the middle ground. It doesn't have to be this way.


You only have to look outside the mainstream to see what is currently energising the wine scene. Last month the first Natural Wine Fair was held in London's Borough Market over three days. Nearly 900 people attended the consumer day alone, assaying wines unavailable in supermarkets and the high street, while meeting and actively engaging with growers and winemakers.


Natural wines have dynamised the Parisian cavistes and wine bar scene creating a direct connection between the grower and the outlet. What restaurateurs have perhaps failed to grasp is that consumers are ahead of the curve on this issue and increasingly understand that there is a strong point of difference between wines.


They are more than ever thirsty for knowledge and interested in provenance. Restaurant menus will tell you which farm a cheese comes from, where the bread is baked or what herd of cattle their beef is sourced from; it seems only right to tell the story behind the wine as well, to know that it is well-sourced, or free from chemical additives.


The challenge for restaurants is to be more personal in a more competitive market, connecting intelligently and sensitively with these consumers rather than seeing them merely as the end-user of a product. A strong wine offering can help restaurants build on their customer base.


Enlightened mark-ups, informed and enthusiastic service, introducing artisan growers and their individual wines, and changing the list according to the menu and season, will all help to bring a sense of excitement, energy and greater purpose to the business.