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The Challenge In Pictures: Wine-education kits train the olfactory senses

Entrepreneur aims kits at big restaurant chains

The right glass of wine can be the difference between a good meal and a great one. For Amato De Civita, above left, owner and president of Toronto-based Wine Awakenings Inc., that choice has become a way of life and a flourishing business. His company sells wine education kits. Here Mr. De Civita speaks at a wine event.

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The kits from Wine Awakenings contain samples of aromas commonly found in wine, and also have an online component. The aim is to train the olfactory system to better analyze, evaluate and appreciate wines. Mr. De Civita and three employees also hold seminars for groups of 6 to 30 people.

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Mr. De Civita’s target market is mid-level restaurants such as The Keg or Boston Pizza. The goal is to educate servers and in turn help the restaurant sell more wine to diners. “Wine is probably the highest-margin item in a restaurant,” he says. Mr. De Civita estimates that one-third of restaurant patrons always drink wine, one third will never drink wine, and the remaining third might drink it if they receive a good recommendation.

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Wine Awakenings, which was founded in 2002, offers nine kits, each offering 12 to 24 aromas. Prices start at $139 for the ice wine or cabernet sauvignon kits and scale up to $459 for the Wine Expert in a Box. The company plans to launch a 60-aroma master kit in September, says Mr. De Civita.

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The company sells kits via its website and wine boutiques, as well as through two distributors in the United States. Ninety per cent of sales are made in North America, but the kits also have sold in Russia and Europe, helping bring annual revenue to the $500,000 range.

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Here, sommelier Courtney Henderson uses a Wine Awakenings kit. Competition in the genre is limited. Mr. De Civita says his only real competitor is a French company called Le Nez du Vin. How can he boost sales of his wine kits?

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