Last week I attended the opening night of Vino Volo in Bethesda. Vino Volo roughly translates to “wine flight” in Italian, and the company operates wine lounges at BWI, Dulles, and others across the country. The Bethesda location is the company’s first stand alone wine bar.
Opening night was well attended and included an honorary proclamation delivered by a staff member from Montgomery County Chief Executive Ike Leggett’s office.
Vino Volo Bethesda is a bright, open, and welcoming setting with a restaurant bar beside another room that doubles as a wine shop.
So Vino Volo offers something very important I’ve talked about in previous columns – the chance to enjoy wine without a two or three times retail markup. Any wine sold at the shop can be enjoyed with only a $12 “on premises” fee added. This offers tremendous value and encourages patrons to try something new.
According to Doug Tomlinson, founder and CEO of Vino Volo, that sort of friendly encouragement is fundamental to Vino Volo’s mission. The wine list is organized in distinct groups – “World Value Reds,” “Bright Whites” – and guests can order a flight of three wines for the price of a typical glass. A few of the wines are “keg wines,” kept in stainless steel kegs and served tap style at the bar. This prevents wine from the glass going stale from opened bottled, which I’ve long felt turn people off from ordering by the glass in many restaurants.
A former management consultant for Deloitte, Tomlinson told me that the extra effort extends to training Vino Volo staff. Every member enjoys a trip to wine country as part of their orientation, and the pourers I encountered last week seemed both enthusiastic and knowledgeable. Two of the wines being served Thursday night I think will prove popular were the Zocker Gruner Veltliner and the Tortoise Creek Zinfandel.
The menu at Vino Volo is standard fare for wine/tapas bars – cheese and meat plates, salads, gourmet pizzas and so forth. The key will be the execution level from the kitchen. The passed hors d’oeuvres were excellent, which should be a good sign.
I really like the Vino Volo philosophy that was on display last Thursday night. Wine is something to drink and enjoy, it’s not a test or something anyone should stress over. If you offer a better value proposition, diners will drink more wine when dining out and will be more open to going beyond tried and true favorites. Staff should know something about what they are pouring and should be happy to share as much – or as little – information and the customer wants about the wine.
Vino Volo is successful growth story, with 18 location nationwide. To me the challenge in making this move to free standing locations is diner expectations. A nice glass of wine in an airport has a certain novelty factor to it. The wine bar scene in the greater DC area, on the other hand, is already vibrant with many potential competitors.
That said, if Vino Volo executes on the mission expressed at the Bethesda opening they will be successful in making this transition. We’ll know soon how things are faring, since a Tysons II location near the Cheesecake Factory is already in the works.
Read Parente’s previous column: 2009 Petit Chateaux Bordeaux Deliver Fantastic Value on WashingtonExec.
Christopher Parente is managing director and partner of Strategic Communications Group, a social media and public relations consultancy based in Silver Spring, Maryland and Tysons Corner, Virginia. He also publishesWork, Wine and Wheels, a top 100K web site in the United States as measured by Alexa, an online measurement company. You can follow Chris on LinkedIn or Twitter.