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Why restaurants launch bespoke booze

A growing number of restaurants are creating customised wines to match their food and mood

Yauatcha's new private wine label Ivelle,
Yauatcha's new private wine label Ivelle,

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It’s a full house on a Friday evening at Yauatcha, Mumbai, and an indecisive guest asks for a bottle of white wine. The server returns with a bottle that bears a floral sketch and the restaurant’s name on the label.

Instead of selling a regular, store-bought wine with a populist but forgettable flavour profile, Yauatcha is now enticing guests with a private label, Ivelle, that’s exclusively produced and bottled by Fratelli Wines for the modern Cantonese restaurant. This is not the group’s first foray into private labels. Its Italian restaurant in Mumbai, CinCin, introduced a custom red wine Rosso exclusively created for them by Vallonne Vineyards in November 2018.

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According to wine industry experts, the trend of attracting guests with a distinctive wine that can’t be found anywhere else is part of a global trend that continues to gain momentum. While luxury hotel chains have been serving private blends for a few years (Taj and ITC have collaborated with Fratelli Wines, The Leela Bhartiya City Bengaluru and Pullman with Grover Zampa), the trend is now reaching stand-alone restaurants. Popular restaurant chains Social and Smoke House Deli too have had in-house wine labels since 2016. “It works as additional branding for the restaurant and a unique offering to the guest. The fact that the restaurant or hotel has its name on the bottle is an assurance of quality for the guest. It also works out to be a value proposition. Internationally, people prefer to go with the house wine without even knowing what the wine is all about,” says celebrated sommelier Nikhil Agarwal, CEO of All Things Nice.

Private labels tend to act as conversation starters with guests who may be intrigued by the opportunity to try something special. They are a way for novice wine drinkers to order outside their comfort zone, and a chance for wine aficionados to try a wine they have never had. Ivelle, for instance, is a combination of two German grapes, Gewürztraminer and Müller, on Indian soil. “The wine gets its zesty and refreshing acidity from the Müller grape and the fruity and floral notes from the Gewürztraminer grape. The combination of the two has created a white wine which pairs seamlessly with our dim sum, stir-fries and other staples at Yauatcha,” says Karyna Bajaj, executive director at KA Hospitality, the group that owns Yauatcha, Nara Thai and CinCin. Not only do such wines offer exclusivity, notes Bajaj, “The house wines at CinCin are extremely popular and contribute 10-15% of the total wine revenue.”

Private wine labels also build loyalty while working as the perfect branding vehicle for restaurants, believes Nilesh Patel, business head-west, Impresario Handmade Restaurants. “A good house wine takes on the branding and value of the parent brand at minimal or no cost to the management. What better way to bring guests back to your restaurant than pouring your ‘own’ wine that is available at only your restaurant?” asks Patel. It also ensures consistency in quality as the restaurant has greater control over the wine-making process.

The margins on private labels are way better too, for the restaurant ends up avoiding the major price mark-ups. Direct purchase from the wine producer lowers the price per bottle significantly.

This enables restaurants to present a private label at a much affordable price per glass or bottle but still generate good revenue. At Smoke House Deli West, a glass of house wine is priced at 250 and a bottle at 800. A glass of Indian wine at a premium casual restaurant generally starts from 550, with 2,550 onwards for a bottle. Additionally, if a guest orders a main course, a glass of house wine can be added at an additional cost of 100. “This is the power of a private label. The guest only pays for the bottle without a premium for brand name or expensive marketing campaigns. So it works greatly for gifting and giveaways too,” says Patel.

For Bajaj, the benefits of a private label extend far beyond the profit margins. “More than the revenue, private labels give guests the exclusivity of indulging in something purely built for the restaurant. It shows dedication and the length to which the restaurant can go to curate a really great dining experience for guests.”

All said and done, a proprietary wine does add a touch of elegance and originality to the dining experience.

Nivedita Jayaram Pawar is a Mumbai-based food writer.

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