Philadelphia International Toasts New Wine Bar

Rebecca Douglas
Published in: 

Passengers at Philadelphia International Airport (PHL) have several new flight options, but they have nothing to do with air service. They're wine flights, groupings of two or three wines poured in sample-size tasting portions. Patrons can "catch" these flights at Vino Volo, a wine tasting bar and restaurant that opened in late May at PHL's connector between Concourses B and C.

PHL is Vino Volo's sixth location; number seven followed close behind at Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport (DTW) in late June. According to development officials, the company plans to open several dozen more in the next five years. Newark Liberty International is one of the next locations slated to open; another in PHL's D/E Connector, scheduled to open later this year, is also planned.

MarketPlace Redwood, the private firm that develops and manages PHL's food and retail operations, began considering Vino Volo as a new concession two to three years ago. "We track trends that are of interest to the traveling public," notes MarketPlace president Paul McGinn. "We came across Vino Volo when it was still in its infancy and were impressed with its concept and people."

In addition to its signature wine flights, Vino Volo sells wine by the glass, gourmet food and wine-related merchandise. Each store is approximately 1,000 to 2,000 square feet and is designed to be a post-security retreat for travelers, complete with plush leather lounge chairs.

"We have completely reinvented the pre-travel experience at the airport by offering our guests a comfortable refuge while allowing them to taste extraordinary wines at all price points," says Doug Tomlinson, Vino Volo's founder and CEO.

Facts and Figures

Project: Vino Volo

Location: Philadelphia International Airport

Grand Opening: May 2008

Construction: 12 weeks

Size: 1,114 sq. ft.

Seating Capacity: 40 (including separate café seating)

Architect: AXIS Architecture + Design

Designer: 5ive Creative

Contractor: Dolphin Associates

Behind the Scenes: Kathleen Boyd Airport Consulting acted as Vino Volo's initial guide to the airport sector. Investors/advisors include the founder of Ravenswood Winery and CEO of Jamba Juice.

From the airport's perspective, a wine lounge offers a break from the ordinary. "It provided us with a chance to offer an environment and menu - really a whole new experience - that hasn't been here before," explains McGinn. "It's still a fairly unique idea, so travelers are really surprised and delighted to find this kind of bar in an airport."

"The format is great," he adds. "A lot of people are intimidated by wine or any environment that sells in an upscale way. Vino Volo creates the antithesis of that with very inviting service. They'll tell you as much as you want to know if you're looking for help or leave you alone if you already know what you want."

Making it Philly Style

Some of Vino Volo's wine flights, such as Shades of White or World Value Reds, are universal, though wines within each flight differ at each store. Each location also offers regional selections. At PHL, that currently includes a Chaddsford Pinot Grigio, Crossing Viognier and Blue Mountain Vignoles - all from Pennsylvania vineyards. The same approach is taken on the restaurant side. Selections such as duck confit and smoked salmon rolls are offered at all locations; but you'll only find Hudson Valley Camembert, Thistle Hill Tarentaise and other local artisan cheeses at PHL.

Just as Vino Volo customized its menu for the Philadelphia market, PHL tailored its space for Vino Volo. Although stores' architectural features are not typically allowed to extend beyond their lease lines into common circulation areas, the airport made an exception for Vino Volo. "They create a portico into their stores with wine barrels and other decorations," McGinn explains. "We realize it's important for them to be able to create a consistent look to build their brand; so we worked with them to ensure it was done in a manner that was compatible with the overall airport environment."

Vino Volo demonstrated similar flexibility by agreeing to the airport's standard schedule. "It was important to us for all our locations to be open in the morning," says McGinn. "They responded by developing some nice breakfast offerings (frittatas, croissants, French Press coffee, etc.)."

The wine bar often extends its hours at the end of the day as well - a voluntary program that helps the airport service passengers whose flights have been delayed.

Tasty Symbiosis

Vino Volo and MarketPlace Redwood also worked together to create café seating outside the store in the middle of a retail zone - a first for Vino Volo. "They came up with a design, we tweaked it and the airport ultimately approved it," notes McGinn. "We're always looking for new ways to take advantage of limited space and do it in a way that gets people to their gates without disruption. This seems to be working for everyone."

Café seating and breakfast food are not standard Vino Volo features; both are unique to the PHL location.

Ten Toast-Worthy Airport Bars

Although it's the most prolific, Vino Volo is not the only company targeting air travelers with fine wine and gourmet nibbles. Leonardo da Vinci Airport in Rome and JFK both have three wine bars.

Fine Living identifies the following locations as ten toast-worthy options in the growing category:

Vino Volo – seven locations: Baltimore/Washington International, Detroit Metropolitan, JFK, Philadelphia International, Sacramento International, Seattle-Tacoma International and Washington Dulles.

Yadkin Valley Wine Bar – Charlotte Douglas International

Cibo Bistro & Wine Bar – three locations: Philadelphia International, LaGuardia and Reagan National

The Rose City Café & Wine Bar – Portland International

La Bodega Winery – two locations at Dallas/Fort Worth International (in Terminals A and D)

El Paso Vineyards – El Paso International 7. Idlewild Wine Bar – JFK

Napa Valley Wine Bar – JFK

Frescobaldi Wine Bar – three location at Leonardo da Vinci Airport in Rome

Bubbles Wine Bar – Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport

That spirit of cooperation seems to permeate the whole relationship. McGinn was impressed by the way Vino Volo worked with the management group's design and construction team during the store's 12-week construction window.

"They did a great job keeping the project moving," he notes. "They're smack-dab in the middle of an area that's busy with other tenants and airport functions, so it was very important. A key thing was the way they communicated with our people and the airport folks."

Attention to small details is another reason Vino Volo ranks as "exemplary" among MarketPlace's 150+ concessionaires and stores. "Even their construction barricades looked great," recalls McGinn. "They installed customized graphics on them to promote the store."

The positive relationship between Vino Volo and PHL's management firm will undoubtedly help head off potential problems associated with possible over-consumption by wine bar customers. According to McGinn, Vino Vino assumes the primary responsibility in such matters as holders of the state liquor license. Beyond that, airport security staff and ultimately the city police can be called for support if necessary.

"Fortunately, it's not a significant problem for us," he reports. "The presence of alcohol at airports is nothing new. These days there actually seems to be a heightened sense of awareness on the public's part regarding personal responsibility."

Ben Lovell, Vino Volo's general manager at PHL, agrees: "It's actually less of an issue than at most restaurant environments. At an airport, customers realize their behavior is monitored and they could be denied boarding. Legally, we have the right to refuse service, but it just hasn't been a problem with our customers."  


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