July 15, 2020

Getting on the wine list, and staying there

By Sean Jolley


Some thoughts and strategies on getting past the gatekeeper and holding down fort when it comes to wine lists by Sean Jolley, Cellr’s resident booze marketing and hospitality wiz- pictured above.

As a bit of background, Sean Jolley has gained experience working in some of the most popular bars, clubs and bottle shops throughout South Australia while studying his degree in Marketing. Sean now works as a consultant with Hydra Consulting, with a particular interest in the Wine and Spirits Industry. Sean provides excellent insight into off and on premise beverage sales, as he has a complete understanding from the perspective of the customer across to the producer. And guess what? He is also a great guy and mate of the Cellr Blog, who is keen to have his insider knowledge leveraged to the benefit of producers looking to get their name on the list. 

Get your pitch right every time with Cellr’s connected packaging solution and platform. Winemakers and producers can be at peace knowing that each bottle they send to market tells a consistent story at every point, whether that be to the bar tenders, bottleshop employees or directly to their customers. Find out more here

Let’s get your wine on that list.

Hospitality wine lists can be one hardest distribution channels to access – but once you’re in, the benefits can be enormous.  Developing a strategic mindset when going into a restaurant or bar can help you get past the gatekeeper. Here’s some tips to get you from in front of the bar to behind the bar. 

To get some real time opinions, Sean interviewed Kristian Ball, the Venue Manager of the Moseley Bar and Kitchen to give some insights into what he looks for when he creates his wine list. Get your notepads out, class is in session. 

Aligning with the establishment

Your product needs to align with the style of the establishment. How do you do this? You should educate yourself on the following when approaching each unique venue: 

  • how the venue presents itself
  • the type of clientele
  • the food they offer

Familiarising yourself with these features is essential in developing your strategic pitch. Once you understand this, you should be able to work out what product and what angle to approach the venue from. 

Getting past the gatekeeper: some tips

This is the hardest part of getting onto the wine list. The gatekeeper is often hard to contact and may flat out refuse to give you the time of day. Whilst this is going to be the biggest barrier to entry, here’s a few quick tips on how to get your time in the spotlight:

  1. Bring a unique and memorable pitch – that will be hard for them to forget (refer to previous point when creating your pitch). 
  2. Show you’ve done your research – come knowing where you fit on the list and what food pairs with your wine.
  3. Be adaptive and flexible – to the quantities and styles of wine they are looking for. 
  4. Offer incentives- for the bartenders and the venue.
  5. Invite them to your cellar – to begin a personal relationship with both the management and staff selling your wine.

Finding a niche

A big part of getting onto the wine list in a restaurant or bar is finding where you fit on a list. Many retailers will not be willing to switch to your range of wine, but they may be willing to put a wine on that fills a gap in the list. This is why you should always do your research before engaging with a retailer – get to know the wines they have and how you can add value to the list.

“We are always looking to get unique and exciting wines on our list, our clientele is the type of people that want to try something new and enjoy something they haven’t had before.” – Kris Ball.

If you have a unique wine that is different to the mainstream – this is a great place to start when engaging with the gatekeeper. It shows that you have wine that can engage at the POS and tells a story about not only the brand but the wines that come along with it. 

Kristian Ball

Having a strong selling proposition

Your unique selling proposition needs to convince everyone from venue manager to consumer that your product is desirable. Being appealing to everyone means that the selling point of your wine will trickle down to the consumer – giving you a strong chance of selling more product. 

The most important factors are being unique and memorable. Make sure that when your product is talked about, your key selling points are memorable and catchy, so that it can be easily passed on to the next person.

Educating the POS seller

Once you’re on the list, you’ve now got to sell it to the consumer, and this is often out of your hands. Wineries use different techniques in educating the POS sellers about your product.   

“When we get new wines in – especially from a new winery – we always get our bartenders to try the wine and tell us what they think about it. It helps them to sell the wine better and engage the customer at the point of sale.” – Kris Ball

In my experience, one of the best ways to educate the POS is to not only let them taste the brand but also show them the brand. This can mean inviting sellers to your winery and showing them what the brand is all about. In this way POS staff become your brand ambassador, giving them the ability and knowledge to talk about the wine, how it is made and where it is from specifically.

“We have had some wineries invite our team to their cellar door, and I think the results speak for themselves. These are the wines that our bartenders are fond of – and have the ability to sell because they have engaged with it on a personal level.” – Kris Ball

Final point

Getting past the gatekeepers involves various techniques and strategies. Be unique, be prepared, educate your brand ambassadors, have a unique selling point and know exactly where your product fits.

Get your pitch right every time with Cellr’s connected packaging solution and platform. Winemakers and producers can be at peace knowing that each bottle they send to market tells a consistent story at every point, whether that be to the bar tenders, bottleshop employees or directly to their customers. Find out more here

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