For 15 years, Cayman’s hospitality industry has benefited from a product that is economical to use and helps ensure the clientele gets the most from their glass of wine: Wine & Glass’s highly durable yet aesthetic glassware. The company has recently expanded into the notoriously tough U.S. market and is already showing signs of success.
Martin Richter was the manager at Grand Old House when he was first approached by a wine glass company to act as the distributor for their products in the Cayman Islands. Richter says he was not satisfied with the product and felt he could not distribute it adequately to others in the industry, so he set about searching for a product that would meet his requirements: glassware that is beautiful to look at but durable enough for the hospitality industry.
Various brands caught his eye in this highly competitive market, but each had drawbacks in design or manufacture, including such issues as thermoshock (exploding in the dishwasher) and general weakness in the seams. There was also the issue of lead in crystal which, Richter says, impairs the taste of wine, especially white wine.
Perfect balance in a glass
In 1998 he came upon a newly formed company in Austria with a revolutionary new product that immediately caught his eye. Wine & Glass products were touted as particularly durable, containing 5 percent barium for strength and made using new technologies that include a special cooling process which aids in the hard wearing qualities of the glass. They were also seamless, lovely to look at and affordable, as well as being lighter than average glassware. He saw the opportunity to fulfill a growing need in the market.
“I actually met up with the distributor in a car park in Austria, and I asked him why I should buy his glassware,” he says. “The guy took out a glass and bashed it against his car and didn’t even mark the glass. I bought half a palette there and then on the spot!”
The company goes to great lengths to ensure their product is manufactured to the highest level, Richter says, including creating prototypes that are used for wine tastings to see how the wine hits the palate.
Richter says although the market is competitive, it was not difficult to convince people in Cayman’s hospitality industry that this particular brand of glassware was a good buy. He now has many clients across the island, including The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman, Jacques Scott’s retail outlets, Luca and The Beach Suites.
Quite apart from the quality of the product, which is the first and foremost selling point, Richter says his customer support has been well received by clients. He offers regular training sessions for hospitality industry personnel on how to ensure breakage is kept to a minimum.
“I think the glassware looks good and it resembles a good replica to Riedel and other more known and more expensive brands,” says Ritz-Carlton sommelier Kristian Netis. “It does not break as easy as others, which is one of the major reasons we are using it at Blue with the volume of guests we have.”
Having taken a couple of years to build up the business in Cayman, Richter’s next step was to expand distribution to other countries in the Caribbean.
“From an economic point of view it made sense to centralize the distribution of the company in Cayman to take advantage of the tax-free location, but I was keen to broaden the distribution to outside Cayman,” he says. “We now export to Jamaica, Bermuda, Barbados, St Martin, Turks & Caicos, Mustique and Colombia, to name but a few. Some of the best locations in the Caribbean have used our products, such as the stunning Amanyara resort in Turks & Caicos and some of the top hotels on Mustique.”
These days, Richter says, he orders Wine & Glass’s glassware by the container load to meet the demand for his products here and throughout the region. Wine & Glass now distributes to more than 40 countries worldwide.
America is one market Richter has been keen to break into.
“It’s super competitive,” he says. “When I first searched for our products on Amazon, I got 35,000 hits when I put in the criteria ‘lead-free red wine glass.’ However, I felt strongly the product could do very well in the States.”
He says he makes frequent trips to the States, showcasing his products and cementing relationships with distributors. So far, Wine & Glass has done well in California, Maine, Massachusetts and Michigan, and Richter hopes for broader success in the future.
“It’s a lot of hard work as the competition is so tough, but I really believe the quality speaks for itself,” he says.
Richter is particularly pleased with a new hand-blown 36-ounce glass that he has just brought to the island. Luca on Seven Mile Beach is the first restaurant in Cayman to stock the glasses.
“It’s made in the finest tradition of hand-blown glass, and so far it’s been incredibly successful in China,” Richter says.
“Cayman is the first Caribbean country to have this product. It’s oversold it’s so popular. It’s a very small production; they are making around 100 a day, but it’s difficult to keep up with demand. There is just no other glass in its category as it’s so light. It really is the perfect balance.”