Liverpool might not appear to be the natural choice to showcase a new premium wines by the glass offer, but for AccorHotels’ first new-build Pullman hotel it is proving to be an excellent location for attracting wine loving business guests, tourists and even Liverpool football fans from all over the world to this exciting, revitalised city.
A new Vinoteca wine dispensing system is helping to give Liverpool’s Pullman hotel a point of difference against tough local competition.
Back in his heyday of the late 18th and first half of the 19th century it was quite common for Liverpool to be hosting Kings, Queens, Prime Ministers and Presidents from all over the world. Liverpool was one of the most important port cities in the world, dubbed the “New York of Europe” or the “second city of the British Empire” and if you were coming to the UK by ship, then chances are you would have been disembarking by the shores of the Mersey.
But after the Second World War Liverpool became more well known for the famous sons and daughters who left the city to go and find their success and fortune elsewhere. The city’s economy slumped and the only Kings to grace its streets were its football teams and rock bands that did a good job in conquering Europe and rest of the world.
But times they are a changing and Liverpool is a far cry from the downbeat years of the 1970s and 1980s. The re-generation, that arguably started in 2008 when the city was chosen as Capital of Culture, resulting in an estimated £755m to the local economy in 2008 alone, has gone on every year since then.
All helped by the rejuvenated docks area which now houses its own major international convention and exhibition centres and the Echo Arena that brings fans of Rod Stewart to Michael McIntyre to the city.
The last few years has seen Liverpool host a number of major global conferences, including TedX, and was home to last year’s Labour Party Conference. Next year sees the influential International Festival for Business return to the city once again.
Huge hotel competition
So it is no surprise that the hotel, restaurant and bar scene have all had a massive uplift as well with a number of major hotel groups, from the Hilton to the Ramada, all firmly established in the city centre.
One of the most recent to join the premium hotel scene is AccorHotels with a prime location for its upscale international hotel brand, the Pullman, that links directly into both the conference centre and the Echo Arena on the city’s historic waterfront. The Liverpool Pullman is the group’s first new-build property in the UK and only the group’s second hotel in the UK out of a network of over 100 in 92 countries.
It certainly acts as a good benchmark for the wine and food offer now available in the city.
The Buyer was particularly interested to see how the Pullman is trying to use wine as a key point of difference in its offer as a premium destination in its own right. Which is quite hard to do in a city which already has highly successfully themed hotels around The Beatles with the Hard Days Night Hotel, and the city’s other major export, football, and The Shankly Hotel, named after the iconic manager of Liverpool Football Club.
The Pullman is working with Berkmann Wine Cellars to develop its own distinctive wine by the glass, Vinoteca, offer, driven by wine dispensing machines in order to attract what it expects will be a more demanding, well travelled customer base using both the exhibition centre and Echo arena.
The Pullman’s new food and drink operations manager, Jamie Morris is ideally placed to make such a new initiative work in Liverpool. He joins the group having himself worked at The Hard Day’s Night Hotel and for the last four years the Signature Living Group which includes both the Shankly Hotel and also 30 James Street which uses another famous Liverpool export, the Titanic, as its theme.
He says it is important to get the balance right between offering good value, a wide choice, but also an aspirational list that allows wine lovers and even visiting wine experts to really discover and enjoy a high premium wine during their visit.
“We are aiming our Vinoteca offer at our higher end customer base. Those who know a bit about wine,” he explains.
Now the sight of wine dispensers has become quite common in many restaurants and bars, particularly in London where the likes of Vagabond Wines and The Sampler have based their business models on them.
But they are still a relatively new concept to be used by hotel groups, and the Pullman in Liverpool claims to be the only hotel or restaurant in the north west that is using one.
The Vinoteca system works in the standard way whereby guests pay a pre-amount and are then given a card for them to use at the machine, which are then valid to be used for future visits.
Hopefully encouraging regular visitors to Liverpool to come back to the Pullman to carry on using their unused deposit on the card. Which is quite common with the large number of guests visiting each weekend to watch either Everton or Liverpool.
Morris says the concept is proving particularly popular with business travellers who might be on their own and looking to enjoy a leisurely glass of quality wine either with their dinner or sitting quietly in the bar.
They can choose from either 50ml, 125ml or 250ml glasses of wine ranging in price from £3 to £42.
“It also encourages people to try wines that they would not normally drink,” says Morris.
It is certainly an impressive list with highlights from both classic Old World, with not surprisingly considering the Berkmann connection a strong Antinori collection, and the New World.
There is certainly good value to be had. It includes, for example, a Chablis Premier Cru Mountains, Jean-Marc Brocard 2014 which is available at £3.50 for a 50ml glass, through to £15 for a 250ml. It also includes the Whispering Angel 2015 rosé for just £3 for 50ml and £12 for 250ml.
On the reds there is a Privada, Bodegas Norton 2013 blend from Argentina for £2.95 for 50ml through to £11 for 250ml; or a Cornas Chante Perdrix, Delas 2010 from the Rhône for £6 for 50ml up to £26 for 250ml.
Its flagship wine from Antinori is a Tignanello 2012 from Tuscany that is available at £8.50 for 50cl through to £42 for a 250ml glass.
So you can see how the Pullman is taking its wines seriously.
When The Buyer visited the Pullman, the Vinoteca system was not ideally placed, or highly visible as it was situated between the bar and the dining area. Morris and his team are working on moving the dispensing system so that it becomes a central feature of the whole central bar area. An unmissable piece of theatre for guests arriving in to the hotel, adds Morris.
He says the dispensing system is not only good for customer loyalty, but also means it can showcase great wines, but to do so in a new, interesting format that is also a bit of fun for guests during their stay.
Morris is particularly excited by the Vinoteca initiative for his own reasons too as, if successful, it is something that Accor and the Pullman brand might want to introduce to some of its other hotels.
The freedom and ability to try new things and set the benchmark, as he calls it, for other Pullman hotels are some of the key reasons which persuaded Morris to join the group. “We want to offer our guests an experience that they can’t get anywhere else,” he adds.
The link up with Berkmann has been particularly important, stresses Morris. Not only can it help with the wine range, supply and choice of wines to go in the dispensing machines, but it is also helping to “bring the right people to the hotel,” says Morris.
He is, for example, planning on hosting a number of wine dinners throughout 2017 featuring many of the winemakers featured on the Vinoteca list. Something he hopes will also attract more locals to visit the hotel. “There is definitely more interest in the wine offer now in the city, with a number of other restaurants and bars holding specialist winemaker dinners and tastings,” he adds.
It is, though, he admits, still very much a learning process. “We have only been open for nine or so months and we are starting to get repeat business. So we are talking to people about what they think of the offer, what else they would like to see and what sort of events and dinners would they like to come to,” he explains.
Which now that Liverpool is very much back on the international business map has already included the occasional overseas prime minister and foreign dignitary or two.
So if you are looking to re-discover what Liverpool has to offer, particularly as a potential venue for wine events, then the Pullman would be a good place to start.