When Chris Lane moved to the bay area from the east coast it was predictable if not inevitable he would become a food and wine lover. As he and his friends learned wine-speak and to trust the purported expertise of publications like Wine Spectator, they began noticing a problem with how those experts scored wine. Why was Chris’ favorite wine just an 85? Why did nobody at his dinner party like that prestigious new wine that just scored a 98? We were all professionals and educated, so we knew there must be more to the story.
That’s when Chris and his fellow Intel Corp buddy Len Schultz decided to moonlight a new wine recommendation website, to steer people to the wines they would like based on their personal preferences. Chris bought a book called Mastering HTML, Len learned MySQL and PHP, and off they went prototyping sites and continually testing what everyday wine drinkers want most by hosting parties with family, friends, wine in brown bags, and printed questionnaires that became stained with wine. What emerged was that most wine drinkers simply want wine that tastes good to them, and that their taste preferences spanned the entire spectrum of wines, sweet to dry, mild to strong.
In 1999 they prototyped a website called YumYuk.com, named to give people the idea it’s OK to like (Yum) or dislike (Yuk) any wine they please, and came up with the tagline “Wine for the rest of us.” YumYuk employed 4 tasters with very different preferences to each give wine they taste a Yum or Yuk rating. The tasters were meant to represent common groupings of consumer taste preferences, and were named to be playful and intuitive: Tannic Man, Sweet Thing, Light with a Bite, and Fruit Smoothie. To make the website useful to most people (ie “the rest of us”) YumYuk.com made recommendations from the top 200 name brand wines found in grocery and chain beverage outlets as that represents over 70% of all wine purchases (yes, even in San Francisco).
Mid-development Chris and Len were led to a wine industry expert who was actively driving their view that wine quality and enjoyment are personal: Tim Hanni. Tim is the first Master of Wine in the US and pioneer of how flavor preferences and aversions affect consumer wine enjoyment. (One of his claims to fame was proving that the White Zinfandel drinker is a better taster, with more taste buds than the Cabernet drinker). He and a team of sensory scientists determined the most significant wine flavor attributes along with a tasting/profiling process to measure them. Tim, Chris, and Len baked wine flavor profiling and preferences/aversions into YumYuk.com so it could make personalized wine recommendations based on taste. It introduced the first flavor profiling test, asking each user to fill out a short form how they salted their food, took their coffee, and preferred beer and cocktails, which then spit out surprisingly accurate recommendations for the wines at Safeway that person would enjoy. Everyone thought that was really cool.
YumYuk.com was never formally launched. Back in 1999 there weren’t successful business models for monetizing a recommendation site like that, or even deriving value from securing a loyal community, so they took the bulk of the IP and concept and launched WineQuest LLC instead. WineQuest provided online tools for restaurant chains to create wine lists organized by flavor, and trained their staff how to read a guest and point him or her to the wines they would enjoy. As CEO Chris led the company to $1.3M within 4 years, winning accounts like Ritz Carlton, Marriott, Starwood, PF Chang’s, Ruth’s Chris, and others. From there WineQuest evolved into a full-blown beverage training company and Chris left in 2006.
Guests and waitstaff praised WineQuest’s new flavor approach, and Management saw a measurable and significant sales increase, despite being very limited in its implementation (which it had to be to retain the look and feel of a traditional wine list).
Chris has always believed that the real power of flavor matching is at point-of-purchase retail, personalizing the wine buying experience, and if done well could fundamentally change the way wine is marketed and sold. Flavor Wine Retail was developed to do just that; It builds upon the visions of YumYuk and WineQuest, refines the IP to be more useful and accurate, and adapts the overall approach to suit a retail environment, resulting in a wine shopping experience that is easy, intuitive, and fulfilling to the vast majority of wine consumers.