A cartographer might argue with the assertion that central Florida is an arid desert. But a wine enthusiast might be more sympathetic to the characterization. Just ask the (former) owners of the only Wine Spectator award-winning restaurant in the area, the now-defunct Cuvee Wine Bistro.
There are a couple of ways to respond to this situation. The first would be to dismiss the area as too rural in demographics to sustain a serious wine program. But the other might take a page out of Blue Ocean Strategy, a business book that focuses on creating (and maintaining) a market for one’s business.
In short, the book suggests that business owners think like a fisherman. The “red ocean” means areas of competition that are so intense that it is difficult to stand out. The “blue ocean” means areas that have little competition (and thus, no “bloody” waters).
One might argue that Cuvee was following this advice. After all, Cuvee was the only wine bar of its kind in the area (featuring more than 100 wines on a self-serve tap system). But I would disagree with this assessment.
Cuvee was never a wine bar. At least, they never tried to be. Cuvee was always chasing the fine-dining brand idea. The wines were supposed to be their unique selling proposition. The problem was that their food and service experience didn’t consistently live up to the brand promise. The food was inconsistent, the motif was contrived (vests and bow ties?), and the wine service was decoration (literally).
What the (various) owners of Cuvee might have tried was to position Cuvee as a theme park for oenophiles instead of a fine dining venue. They could have had sommeliers on staff and servers who all possessed, at least, an intermediate knowledge of wines.
Instead of linen tables, dark colors, and god-awfully expensive appetizers, they might have opted for a bright, open spaces; “tour guides” instead of vested servers; and a constantly updated agenda of wine-related events such as cooking classes, wine sipping games, and even (with an inexpensive package license), a home wine club.
Right now, Ocala seems to be the center of a wide, blue ocean when it comes to catering to the imagination of wine-oriented foodies. Cuvee failed, not because of wine, but because they positioned themselves as a traditional restaurant with extra wine options instead of a wine-lover’s mecca that happened to have great food (much like the model of the Sierra Nevada brewery near Asheville, NC).
Hopefully another entrepreneur will realize the opportunity in the area and avoid the same mistakes. The blue ocean awaits.