Do orange wines sell?
That was the question I had in mind the other night due to the fact that a couple of my managers in one location were asking to do a dinner in the new year featuring the "hot, new wine category" called Orange Wines. Now, I did not want to be dismissive of this enthusiasm, but at the same time I've been around the block with orange wines and know they are not really for everyone. In fact, unless you are in a restaurant or bar with some very knowledgeable staff who can guide you accordingly - this category can be a bit of a minefield and many of these wines are not for everyone.
I would like to point out that I do not hate this category at all. But, I generally try to avoid them from a business point of view. Mostly because the restaurant wine lists I manage do not have guests who are seeking these wines or these style out on a regular basis. To be blunt, I have never had an inquiry from a guest in the 13 years I have managed these lists. Granted, the locations I work for are in suburban areas where steady habits tend to reign. I will say in my defense a little, though, that I do not create wine lists which are bought and paid for by the big companies (I actually take no deals whatsoever). I am located in what is called independent markets, with no SG, RNDC, etc., and I tend to stay clear of the very mass produced labels from some of the biggest players who dominate many suburban wine lists and store shelves - much to my staff's annoyance.
I actually go out of my way to not list these wines. Although, I have selections that satisfy my guests' style, I am not one to simply buy from the list of top selling wines - this actually kind of drives my reps crazy, too, as they are so used to automatically placing the most popular selections, everywhere.
I want to represent wines that are from a place and a producer that matters and I can see the uniqueness of their product. Sometimes these are bigger producers and sometimes they are very small producers. I try to balance the line - I am in the suburbs after all, and I have to read the room. When I got hired in this position, my boss said, "In 6 months you won't care what you are selling". Well, I do care and I still buy with some principles in mind and I am here 13 years later.
Anyway, I posted the question below and the answers were somewhat predictable (about 80% of the responses were basically "NO" - which I expected. Some people questioned why I was asking in relation to suburban restaurants (as if these are the benchmark of elevated wine buying - to which my response is of course not - but we sell a shit-ton of wine, and not all of it is grocery store level selections).
Plenty of respondents got the question - meaning, with no support from a Somm and a buying public that is happy drinking standard Cabs and Chards (What's your oakiest Chardonnay?), it is nearly impossible for this niche category that covers a wide spectrum of styles, to really catch on. I also pointed out to my guys that this "new" category of wine is actually the oldest category of wine, but that in the modern era these wines had a moment about 7 years ago - right between the hot runs of interest in wines from Greece, then Georgia, then Armenia, and the Czech Republic - and let's not forget Volcanic Wines! (although I do tend to like a lot of wine grown on basalt). And unless you are in Brooklyn, or another dense cosmopolitan area with a Somm on every corner, these wines simply are not successful sellers to the broader public.
I will also add that I admire and appreciate the fact that there are seriously passionate folks out there who earnestly list and sell these wines and other similarly off-the-beaten-path selections. The wine world would be fucking boring if all we listed was Cab, Chard, SB and Pinot Noir (although I can personally get buy with only PN, if I had to!)
I also spoke with a good friend that operates a boutique wine import/distribution company selling geeky wines from all over the place and he admitted to basically staying away from this category. He also operates a wine shop, and in that shop they conversely admits to having success with this category, but also admits its not a huge selling section.
So - here is the question and below are some responses (with the names removed to protect the innocent)...
Do Orange Wines Sell?
I mean, do they actually sell to the general public off of wine lists in suburban restaurants with no Somm on the floor? Is the average guest picking these wines in any quantity that justifies placing them on a list, let alone an entire section dedicated to them?
And just for reference, I have never seen any sizeable interest by the general public other than occasional interest because of an article or mention in the media. Almost always the orange wines I encounter are pushed by the trade, in very specialized on-premise locations (usually in diverse urban areas), and attentive wine shops with educated staff making a recommendation.
I am not opposed to these wines, I just don't see any pull by the average wine drinker, yet I have staff that insists these are super hot right now.
Most successful I’ve seen is doing a section of “Skin Contact” wine that includes rosé and orange. With no Somm or knowledgeable staff though? It’s an almost guarantee you’re dumping 3/4 of every bottle.
Additional Reply >>>
I was going to say this is probably the best method if you want to try it out. Just make sure to get something inexpensive and easy to enjoy
They require hand selling, so if you have a Somm, or trained staff, sure. But if you just put a few on your list in order to have a representation of the category, with no push from the restaurant staff, not likely.
Selling 2 cs a month BTG at a Suburban ATL Steakhouse.
Joseph Cattin Orange Pinot Gris.
with an add on response >>>
And 2 cs a week at another Suburban ATL wine bar.
But then an add on response to that >>>
someone is hand selling those, I almost guarantee it. A wine savvy crowd coupled with at least a few more-than-wine-savvy waiters, and it’s possible, but they aren’t “people off the street.”
Nope not at all. Unless you’re available to handselling every table and bottle and have a true passion for selling them, it’s not really worth the space on a program. 99.9% of the people who drink wine have no clue or general interest in such a small market. Most people would be none the wiser for it missing in your program.
With several responses >>>
I don’t agree. Again, if it ain’t on ya list. It ain’t bought. There are many orange wines that taste great! And your line of”many won’t be the wiser” is poop. In that case have ya list bought and printed by big distributors. Who cares about the wine list at that account. It’s usually filled with Josh. I realize I am buzzed after the saints game so I will be quiet and enjoy one week of being in 1st. I can’t even believe I’m pressing send.
I do well with them in Nola…if ya don’t like em., Don’t play with em. I don’t understand the hate for them. If it ain’t on ya list, it will not be bought. People may be curious. There are some that have training wheels…some are pretty fuckin serious. Either way, do ya thing!
I do really well with the orange wines in my portfolio, but “natural” wine is definitely trending here (Tampa Bay).
But in suburban restaurants without knowledgeable staff hand selling, they probably won’t move.
And then there is this rascally response...
Suburban wine lists with no somm are also big on Caymus, Santa Margherita, & Meiomi. What's your point?
and he added later...
Are we gauging anything off of suburban wine lists with no somm? I mean credibility is selectively being given to a market that makes up 90% of the memes here?
To which my response is >>>
I list none of those wines - again, to my staff's annoyance - but I refuse. Just because we are in the burbs doesn't mean we have to sell that stuff, and as I pointed out above there are a lot of restaurants in the suburbs selling a lot of wine.
Depends on the market. Oakland, Austin, Portland, Brooklyn. They dominate
They don’t sell
I can’t keep mine in stock
The last restaurant list I put together had them on there sporadically. People would absolutely ask for orange wine because they heard about it, but it was often in a style they didn’t enjoy once the bottle was open. We had a bunch of skin contact stuff from Oregon that was juicy & delicious (not oxidative at all) and that usually worked the best. In Philly, you see a lot of orange wine btg that I assume someone is drinking. Maybe they just weren’t my clientele.
In large on-trend cities. Maybe. In my 58 suburban locations across 20 states. No. They don’t even know what it is. Sell to your audience. All about the guests.
And it went on and on with all kinds of replies.
I really do appreciate the feedback and sharing of experiences. The wine market is so diverse in the US and its really hard to know what is trending as it takes a while to get from one place to another. I mean, I can be in Brooklyn 2 hours out of my driveway, but it takes 5 years for a wine or spirit trend to get here. I am wondering if there are certain media outlets and writers who are speaking about this category, regularly? It really seems that there is a younger audience attention to this, but it doesn't seem to be coming from experience but rather inquiry - like I read about and oh, yeah, you have some so I'll try it. I don't know.
Either way, I will be going back around on this and probably testing the waters a bit. And I guess I'll have to give my guys a bit of slack to see if they can come up with a creative menu to work with the wines we select.
ABOUT THE Author
Brian Mitchell runs The New England Wine Academy, and is responsible for the content of this blog. With 30 years of drinks industry experience, Brian has learned a few things, but everyday he is learning more. This blog helps to bring that knowledge to you.