No place like home for local wines
There’s no place like area restaurants for Nevada County vintners when it comes to finding new customers and building brand loyalty.
In part, limited marketing budgets and an absence of distributors give local wineries little choice but to promote their products close to home.
But the ability of western Nevada County to attract tourists and the willingness of wine drinkers to try something new gives wineries the opportunity to spread the word about their products far beyond the county’s borders.
And local restaurants are discovering that area wines can hold their own against better known labels when it comes to sales.
The restaurants also benefit from the effort, said Dennis Ball, managing partner of Indian Springs Vineyards in Penn Valley. “We tell visitors to our tasting room about restaurants that serve our wines,” he said.
Indian Springs is one of the few local wineries that uses a distributor, but those efforts are supplemented by a winery sales manager who makes regular calls on restaurants.
“Ideally, 40 percent of our sales would be in restaurants, with 60 percent at retailers,” he said. “We try to be every place. You would be surprised by some of the places we’re in.”
While Nevada City Winery doesn’t consider its products “pizza parlor-type wines,” Marketing Director Rod Byers said the winery “makes an extra effort” to get its wines into as many local restaurants as possible.
The effort to put its wines in front of diners is part of Nevada City Winery’s regional marketing strategy, Byers said.
“Given the international scope of the business, you can purchase a wine from practically anywhere in the world,” he said. “We want to make sure local diners have a good selection of our wines to choose from.”
Byers said that if diners like what they drink in a restaurant, they’re likely to buy more later. “We’ve been quite successful with people having a glass of our wine with their meal and then walking over to our tasting room and saying, ‘We didn’t even know you existed.'”
One man in a good position to judge the ability of local wines to compete with better known labels is Greg Cook, co-owner of Friar Tuck’s Restaurant and Bar in Nevada City.
The restaurant has the largest wine cellar in the western county – currently about 10,000 bottles – and routinely lists 300 wines on its menu.
Cook said local wines hold up well against the big boys. “It seems like everybody involved in wine up here knows what he’s doing,” he said.
He includes the newer local wineries in that description. “Some of the quality is quite amazing,” Cook said. “I’m surprised because they’re really small guys, and they’re newcomers.”
Cook singled out Lucchesi Vineyards and Winery in Grass Valley and Double Oak Vineyards and Winery on the San Juan Ridge. “We did Lucchesi Merlot and it just blew out of here, five cases in three days,” he said.
The willingness of committed wine drinkers to try something different also helps. “When somebody from Napa Valley comes up here, they don’t buy Napa Valley – they want to try Nevada County,” Cook said.
Nevada City and Indian Springs wines continue to be the best-sellers among local wines at Friar Tuck’s, but they are being pressed by newer entries, Cook said.
“There’s a bunch of new stuff that’s very popular, especially with visitors who are very interested in what we are making up here,” he said.
Ellen Hoffman, co-owner of Luna Soleil Cafe in the Village Center, has made a special effort to promote local wines since opening for business in March, including monthly wine maker dinners.
“”I like our local wines,” she said. “I think we have an awesome situation here.”
Hoffman’s clientele is primarily local, but she said a lot of them aren’t familiar with Nevada County wines. To better aquatint its customers with the local product, Luna Soleil features them by the glass and changes the menu weekly.
The restaurant also did a tasting with Nevada City Winery last Thursday. The event sold out so quickly, the food tasting is being held the next two Thursdays.
“It’s just so much fun to work with local wineries,” Hoffman said. “They really sell well at our place.”
The Stonehouse restaurant has emphasized local wines since it opened in Nevada City more than a year ago, and bar manager Joe Benavent reports that they’ve been well received.
“What you feature by the glass is what sells, and we’ve made it a point to feature those wines,” he said. “They are outselling everything, actually.”
About 30 of the 75 vintages on the restaurant’s wine list are from Nevada County, and Benavent said interest in them is equally divided between area residents and visitors.
Nevada City, Indian Springs, and Lucchesi wines lead the local contingent, but all of the local wines carried by the restaurant “sell very well” against wines from outside the area, Benavent said.
Cook said some local restaurants believe Nevada County wines don’t match the quality of wines from Napa and other well-known wine regions in the state, but he believes they’re missing an opportunity.
“The new ones are coming out of the gate really strong,” he said.
To contact staff writer George Boardman, e-mail email@example.com or call 477-4236.
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