2011 VIBE Vista Awards Honor Best Wine Programs

During the 2011 VIBE Conference held March 8-10 in Las Vegas, we celebrated the winners of the VIBE Vista Awards. In a series of VIBE Spotlights, we’ll profile the winners in each category. This week, we take a look at the winning wine programs from Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar, which took home the VIBE Vista Wine Award for the Chain Restaurant and Multi-unit Operator segment, sponsored by Constellation Wines U.S., while Royal Caribbean International received top honors for Wine Program in the Chain Hotel, Casino and Cruise Line Operator category, sponsored by E. & J. Gallo Winery. Congratulations to both!

Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar

VIBE Vista Wine Award, Chain Restaurant and Multi-unit Operator

When you think of Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar, perfectly cooked prime rib and fresh fish come to mind. However, Fleming's is about more than just what ends up on your plate. Throughout the years, the Newport Beach, Calif.-based chain has created a wine program that outshines its competition.

Fleming's Steakhouse & Wine Bar

John Heinz, Vice President of Strategic Accounts (left), and Judy Anter, Director of Strategic Accounts (right), both from Constellation Wines U.S., sponsor of the VIBE Vista Award for Best Wine Program Chain Restaurant and Multi-unit Operator, present Marian Jansen op de Haar, Wine Consultant for Fleming's Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar (center) with her award at the 2011 VIBE Conference in Las Vegas.

Although the beef selection may draw guests in, the wine program keeps them coming back. In fact, wine makes up 80 to 85% of Fleming’s overall beverage sales. Choosing wine certainly goes beyond white or red, blush or sparkling: At the 64-unit steakhouse, it’s an adventure — and Fleming’s staff knows just how to guide you along your journey. Servers are trained in an extensive three-day wine-training program that culminates in an exam, while wine managers and operating partners are enrolled in a three-year wine curriculum. With a knowledgeable staff at the helm, wine neophytes and oenophiles alike are part of an unforgettable wine excursion that highlights Fleming’s meticulous wine program.

Guests can choose from the Fleming’s 100, a list of 100 wines-by-the glass that highlight “New World” wines from Australia and the United States as well as vino from countries with a storied wine history: Argentina, Spain, Chile and Italy. Maeve Pasquera, Fleming's Director of Wine, says Fleming's stands out because of its ability to work with new wines.

"The wine list itself is in progressive order, allowing guests to more easily find their ideal selection," she explains, noting that new varietals are added to the list every September. "If a new opportunity presents itself, we are flexible enough to add wines to our local lists anytime throughout the year."

Additionally, the wine director selects regional wines for each location, creating a unique list featuring local wines and regional favorites for each unit.

But because variety is the spice of life, guests also can order a bottle from the Fleming’s 80-bottle Reserve List. The structure and variety of the wine selection comes from a deep understanding of and love for the vineyard and beyond. By nurturing the wines and educating guests, Fleming’s is growing a prestigious wine program, one glass at a time.

In 2007, Fleming’s created its own private wine label, Forty-Six Diamonds — an homage to Fleming’s appreciation for perfectly crafted wine. Born from Fleming’s desire to be a part of the entire concept of winemaking — picking the vineyards, harvesting the grapesand choosing the right vintner — Forty-Six Diamonds is now on its fourth vintage, a 2008 Forty-Six Diamonds Sonoma Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, crafted with the help of winemaker Walter Schug and his son, Axel, of Shug Carneros Estate Winery in California.

With promotions like Fleming's "5 for 6 til 7," five wines for $6 until 7 p.m., and theme-based national events, including September’s Discovery Month wine dinner, during which guests at various Fleming's locations enjoyed a wine dinner and an interactive live broadcast from Palo Alto, Calif., Fleming’s has created a well-rounded wine portfolio.

Fleming's progressive wine program means diners can engage in a wine experience that precludes pretense. Instead, an inclusive, collaborative and wholly engaging presentation makes Fleming's more than just another steakhouse.

Royal Caribbean International

VIBE Vista Wine Award Chain Hotel, Casino and Cruise Line Operator

Visiting more than 120 locations, Royal Caribbean International certainly knows how to entertain its guests. With 22 luxury cruise ships — five of which are the largest in the world — Royal Caribbean has been raising the bar on quality and service, taking guests beyond the confines of a cruise ship and embarking on a journey of worldly indulgences.

These luxuries begin with Royal Caribbean’s in-depth wine program. With an aesthetically pleasing new menu, the wine program projects an air of exclusivity while still being accessible to wine novices. In fact, as soon as guests board the ship, they are enveloped in Royal Caribbean’s wine program: On-board TV programming features industry experts discussing the various varietals and offerings available on the ship.

Royal Caribbean

Bob Midyette, Director of Fleet Beverage Operations for Royal Caribbean International (right) accepts his VIBE Vista Award for Best Wine Program, Chain Hotel, Casino and Cruise Line Operator from sponsor Larry Sturcken, Managing Director of National Accounts for E. & J. Gallo Winery (left) at the 2011 VIBE Conference.

Increasing their wine awareness, guests can tour many exotic vineyards without leaving the safety of the ship. At Vintages, Royal Caribbean's wine-bar concept, 66 selections of Napa Valley wines from Robert Mondavi, Beringer Blass and Niebaum-Coppola wineries as well as wines representing Italy, Australia, New Zealand and Chile are offered. Organized by varietals and taste profiles, the wine menu allows guests to order wine by the glass, the bottle, in flights of three 2-ounce pours or free splashes. The expansive menu, while also including rare and expensive wines, attracts all types of wine drinkers, giving guests the chance to hone in on the right match for their palate and mood. 

Enticing guests through the Vintages menu, wine flights and events (wine tastings, food-and-wine pairings, trivia games and wine entertainment) are at the core of the Royal Caribbean wine initiative, which is detailed, extensive and nuanced. From kosher and alcohol-free wines to Champagne and sparkling wines, guests have more than 160 selections of wine beverages from which to choose. Additionally, Royal Caribbean’s impulse-purchase items are available to guests at casual-dining outlets, theaters and pool decks. Known as “Little Joeys,” the individual servings of wine move more than 4,000 cases of incremental-sales purchases annually.

Because wine is omnipresent, staff must be knowledgeable to educate guests on their experience; staff members must pass Royal Caribbean's wine program with a score of 90%. Royal Caribbean's qualified staff, amazing dining, lively and energetic atmosphere and memorable wine program consistently exceed guests' expectations. 


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