Wine world takeaway from The Bear

Have you finished watching the second season of The Bear? Spoiler alert: stop reading if you haven’t!

The Bear Pictures - Rotten Tomatoes

I can’t stop thinking about it. Incredibly nuanced dialogue, very fleshed out characters, compelling camerawork. Nervous-making storyline.

But of course after the first wave of “what great storytelling” I started thinking about the lessons for those of us in the wine business.

  • The drama and theater and soap opera of what goes on behind the scenes, that our customers don’t see. Getting ready to open a winery. Getting ready to open a tasting room. Going on the road for winemaker dinners, walkaround tasting events, charity auctions. Do you have the right POS ready? Oops did you forget, are you wearing perfume/cologne? Did you bring the crummy corkscrew or the good one? How do you get people to sign up for your mailing list or become a club member?
  • Then the curtain goes up, as it did in the last episode of the second season, when The Bear treated their friends and family to a run-through of the menu and the experience. You’re pouring your wine, waiting to hear what the customer says (or doesn’t say). Maybe that’s in the elegant stillness of your tasting room or maybe it’s in the raucous setting of a big tasting event. And what do you get? How honestly can you engage (“no it’s actually not sweet”)? Is the customer always right? The Bear would say resoundingly “yes.” When you’re pouring wine the answer may be a “yes…but…” The line between respecting a customer’s opinion of your wine and wanting to tell them they’re an idiot! Which of course you never do! Or of course become a patient educator, detailing varietals, barrels, soil, weather, viticulture, all the thousands of variables that go into that sip of wine. I recently was asked to pour wine into a goblet set into a leather necklace at a big public tasting; as I started to, I saw there was other liquid in there, stopped, mentioned that, only to be challenged with “yes, I know.” Big lesson for me: “the customer is always right.” If they want to drink a cuvee of multiple unknown wines, of course, that’s their prerogative.
  • Ambient noise, as it were! In The Bear, much is made of eavesdropping and being able to quickly course-correct based on what you (over)hear. There’s a great vignette where Richie overhears that the people at the table have never been to Pequod’s, a famous pizzeria in Chicago, and they’re about to move out of Chicago. So after a quick discussion back in the kitchen, Richie runs out to pick up an order of that pizza, brings it back, the chef cuts it up stylishly and decorates it with micro basil and Richie triumphantly brings it out to the table and delights the guests. And another wonderful moment is when the staff (at another restaurant) discuss having overheard people at a table talking about how long they’ve saved up to be able to eat this dinner….and there’s an unhesitating decision to comp these people their dinner. The cinematography is marvelously muted on this—just a quick shot of the overwhelmed faces and gasps of astonishment when the customers hear this.
  • The surprise of great sensitive service. It made me remember an anecdote Gary Vaynerchuk used to tell about how he and his team ‘stalked’ a customer on their social media, saw that they were fanatical for a certain football player, went to Ebay and bought a signed jersey from that player and sent it to the customer. That generated enormous good will and enormous purchasing from not only the grateful customer but a friend or two: here’s Gary explaining. With today’s sophisticated point of sale capabilities, sending customers happy birthday wishes (at the very least) is embarrassingly easy, but do we do it?
  • The Bear is all about the ensemble, the team. In the wine world, it’s all too easy to credit the winemaker for the beauty of the wine and not credit the hands that grow the grapes as well as all the other back-up singers in the band—the tasting room staff, the cellar crew, the lab person or people, not to mention the owners and ‘back office’ crew, who churn out label copy and social media posts and sign checks.
  • Storytelling: this is the element of marketing that you don’t even hear any more, you’ve had it so pounded into your brain. Yet. Why did you plant those grapes at that exposure with that row direction in that soil, with that kind of trellising? What are those design elements on the label, how do they give context to your winery’s name? What does the winemaker really like to eat with that Sauvignon Blanc? In The Bear we see what goes on in top-notch restaurants, wait staff dutifully reciting every element in a dish and how it’s prepared; why don’t we emulate that more when we talk about our wines?

It all boils down to hospitality. You’re welcoming people into your restaurant, in The Bear, or your winery. Is it serene and home-like? Is it cool and cold and corporate-hotel-ish? What’s the vibe? Friendly? Rustic? ‘Don’t touch’ beautiful or ‘how fun’ lively in terms of décor and mood? Whatever it is, be true to it.

51 Wine Decanters To Enhance Your Wine And Your Decor

In The Bear there are dishes we glimpse which are breathtaking for their beauty and wit (a cannolo called The Michael)—yet the show also reminds us every second of how important the context is. In The Bear, that’s one of the characters we’ve come to love approaching a table already knowing their special proclivities (Chef Sydney’s father doesn’t drink, so they’ve prepared a ‘pop cart’ with elaborate non-alcoholic options). When Chef Carmy gently pours a hot liquid over a dish, melting it all, the table oohs and ahs. Ditto for presenting wines, whether it’s in the shadow of Corinthian columns or a humble barn, whether you’re pouring from a Riedel decanter into a Riedel glass that’s varietally specific…or not.

Please go watch The Bear! Watching these many characters go through their paces will prompt you to rethink everything you do in presenting your wines.



Leave a Reply