Signature Wines Becoming Requisite for Restaurants

Le Vieux Pin | BCBusiness
Le Vieux Pin Vineyards in the Okanagan, which partnered with Le Gavroche in Vancouver to make its signature blend.

Custom house wine blends are now practically requisite in rounding out a comprehensive wine list—and capitalizing on a great branding opportunity

To be respectable, a restaurant wine list used to include varietals that represented the most prestigious growing regions of the globe. To stay competitive these days, however, that list should include at least one signature, local blend that the establishment’s chef or sommelier had a hand in making.

The trend towards the re-invention of house wines began last year, offering a unique branding opportunity for both the restaurant and winery involved. Top Table Group came out of the gate early on the trend in 2012, when it released its Director’s Blend for West, Blue Water Café + Raw Bar, CinCin and Araxi. Hawksworth Restaurant followed shortly thereafter when it partnered with Orofino Vineyards in Cawston to create its H’s Blends, which helped to elevate the Hawksworth brand and tell the story of an up and coming winery. Edible Canada Culinary Experiences Corp., headquartered on Granville Island, was next up when it partnered with Okanagan Crush Pad in Summerland to create its in-house wine, Market Red.

Eric Pateman, president and founder of Edible Canada, says his company’s decision to make a house blend served two key purposes: “We needed to find a style of wine that suited our food, and it also provided us with a branding opportunity.” He adds that it was important to partner with a winery that shared Edible Canada’s philosophies on sustainability and understood the importance of local ingredients.

Partnerships are key for Edible Canada, which also recently opened a second establishment at Road 13 Vineyards, where consumers can source many of the same gourmet food products found in the Granville Island location. “We’ve chosen about 50 to 60 products we thought really reflected and paired well with Road 13’s wines, and designed a store in a store concept in their tasting room,” Pateman says.

Edible Canada produces about 100 cases of its Market Red per year. Pateman says the cost for Edible Canada is about the same as it would be if the establishment was buying a wine at market price. “We’re certainly not in it for the money. It’s more of a branding exercise for us. It gave us another touching point with our consumers.” 

In addition to lending themselves to branding, signature house blends have changed perceptions about house wines. Formerly the economic option—not necessarily the best tasting—wines on a list, these signature blend wines reliably drink above their price points. At Edible Canada, for a bottle of Market Red (a juicy Gamay/Syrah blend) the consumer pays $10 for a glass, $48 for a bottle.

David Auer, co-owner and manager of Le Gavroche restaurant in Coal Harbour, Vancouver, says creating a custom branded wine is something every restaurant should do.

Auer was on a search for a winery that would perfectly reflect the restaurant’s philosophy and personality, and finally partnered with Le Vieux Pin wineries to blend a private label white (100 per cent Sauvignon Blanc from two different vineyards) and a private-label red (80 per cent Syrah and 20 per cent Merlot), which it formally launched last week. The restaurant receives about 100 cases of red and 100 cases of white per year, which equates to 1200 bottles of each. Auer says their custom organic wine costs about 30 per cent more than it would just to buy it from a liquor store. “We did not do it for the money,” he says. “We want to do the best for our customers and we know it goes very well with our food.”

At Vij’s restaurant in Vancouver, GM and sommelier Mike Bernardo has crafted the Pareto’s Blend, which is 80 per cent Viognier and 20 per cent Syrah). For Cactus Club, chef Rob Feenie partnered with Okanagan Crush Pad to make a custom-blended red and white, which both go by the name Feenie Goes Haywire and cost between $36 and $40 a bottle.