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How by-the-glass wine sales can trash your reputation

Lately, I’ve had some really awful glasses of what might actually be decent wine. And they were all by-the-glass at places that should know better.

Like ordinary consumers, by-the-glass is a great opportunity to try new wines without having to buy a whole bottle.

But mishandling wines sold by the glass by a restaurant or bar can trash your reputation. These Bounty Hunter wines by the glass were mishandled, old and stale. But a consumer would think they were representative of the wines … and avoid them.

July 1: Bounty Hunter misses target

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These Bounty Hunter wines by the glass were mishandled, old and stale,


For years, the Bounty Hunter in Napa had (until last month) been one of my favorite places to discover new wines.

They have an extensive by-the-glass list and a reasonably priced retail operation.

They also used to have knowledgeable service people who could direct my search to order a tasting flight. In the past, I have purchased several bottles of newly discovered wine before I left.

Used to.

July 1, I met a friend who lives near Yosemite who had flown his Cessna in to Napa for a business meeting. We met at Bounty Hunter for an early dinner.

Our waiter was not knowledgeable about the wines. So, I picked a flight. Then asked if the wines had been opened that day.

He went to check with the bar.

Came back.

All of the wines had been opened the previous day.

“But we gas them and put them in the fridge every night,” he assured us. “Trust me, they’ll be fine.”

My friend is not a wine geek and I was not up for an argument or another round of distractions. I was there to have dinner with a friend I had not seen in months but not to have a wine debate.

So, against my better judgement, I played average consumer, agreed and got 2-ounce pours of five wines.

As a benchmark, one of those wines was one I had previously tried (and liked): Mister Rosso.

Sadly all the wines turned out to be qualified for nothing better than the bottom shelf at Safeway: consistently and forgettably insipid, and stale.

Even Mr. Rosso.

For the sake of avoiding unpleasantries, I shut up and enjoyed the conversation as we both ate our nominally re-heated, lukewarm brisket.

My friend had a St. Pauli Girl non-alcoholic beer. A much better choice than anything in my flight.

For the first time I can remember, I left without buying bottles of a new discovery.

First impressions are lasting

For an average consumer, that kind of experience, would make them very unlikely to even consider buying any of those wines.

“Not the wine’s fault!” You say.

That’s true. I understand that.

But f0r the average consumer, the impression has been made and future consideration ended.

And now: a pause for the record

For the record, argon gassing prevents oxidation, but does not prevent the loss of volatile organic flavor compounds which — like alcohol — can evaporate.

Also for the record: I have not identified names of my friends because I did not want to embarrass them or for my comments to cause awkward encounters for them.

July 8: Willi’s Does It Right

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July 8, lunch at Willi’s Wine Bar in Santa Rosa with two friends — both of whom are well-known for their data and economics work in the wine industry.

Willi’s has also been a favorite place for wine discovery given the number of wines by the glass and the selection of small and relatively unknown wineries.

The three of us picked a flight of five wines with help from a knowledgeable server.

When asked if the wines had been opened that day, the waiter brought the bottles to our table and opened them there.

I have since bought bottles from three of those wineries. And I wish that Willi’s had a retail operation because I would have bought them on the spot.

August 3: Norman Rose Tavern Stumbles

August 3, Norman Rose Tavern. Business meeting. None of the wines by the glass had been opened that day.

Given recent experience with Napkins and Bounty Hunter, I ordered ice tea.

August 10: Napkins Wipes Out

August 11. Lunch at Napkins Restaurant in Napa with two friends, the founders of a small Napa Valley winery justifiably known for their 90+ single-vineyard designate Zin.

The by-the-glass list looked creative.

I asked our waiter which of the reds had been opened that day. He went to the bar and came back with an all-too-common reply: “None of them.”

He offered a taste, so I picked a wine I had never had from a winery I had never heard of: Delgadillo Cellars 2010 red wine.

Notably, neither the waiter nor the bartender had any idea what varietals were in the bottle. And that that was not o the web site as well.

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From the winery web site.

When the taste arrived, all three of us sampled it. And agreed it was flat and stale.

I ordered a Lagunitas IPA.

By-The-Glass Can Make or Break You With Potential New Customers

If a winery values its reputation and hopes that by-the-glass sales will bring it new customers, it must make sure that the consumer gets a glass that is truly representative of what will be in a bottle.

And, for the industry as a whole, the issue is significant because beer, a cocktail, spirits, soda or iced tea are reliable … not the gamble that wine is.