Monthly Archives: July 2012

PROTOCOL’s Wine Score Proclamation!

There is no more derisive topic in the world of wine than scores.  You either love them or hate them.  The subject has been well argued and like so many of life’s quandaries we fear the “right” answer is not forthcoming.  But scores are a bellwether when looking for a source to evaluate or purchase wine.  How an organization approaches scores says a lot about their approach to wine.

PROTOCOL wine studio has some thoughts on this subject:

Scoring as Inevitable:

By serendipitous means the fermented grape was first brought to our tables.  But as the demand for wine grew and styles evolved, so was born another fine tradition, that of the wine critic.  With two glasses in hand, a different wine in each, there would be those who would come and listen to the words of this “sage” for he was known to say which was the better of the drink.

And there you have it, as with all art, the critic follows closely behind.  The evolution of the 100-point system was natural, even anticipated.  And as styles and technology evolved, so has the practice of wine evaluation.  But all critics suffer from the same dilemma: how do I communicate my opinion of this wine in the simplest terms?–Because (and let’s face it) most consumers don’t take the time to read and interpret the pontifications of critics.

Perhaps the first expression of wine scores was as simple as thumbs up or thumbs down.  This is the most efficient form of critique, but even Siskel and Ebert must find the cruel simplicity of this evaluation restrictive.  And so the system has expanded, eventually resting on the natural scale of 100.  In short, if Parker had not adopted the 100-point system when he did, someone else would have.

Understand the Impact: 

Scores are here and they’ve made an impact.  It’s important for the wine professional to understand this when making buying decisions.

Perhaps the most glaring example of scores changing winemaking styles is in Bordeaux.  Beginning with his lauded evaluation of the 1982 vintage, Robert Parker made his mark.  Thirty years later everything from micro-oxygenation in winemaking to skyrocketing futures prices can be traced back to Parker’s influence.

Understanding this influence and more importantly understanding how your client will perceive the results of this influence is critical.  In short how we feel about Parker is irrelevant when making buying decisions for our clients.  The true question is how does the consumer feel?

If Joe consumer loves fruit bombs and high scoring wines, we can accommodate that passion.  Just as important, if the same consumer is open to learning about old-word style and grace, then we can leave the world of scores and fruit extraction aside for a more funky ride.

Using the Toolbox:

The well-appointed toolbox has many instruments.  Delicate ones for fine work and severe ones for more extreme circumstances.  If knowledge of the Grand Cru system in Burgundy is the fine bit drill, then surely wine scores are the hammer!  If one chooses the hammer at every turn, perhaps a course in refinement is long overdue.  Likewise the toolbox without a hammer is definitely incomplete.

The true professional is not necessarily judged for the tools he brings to the table, but for the quality of his work.  Our ultimate business goal is to sell wine.  We prefer to achieve this via cultural context.  Let us expound from our prospective.  As wine professionals, we are tasked with searching out good wine.  We are Sommeliers, which means we have been trained to assess a wine’s soundness.  We look for wines that our customers would like (accounting for varying palates) and that we know we can sell for particular reasons.  This is the critical function of our work, and scores may well be a part of this consideration.

But there’s an essential next step we call it: The Hunting.  There has to be a story behind a glass of wine for us to really get behind it.  As human beings we make connections with others in many different ways.  We want to hear about the family behind the bottle, the farm and vineyard and for goodness tell us about the dogs on the property.  As professional wine buyers we are always hunting, looking for that story.  In this element of our work, tradition, culture and poetry take center stage.  There is no consideration for scores when hunting.


At PROTOCOL wine studio, we propose a different way:  loyalty, honesty and integrity in wine buying.  The story behind the wine is most important, the social aspect; the wine itself becomes part of that whole experience.  But scores must be part of the intelligent wine professional’s buying decision.  But be wary, sometimes scores will help us to determine what we don’t want as much as what we do want.  Knowing the difference in the mind of your customer is the key.

Tina and Guy
Partners, PROTOCOL wine studio

Tune to #winechat Wednesday 1 August for a complete discussion.



Year Zero

The Five Considerations of Year Zero

Driving the coast highway in San Diego, the acute eye spots the old time businesses.  Signs boasting “family owned since 1950” or “celebrating 30 years in business.”  These icons are rare sites among entities that come and go with each business cycle, most never seeing their tenth anniversary.

We’ve become accustomed to celebrating a business anniversary.  It’s a time for ballyhoo and a period to reflect on years gone by.  We’re also very interested in the death of a business.  When a long-standing business closes, we lament the loss and yet want all the dirty details of why.  But little to no attention is paid to the most important time in the history of a business.  It’s a time I like to call: Year Zero.

Year Zero is not necessarily a year.  Year Zero is the culmination of all the circumstances and events that lead us to opening day.  Each business startup has its own unique Year Zero and the adventures are often amazing.

Year Zero is a time of intense excitement and activity.  Hopes are high, relationships are fresh and there’s a lot of room to dream.  There we will be no time in the history of a business that it will enjoy more freedom.  Every option is on the table, no commitments have been made, and the business can be or do anything in Year Zero.

“Gonna Get”

It’s a shame this flexibility is often lost on the founders.  So much emphasis is placed on “gonna get”.  How we “gonna get” money?  How we “gonna get” customers?  How we “gonna get” paid?  The rush to become legit and open doors often moves the founders to accelerate too quickly past Year Zero.

In essence as we move through the opening stages of a business, we are fitting ourselves for cement shoes.  With every handshake deal, signed contract and cash expenditure, the new business grows stiffer in its options.  And for those who are too eager, their doomed fate is sealed even before the fanfare of opening day.

Make no mistake, establishing commitments and spending money is unavoidable for any business.  It’s all part of the risk / reward cycle that commerce is founded upon.  But I encourage each startup to dream specifically and commit carefully.  The trick is to pick those cement shoes gingerly and make sure you can wear them for a while without sinking.

Dream Specifically and Commit Carefully

In the case of PROTOCOL wine studio it’s interesting to look at my part of Year Zero and wonder when it began.  No doubt the seeds of inspiration were laid when I first made a mental commitment to pursue a career in wine on a fateful trip to Napa in 2004.  The inkling to develop my own enterprise grew as I worked my way into the retail wine business, then into management.  When I achieved some level of experience I allowed myself to make that critical presumption all business owners must make, “I can do better.”

But Protocol did not become Protocol until I met my business partner Tina in 2007.  Over the past five years we’ve been coworkers, manager and subordinate and business partners, but always friends.  It is through our common sensibilities and desire to seek a cultural context in the wine business that we’ve come together and grown.


But perhaps the roots of Year Zero reach even further back into my past.  In my formative years I developed traits that are now central aspects in the business I’m creating.  Some of these personality traits include: A passion for writing and travel; A focus on the craft of service and marketing; A strong disregard for authority and the dislike of being told what to do; The challenge of leadership and the ability to perform under stress.

I find that in tailoring our new business, I’ve made accommodations for each of these traits.  As we near the end of our Year Zero, I’ve included five considerations we’ve made in the formation of our business that the burgeoning startup will do well to consider:

1) Be Inspired:  The wine business has much allure and we’ve chosen this path with desire and anticipation.  But not all businesses are sexy: No matter, whatever business you choose, choose it because you love the work or some aspect of the job.  Maybe you love the work in and of itself, or perhaps you enjoy working with your customers or employees.  Money can be a great motivator, but if that’s all your work has going for it, you’ll find that it quickly becomes unfulfilling.

2) Make the Model Match:  Don’t let your business tell you how to live!  It’s true, owning a business is much more work than working for someone else.  But the big benefit of owning a business is working on your terms.  Give serious consideration to how you want to live your life and build your business model around that structure.  If you don’t do this now your business will take on a life of its own and will consume you.

3) Know the No:  You’ll be working with a lot of vendors, service providers and mentors that will offer suggestions on what you need to do to get started.  Consider this advice carefully, but know when to say no.  Be sure that the choices you make and the money you spend are in line with the items described above.

4) Think Big and Be Small:  Here is a mantra for you: It’s always easier to expand than to contract!  Be small in every way for as long as you can.  Avoid taking on debt.  Rejoice in the challenge of doing more with less.  Find ways to be creative and save money without damaging your ability to deliver your product or service.  If you follow this guidance, you’ll reap the rewards in the early stages of your business.  Most notably you’ll find those cement shoes are manageable, even cozy as you get things moving.

5) Start Now: I’ve been in the wine business nine years.  I did not start with the goal of opening my own business, but in hindsight I see I’ve been moving in this direction for a while now.  Over the past decade, I’ve made small moves that have allowed me to mature to a point where I feel comfortable taking the big step of owning a business.  This is so much more agreeable to me than the nuclear solution of quitting your job, selling everything and placing all your eggs in this startup basket.

And so as PROTOCOL wine studio says goodbye to Year Zero, we look bravely to Year One and wonder what adventures it will bring…

GUY, Partner
PROTOCOL wine studio

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