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GEE, ISN'T THAT WINE STEWARD KIND OF ROBOTIC?

Most RH readers aren't in the wine bar business, but the latest development in that market could, with a little imagination, translate into incremental wine revenue for many full service restaurants.

VinoVenue is a combination retail wine store/wine bar located in the hip South of Market area of San Francisco, near the Moscone Convention Center and other foot-traffic-creating attractions. Its point of differentiation involves a battery of automated wine dispensers manufactured by Enomatic, an Italian company. Think of them as vending machines for wine, placed in an upscale environment.

The machines work this way: Arriving customers purchase a prepaid "smart card," find a table, and then stroll over to one of 10 tasting stations arranged by varietals and/or regions. Guests then make a choice, insert their card, hold their glass up to the dispensing machine's spout and receive a one-ounce pour of their chosen wine. An LED display above the spout displays the price of the sample, which can range from $1 to $28. The average pour is $2.50, although the occasional customer will pop for the $28 1997 Chateau D'Yquem Sauternes.

Each time the machine dispenses a sample, it replaces the lost liquid with Argon, an inert gas that does not interact with the wine and hence helps preserve it. Handled this way, wines can be sampled at peak quality for months.

VinoVenue carries a top-flight list of wines, enabling customers to educate themselves as they go. Roughly 35 percent of customers take home a full bottle of something they've sampled via the machines. The whole works fits into a 3,500-sq. ft. space that can hold 123 customers. And the big advantage of the entire setup is that it enables VinoVenue to offer perhaps 60 or 70 more wines than a typical wine bar does.

From the full service operator's perspective, the purchase of just one of these automatic wine dispensing machines (the 16-bottle Enoround goes for about $20,000) could help drive wine sales through the roof. If you operate a restaurant with a lot of customers who want to purchase wine but don't know exactly what to order, a sampling program backed by one of these machines could do wonders. Opt for multiple machines and you could offer one-ounce samples of your entire list, or perhaps go with one of the mobile carts that holds eight bottles and roll the whole works tableside in your dining room.

No guarantees from us, but the possibilities here seem significant. Head for www.enomatic.it to find out more about what's available.

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