Last week marked the first anniversary ofCalifornia Vintage, an up-and-coming wine bar located on Wyndham Street, Central, with 20 locations slated to open throughout Asia over next five years. The intimate 60-pax bar has a low-key rustic vibe and features selections from twenty-two Californian boutique wineries. Jeff Ronan, co-founder of California Vintage, has lived in Asia for 18 years, five of which were in Hong Kong. He takes a look back at the past year and reveals the secrets of running a successful wine bar.
AP: Asian Palate JR: Jeff Ronan
AP: What are the critical factors for success in operating a wine bar?
JR: My staff. We believe that staff should be trained to answer any wine-related questions from our customers. We have company-wide tastings for each staff every other day to make sure they are familiar with our offerings. We also send our staff to courses. One proud thing on my chart would be our relatively low employee turnover rate in the bar industry; over the last year, we have only lost five out of 20 staff.
AP: Are there any seasonal variations in consumer preference for wines?
JR: Yes, we sell 80% white, 20% red during summer and 70% red and 30% white during winter.
AP: Are there any noticeable gender-specific consumer preference or trends?
JR: Over the past year, we found that we have a significant female following. Around 80-percent of our customers are female, with a high proportion (85- to 95-percent) being Asian. Their [approach in] wine tasting complements our featured use of enomatic dispensers, which enables them to “shop” for the right wine, trying a few before ordering a bottle to sit down and share.
AP: Can you discuss some of the sales patterns and stock turnover cycles? Where are some of the areas for growth?
JR: It’s no surprise that by-the-glass sales is our key profit driver. Food surprises me by accounting for 40-percent of our total revenue. Takeout bottle sales are slow right now but we see significant potential in that area. Currently, our customers buy and take away two cases of wines from us per day. The figure will go up as we launch our online e-commerce platform to complement our over-the-counter sales. Right now we feature 88 bottles of wines by the glass in our bar and no bottle lasts more than three days. We are happy with this turnover cycle rate.
AP: What are the key elements that make an ideal wine bar?
JR: It should have a comprehensive by-the-glass menu featuring at least 15 to 20 different grape varieties, a full-time sommelier with a team of well-trained staff who can talk about any [of the] wines on the menu, and a selection of good food and wine pairings. An ideal wine bar is anything but a muscle flex. Having a thousand-bottle cellar capacity isn’t my idea of a great wine bar.
AP: What’s next for California Vintage?
JR: [We’re] definitely looking at opening a branch in Sheung Wan catering to a more local, casual neighborhood clientele since the one in Central caters mainly to [business professionals]. This year our franchisees will open up new California Vintage bars in Singapore, Taipei and Shanghai.
Photo Caption: California Vintage packed full with VIPs celebrating its first anniversary last week.