Welcome to Season 2, Episode 17 of Meet the Expert® with Elliot Kallen!
Elliot Kallen brings on Peter Yeung, Wine Business Consultant, to discuss how Peter turned his passion into business, the wine business landscape, and Peter’s list of undiscovered winery gems in Napa and Sonoma.
Listen to the podcast here
Meet Our Guest
Wine Business Consultant, Author, Host of XChateau Podcast
Peter Yeung is an award winning author, podcast host, McKinsey alum, and one of Wine Business Monthly’s 2020 Wine Industry Leaders. He is the author of the book Luxury Wine Marketing by Infinite Ideas (Oxford, UK) and several wine and clean energy articles. He co-hosts the podcast XChateau, building community around the business of wine. Today, Yeung consults on Sales & Marketing Strategy and Corporate Development for wineries in Napa Valley and beyond.
How did you get into the wine business?
Peter Yeung (PY): I’ve always liked wine. When I was in college, I bought wine and drank it more often than anything else. (Of course, I still drank Natty Ice and really cheap alcohol.) My wines came from wine.com, and one of the wines was a Barolo. When I opened it in my room, the whole room filled up with the tar rose aroma and that sparked my wine passion.
I was a consultant at McKinsey for about four years, and in the middle of that, I took a sabbatical. I studied wine in the Wine Immersion Program at the Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena and was taught by Karen MacNeil of The Wine Bible, and that turned my interest into a passion; it also gave me the baseline of wine knowledge so that even when I’m drunk, I can remember things! It also gave me the terminology that enabled me to learn and build knowledge over time.
I didn’t know what I wanted to do in wine then — I knew I didn’t want to be in production and farming or work at a restaurant — so I went back into consulting, worked in Clean Tech in Silicon Valley for awhile, in hopes of making Silicon Valley money to do something in wine more independently. Our $3 million IPO became a $700 million IPO, and that’s when I decided to make wine a full-time career and profession.
In 2013, about 6 years after the CIA program, I started talking to people, networking, and did consulting projects for wineries to get experience. I was in a weird place because I was senior from a business perspective, but had no industry experience in wine. Finally, the winery I was working with acquired Sonoma winery Kosta Browne, and I was placed on the management team for Kosta Browne and Realm Cellars in Napa. Subsequently, I helped lead the sale of Kosta Browne to the Duckhorn group. After that, I released the book, Luxury Wine Marketing, and became an independent consultant.
I consult people across the value chain, from producers of wine to brokers to retailers to private equity companies looking to invest in wine, to software companies in the wine space, so I focus on business consulting within the wine industry.
How does one develop their passion for wine?
PY: For me and a lot of others in the industry, there was that one, singular wine that opened their eyes to wine as a passion category. For me, it was a ‘94 Manzoni Barolo. Wine is such a broad and dynamic beverage and category and industry and part of life — there’s a food-and-wine element, history element, biology element, chemistry element, and even a geography element — depending on what you’re interested in, wine has an element that reels you in and makes it personal and exciting to you.
For instance, if you’re excited about history, there is so much wine history in California and across the globe.
If you like business, consider the fact that wine was one of the first industries that pioneered the subscription model that’s ubiquitous today. Think of wine clubs — they’ve been around for decades, well before other industries caught up.
What do you like in Napa and Sonoma, and why do you recommend it?
PY: My biggest recommendation is: Drink what you like!
People have different taste preferences. Part of that is driven by physiology — Tim Hanni, Master of Wine, authored Why You Like the Wines You Like: Changing the way the world thinks about wine. He reports that people can have a range of taste buds. People with a lower concentration of taste buds are more accepting of bitter flavors, so you can take bigger, bolder wines with more flavor — whereas those with a higher concentration of taste buds find bitterness overwhelming, and tend to prefer lighter, sweeter wines. There is a physiology and psychology component to drinking wine. With the acquired taste element, you’re telling yourself That wine is supposed to be good, so I’m going to like it! — and it’s usually correlated with price.
If you like wine, start exploring the different types of wines that you like. There’s this notion that’s underappreciated by consumers: wine style.
For instance, Elliot, you like that big Napa Cab that’s structured and fruity, so you probably would also like Amarone, which is in a similar vein with fruitiness and big structure and big, bold taste. If you understand the style of wine you like, you can then explore and find different things.
In Napa, I like…
- Rivers Marie, Thomas Rivers Brown’s winery
- Memento Mori, which, admittedly, is becoming a little cultish
- MacDonald Vineyards, which is very hard to acquire but are great and have a tremendous background story (which involves the Tokalon River)
In Sonoma, which is more Pinot country…
- For lovers of big wines — try The Donum Estate in Carneros, on the border of Napa and Sonoma. They have Pinot and Chardonnay, but in a style that’s bigger and bolder, yet very smooth-textured. From a visitation perspective, they also have one of the most amazing external sculpture art collections.
- I tend to buy lighter style Pinots from Sonoma, such as from Littorai Wines, DuMOL, or even Windy Oaks Estate from Santa Cruz Mountains.
If you know your ideal style of wine, you can map each winery profile to it.
What are your feelings about food and wine pairings? Are there any hard and fast rules?
PY: You can adjust the food to the wine — with salt, fat, acid, or heat — to make the pairing work. When you look at wines from Europe, and especially from Italy, all red wines are high tannin and high acid, so you almost need food to drink with it, because it’s very challenging to drink without food. With American wines, they have more rounded tannins and lower acid, and it’s easier to drink as an aperitif or as its own.
There are a lot of wines around the world — Argentine Malbecs are great with steak, and great on its own — and I do think you should start with wine and adjust the food to pair with the wine.
What does your wine style say about you?
EK: I like the big Cabs and the spicy reds, and 20- and 30-year-old tawny port. Tawny, not Ruby — I like it aged in an oak barrel, with more nutty and dried fruit notes, versus Ruby where the port has minimal oak influence and a more fruit-forward style. What does this say about me as a wine lover?
PY: Tawny tends to be nuttier — tawny port is generally aged in 550L old oak barrels, and they get oxygenated over time. Ruby ports are made in very big casks, and are bottled, so they retain the fruitiness. It makes sense that you’d prefer tawny port considering that you like the spice element, and that you’re not a big fruit guy, but you like the big structure and tannin. It’s good that you know what you like, which helps you find and discover more from your preferred baseline.
» Buy Peter’s book, Luxury Wine Marketing.
» Download Peter’s podcast, XChateau.
» Follow Peter Yeung on Instagram.