Stefan Neumann MS on what makes a profitable wine list

Photo for: Stefan Neumann MS on what makes a profitable wine list

24/06/2024 As a wine consultant helping restaurants run a profitable wine programme and having plenty of experience doing it before, Stefan Neumann MS definitely knows what it takes.

Tell us a bit about yourself. How did you begin your career and how did you progress into this role?

I was born in Austria but spent the majority of my hospitality career in the UK. It has accumulated to 15 years now starting in Oxfordshire with Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons to now running my own consultancy company and working as a Wine consultant for John E Fells. How did I progress into this role? Well, it's a work in progress and living by one of my favourite quotes from John Lennon. "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans". -  this applies to business as well. It never stops.


Define your role and the tasks involved in your role.

My own limited company covers hospitality and wine consultancy, digital partnerships, wine tastings, training, events, or seminars. Every day is different and occasionally challenging yet it is a wonderful feeling working for yourself. My role with John E Fells as a Wine Consultant gives me the great opportunity to work across different departments and assist where needed. 

What questions would you ask the restaurant owner before you plan your wine sales growth strategy?

Always put guests at the centre of everything. Who is your target audience? Tell me about your regulars and elaborate on what you as a business owner want to achieve? If I understand your goals, your environment, and your ambition, I might be able to help you. 

How can suppliers work with you to drive sales?

An open and honest two-way relationship. Supporting where you can, either pricing-wise or with "money can't buy you" initiatives. Like a masterclass with the winemaker for my team of sommeliers or a trip to the vineyards with a picnic amongst the vines. As long as it is honest and tailor-made and focuses on the people, you are on the winning side.

20.08.17 – The day I passed the Master Sommelier Exam in London

Taken on 20.08.17 – The day Stefan Neumann MS passed the Master Sommelier Exam in London

Give us an example of a profitable wine program mentioning wines on your list and why you have them.

I looked after the wine program at Dinner by Heston for 7 years and in my opinion, it was profitable for a few reasons. Covering the classic wines on one hand which will be picked by the guest who wants to play safe or only wants a glass of wine where they know they like it. e.g.: Malbec from Mendoza. These are wines where you generate a good profit but you always complement your list with wines you or your team is excited about. They will naturally drive the sale for you. Wine is a product sold by love and passion.

Let's dive deeper into your restaurant wine program. Break it down for us as to why certain elements were included in the wine menu and how these helped the bottom line.

In my opinion, a successful wine program relies on diversity. That not only means vintage and variety depth but offering exceptional good quality wines for as little as possible. Even if it's the cheapest wine on your list it still must be a very good drink.

A snapshot of Stefan Neumann MS' Instagram post

A snapshot of Stefan Neumann MS' Instagram post

What are the three main things you focus on daily in your role?

Listen carefully to your guest/customer, try to help, and inspire when and wherever you can, every day is a school day.

What are the points you look at when selecting a new wine for your wine program?

Quality, Quality, Quality.

What is the difference between the role of a sommelier and a wine director?

I look at similarities rather than differentiation = we both love wine. 

Define a good sommelier and what qualities you would look for when hiring one.

Attitude is everything, knowledge comes with time. It's the person who sells the product, not the other way round.

What do you look for when you have to evaluate the effectiveness of a wine program?

I have a balanced approach. Look at the sales figures but equally important speak to your sommeliers and your regular guests. Try to get a good understanding of all factors before making a decision on how you can be more effective. 

How according to you has the role of the sommelier evolved, especially now during Covid times?

It's an ever-evolving role; now more than ever. 

What are some of the most important skills for a sommelier to have?

Soft over hard skills. Good communication, problem-solving attitude, team worker, and adaptability to the current circumstances. 

Your favorite places to enjoy great wine in London?

In 2020 and the first part of 2021 - my home. Now = Blackbook in Soho.

What's the best part of your job?

Literally everything.

What's the worst part of your job?

Ask me in 1/2 a year.

If you had to pick one red and one white wine as your personal best, which wines would they be?

The white has to be a 1953 Riesling Heiligenstein, Kamptal drunk in 2003 from a small unknown producer. This wine started my wine journey. For the red, I reckon it has to be 2011 Le Pin drunk at the winery with some dear friends.

Any favourite food and wine pairing suggestions for London drinks enthusiasts?

People love Vin Jaune with old (36months) Comte and I agree but try a young Opus One with it - mind-blowingly good.



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