The annual Wine&Spirits Restaurant Poll came out this month, and there are plenty of things about it to note.
One trend that I’m particularly interested in is the ascendency of Merry Edwards and other pinot producers (congrats Merry!). Nearly 5% of restaurants listed Merry and Flowers as one of their top 10 best sellers during OND ’08 (distributor speak for October-Novemeber-December).
W&S also write:
Twenty years ago, Sonoma-Cutrer, Robert Mondavi and Jordan led the list of the most popular wine brands in restaurants. Sonoma-Cutrer still leads the list – for the seventh time in the last 11 years – with Jordan and Mondavi not far behind.
The editors also go on to say that similarities with past results end there and outline the diversity of the list past the top 8 or so.
Looking over the numbers I saw something different though. I saw an old list losing utility and relevance due to market dynamics. Look at this trend-line for instance:
Averages are from 2008′s top 6 wineries plus Kendall Jackson.
10 years ago the top 6 wineries were on the top 10 sales lists at roughly 17% of the restaurants polled. Now, those same top wineries are mentioned at less than 10%. That’s 45% less often, on average.
Let’s put things in perspective: to crack the top 50 in 2008 a winery only needed to get a mention from 2.6% of the 290 restaurants polled. That’s less than 8 restaurants. In the entire US.
There are, I think, quite a few brands that could manage to get top 10 sales mentions at 8 white table cloth, Zagat rated restaurants in a given year. Even smaller producers could pull that trick.
Let’s look at the numbers at the specific wineries now, just to really illustrate the point.
Bully for Cakebread for maintaining mindshare though these tough times. But the rest of the list shows an absolute bloodbath in terms of pull demand. That should be the real story about the W&S poll: people are continuing to abandon well known on premise brands in droves. KJ seems to be suffering the worst by this measure.
But this begs the question: what exactly is this list measuring?
The editors don’t really say. They send out 2500+ questionnaires to the most well liked restaurants as rated by Zagat, and get back around 11% of them completed. They then interview a few of the respondents to get some pull quotes and additional flavor. This is what they say about the list:
Since the Poll tracks the top end of the market for fine wine – both in terms of who we survey, and the wines they list – the results do not represent actual sales figures. Instead the significance of the Poll lies in the fact that the overall wine market continues to take its cues from the top
I’m not sure what that even means, the market “takes their cues from the top”. And I’m even less sure how the Poll might show it.
Now don’t get me wrong, these are great wineries, and they certainly sell a lot of wine. But the Poll is ridiculously noisy.
And the noise is getting worse.
Year by year more and more of the consumers who favor these top brands, well, die. Kick the bucket. Shuffle their mortal coil and meet their creator. And year by year a poll that depends heavily on having a roster of widely requested top brands will suffer due to those dynamics.
If it only takes a mention by 8 restaurants to crack the top 50, what does that say about the utility of such a list? And given that low threshold, when only 11% of those surveyed actually respond, how representative is the poll?
I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.