Wine has long been associated with elegance and fine dining, and that is an association that Vi, a Chicago-based operator of 10 upscale senior living communities around the country, has leveraged by contracting with a California-based winery to bottle its own proprietary Luxus label of wines. They are available in the dining establishments that serve alcohol on Vi properties as the house label.
“We’re pretty much on the high end of [senior community operators], so our clientele really has gotten used to experiencing exclusivity,” remarks Steve Sandblom, corporate director of food & beverage for Vi. “We did some research because we’re always trying to improve our beverage program, and we thought this was the right move, to go to a private label.”
Luxus wines are served alongside other commercial label wines in the restaurants. The varieties originally consisted of chardonnay, merlot and pinot noir, but the latter two are being dropped in favor of a cabernet for the red wine option as Vi continues to refine and upgrade its wine list and overall beverage program.
The private label wine program began several years ago through a partnership with vineyard operator Thornhill Companies and its private label unit Turn Key Wine Brands. Thornhill operates vineyards in California’s Central Coast region.
“They have a pretty good deal for us as we don’t have to come up with any money up front,” Sandblom explains. “They bottle and store [the wines] for us, and the communities order as necessary.”
To give an idea of how much of the private label wine the company goes through, Sandblom observes that 560 cases of the newly introduced cabernet have been ordered, which he says will probably last the company about 18 months. A standard case of wine contains 12 750 milliliter bottles.
“That [order size] is pretty standard,” he adds. “When we ordered the other [wine varieties], they were in the same [volume range]. As vintages run out and we have to start with a new vintage, the standard bottling number is 560 [cases].”
The brand name Luxus came out of suggestions solicited from both Vi staff and residents of its communities. “Luxus is the Latin term for luxury, and that’s really what we do,” Sandblom observes. “We offer a luxury lifestyle for our residents.”
That luxury lifestyle is reflected in the dining program.
“People who live in Vi [communities] are very proud of living there,” he notes. “They’ve worked very hard their entire lives and they are spending the rest of their lives in a resort style residence. We don’t make a lot of money on the wines—we’re not in that market with your traditional markups like in a regular restaurant. Rather, it’s about the service to the residents, an amenity, and at the end of the day we want residents to recommend Vi to their friends, who may be looking for a place.”
Or, as Kevin Meredith, director of dining services at Vi’s TidePointe community in Hilton Head Isnald, S.C., remarks: “I’m a big proponent of happiness at our property. Having a wine that’s all our own—one that brings the exceptional into everyday—is just another way to create that happiness.”