Will Private-Label Wines Work for Your Restaurant?

Beverage director for Carmine's explains the costs and benefits

With more Americans taking an interest in wine and ordering more of it in restaurants, getting the most out of your restaurant’s wine sales is a no-brainer. One of the best ways to take advantage of this trend is to create your restaurant’s own private-label wines. Not only does this allow for additional branding opportunities for the restaurant, but it also allows you to offer your customers higher-quality wine at a lower cost. At Carmine’s restaurants, our private-label wines are our biggest sellers. We offer our wines in several varietals, such as Pinot Grigio, Chianti, and Prosecco, as well as magnum bottles of Montepulciano and Trebbiano, which gives our diners a choice between many popular varietals.

When deciding whether to start your own private-label wines, it is important to think about what you are hoping to achieve. Do you only want to sell your wine at your restaurant, or at retail stores as well? Are you trying to promote an obscure wine or grape that is special to your restaurant? Are you seeking out an opportunity for additional branding? All of these questions are important to consider, as they will help shape how you go about creating your own private-label wines. At Carmine’s, our goal was to replicate the idea of the small, family-made wines that are a part of the everyday feast at the Italian dinner table.

First and foremost, it’s critical that you choose a winery partner who can match your sales volume. If you operate several restaurants, or sell a large volume of wine, you’ll need to find a winery who can produce enough wine to meet your demands. Conversely, if you are a smaller restaurant, you’ll need to find a smaller winery who is willing to produce just a few hundred cases.

If you’re unsure of how much wine you sell, or if you are a new restaurant, hold off on private-label wines for now. When choosing a winery, it’s important to have data on your wine sales so that you have a better understanding of your customers' wine preferences, the average price they are willing to pay per bottle, and your restaurant’s potential for growth in wine sales. The worst possible scenario is to be stuck with hundreds of cases of unused wines that you cannot sell back to the distributor.

It is also best to find a winery you’re already interested in, whose wines you enjoy, and whose wines are a natural fit for your restaurant. Many times, you can ask an importer or distributor you already work with for some recommendations on wineries who might be interested, or who have made private-label wines in the past.

This is the most interesting and fun part of the process, so keep an open mind and get lots of samples from different wineries to try. Choose a wine with flavors that will easily match the food your restaurant serves. When tasting the wines, it’s important to observe the appearance of the wine, as well as to smell and taste it in order to make sure that you find the wine enjoyable and believe in its quality. After narrowing down your selections, invite a large group for a tasting, allowing you to gauge multiple people’s reactions to your selections. Although you may love a certain wine, it’s important that it’s appealing to a variety of palates, as your private label will soon be your best-selling wine!

Once you’ve chosen a wine, you can design the label. Most wineries have their own design team who can work with you to make the label a proper reflection of your restaurant. It’s important to work closely with your winery on label design. There are numerous details that need to be included, and many times, the information is dependent on the wine’s country of origin.

Some wineries, importers, and distributors will also let you buy the wine as you need it throughout the year, as opposed to one bulk purchase. If you must buy all the product at once, and your restaurant is not equipped with the appropriate temperature controlled storage facilities, see if your distributor can store it for you at their warehouse.

A private-label wine can be a great addition to your restaurant. It's a wonderful way to encourage customers to expand their palates, especially when it comes with your restaurant’s stamp of approval.

The opinions of contributors are their own. Publication of their writing does not imply endorsement by FSR magazine or Journalistic Inc.