Is this a dream?

By - Jan 1st, 2006 02:52 pm
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By Nathan Norfolk

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Restaurateurs know there is money to be made at the bar, especially when it comes to wine. If you�ve ever noticed that the bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon you buy for fifteen dollars at the store goes for forty five dollars on a restaurant�s wine list, this is already clear to you. Do you get angry and storm off, left to curb your hunger by your own devices? No, you just don�t buy wine there. Maybe you think to yourself that everything about this dining experience is an elaborately designed scam. In truth, the majority of restaurants mark up wine about three times cost.

But there is hope for wine lovers who want to imbibe while dining out. For the last few years, a trend has been growing on the coasts for restaurants to restructure their wine programs towards retail pricing, meaning that a bottle of wine in a restaurant costs roughly what you would pay for it in the store.

But you don�t have to fly to L.A. to catch this wave. Dream Dance restaurant at Potawatomi Bingo Casino quietly began employing this retail pricing method to their wine list of over 300 selections more than a year ago. From the modest Joel Gott Sauvignon Blanc at $12 to the hedonistic 1999 Silver Oak Cabernet Sauvignon for $115, the wine list is filled with great buys. General Manager Christian Damiano notes their pricing policy has been �highly successful.� He was also happy to say that even bottles in the $1,000 range are subject to the same markup. At Dream Dance, Krug Grand Cuvee non-vintage Champagne costs $125 a bottle. That doesn�t sound like much of a deal, but the same champagne costs $220 at another restaurant in the city.

What inspired the change? Damiano says, �People are just so much more wine savvy than they ever have been. Guests are going out to California, they�re visiting vineyards. They know what they are paying for when they buy directly from the vineyard. They know what they are paying when they buy from retailers.� He also points out that restaurants in Manhattan have been doing this for years with notable success. If it works in New York, shouldn�t it work in Milwaukee?

Incrementally, the best savings come from some of the lower and mid-priced wines. Keegan Russian River Valley Pinot Noir sells for $30 at Dream Dance, which is slightly above the retail price of $25 but nowhere near the $54 which another restaurant was charging. Bartender Seth Bauer says guests of the restaurant �are excited before they even order a bottle, as opposed to just settling for something because the price in restaurants is normally too high. Now they can get into a bottle that they have always wanted to try and it�s at a price that they are more than happy paying.�

Dream Dance delivers when it comes to unique wine. This is where they really deserve credit. Of course they have the Californian staples and some insanely rare cult wines like Screaming Eagle, but they also feature wines from Austria, Switzerland, Lebanon and Argentina.

Dream Dance may be the first restaurant in the Milwaukee area to have adopted the retail pricing idea, but it doesn�t mean that every other restaurant is raking diners over the coals when it comes to selling wine.

Pizza Man on North Avenue may not follow the �retail pricing� trend, but General Manager Curtis Strohl does his absolute best to �have wine at a fair price.� If you�re up for a long drive from Milwaukee, The Union House on Highway 83 in Genesee Depot has been pricing their wine well below the normal restaurant mark up for eleven to twelve years, according to owner Curt Robinson. With any luck, more restaurants in the area will begin considering restructuring their wine prices. After all, it wouldn�t be fair if Dream Dance didn�t have any competition.  VS

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