Turning Pinots Into Profits

How the University of Houston is redefining the next generation of hospitality majors with a first-of-its-kind course in the Upper Gulf Coast region.

By Gabrielle Cottraux

A close up view of stacked wine corks

Upsell, upsell, upsell. It’s the first thing you learn in any job within the service industry, but the art of successfully getting diners to splurge on a bottle of wine is hardly a science.

That is, unless you’re a hospitality major at the University of Houston.

Led by Texas wine sales expert Chris Taylor, “Wine Appreciation” is a three-credit course offered exclusively to students 21 and older in the University’s Conrad N. Hilton College of Global Hospitality Leadership. The class is the first of its kind in the greater Houston area to fuse chemistry and cabernet, turning students into experts on all things viniculture.

But students aren’t in class to make wine. Instead, Taylor, the sole instructor and director of the Beverage Management Program and Fred Parks Wine Cellar, puts students in the lab where they discover global grape varietals, the styles of wine they create and the principles behind creating an elite food and wine pairing.

The course title is a bit tongue-in-cheek. While students don’t get the opportunity to consume these wines in class, they do gain a comprehensive understanding of the ins and outs of the wine industry that will later allow them to appreciate their profits working in the hospitality sector.

See, the industry standard for profit margins of wine at restaurants and bars is around 70%, making it one of the most profitable offerings on the menu (yes, even above beer!). But right now, we’re living in an age where just 26% of 18- to 39-year-olds identify as regular wine drinkers.

As evidenced by Taylor’s 30-year career in the wine industry, beverage is one of the most important profit centers in hospitality. Between Millennials and Gen Z-ers, there’s still a largely untapped demographic of potential wine enthusiasts out there, especially considering that Texas is already the second most visited wine region in the United States.

By helping students understand wine—arguably one of the most difficult and, in Taylor’s words, pretentious beverages— he’s priming his students to not only be the leading authorities on wine service but also to grow wine profits within the hospitality industry right here in the Lone Star state.

The course isn’t just a practical decision for hospitality majors. As Texas Hill Country and its surrounding areas like Houston continue to boom with vino ventures, it promises to be a lucrative one, too.

A woman's hand holding a glass of red wine. There is white table and a plate with bread sitting in front of her.

Did You Know?

The Conrad N. Hilton College of Global Hospitality Leadership is home to a state-of-the-art beverage lab. It is the only facility of its kind between the U.S. coasts. In fact, only a few universities in the country have dedicated facilities to research and evaluate wine.
The Spec’s Beverage & Food Appreciation Laboratory provides Beverage Management students the perfect environment to expand their knowledge and expertise in this booming industry, which has become the fastest-growing and most lucrative sector in the hospitality industry.

One *class* is never enough!

Much like a fine dining experience, the University of Houston’s hospitality students aren’t satisfied with just one Wine Appreciation course.

Following high demand from his former students, Taylor will offer a second wine education class beginning in spring 2024. Global Wine Immersion expands upon the skills students learned in the introductory course. To qualify, students must have received a ‘B’ grade or above in Wine Appreciation.

Beyond wine pairing and selling skills, Global Wine Immersion students will learn how to store wine properly, understand the social responsibilities of wine service and get better acquainted with the properties of wine, like their region, suitability for aging or drinking, and possible faults.

Chris Taylor, associate professor and director of the Beverage Management Program and Fred Parks Wine Cellar, wearing a beige sport coat and holding a glass of red wine, standing at the front of a series of wine glasses.

Chris Taylor, associate professor and director of the Beverage Management Program and Fred Parks Wine Cellar.

Chris Taylor, associate professor and director of the Beverage Management Program and Fred Parks Wine Cellar.