Rick Mitchell, proprietor of downtown Oakland's Franklin Square Wine Bar and Luka's Taproom & Lounge, has what he delicately describes as some "excess capacity" at the wine bar these days. It's a common complaint as of late among many of his peers in the restaurant biz, and given our economic woes, they're not expecting a big improvement any time soon. But Mitchell, whose innovative ideas have brought him great success at Luka's, isn't waving the white flag — far from it. Instead, he's adapting to the needs of thirsty local Wineaux by switching to what he dubs a "Plumpjack-style" pricing system — a reference to the decision made by San Francisco's PlumpJack Café upon opening to offer wine at retail prices instead of the 200 to 300 percent markup that's customary at restaurants.
Franklin Square's version of this strategy amounts to slashing prices to two times wholesale — "basically retail," according to Mitchell. A quick fact-check confirms this: The menu boasts a 2007 Quivira Sauvignon Blanc and a 2006 Martin Ray Pinot Noir for $20 and $24 a bottle, respectively — representing a $12 price cut on both wines. At Bevmo, the Quivira is $16.99 a bottle, while Martin Ray Pinot runs $21.99 at Wine.com. Compared to typical markups, this is Wineau nirvana. For his part, Mitchell hopes consumers, via the media, will get wind of his new pricing — and his motives aren't purely selfish.
"The larger story is the economy and the impact it's having on the nascent Oakland wine industry," says Mitchell. He goes on to explain that despite "a lot of hope and hype" surrounding local wineries and wine bars, East Bay vintners aren't drawing the tasting crowds they'd like to see, and wine bars are having to weigh different strategies for keeping their businesses alive. At Va de Vi Bistro and Wine Bar in Walnut Creek, management decided to go with the direct approach, recently inaugurating a "bail-out flight": $9.99 for three three-ounce glasses. Mark 49 and Vine Wine Bar are keeping prices stable, but both of these spots have offered affordable wines by the glass and by the taste from the get-go.
That takes care of local wine bars, but what does the future hold for local wineries? The good news is that there are still signs of life from the effort to turn Oakland's Ninth Avenue Terminal into a "Vintner's' Hall" housing and showcasing said wineries. The developers behind the project say city management seems to be on board; here's hoping they stay there — and that the terminal's new tenants can avoid the perils of "excess capacity." For more information, visit NinthAvenueTerminal.com.