Is That Wine Or Hospitality Business Partner Really Your Consultant?

Do you already own your own wine or hospitality business and now want to merge your business expertise with those of another? Have you contemplated a new business venture with another businesshandshakepartnership person that you think offers promise for you both?

Perhaps you’ve identified a potential business partner whose business combined with yours makes practical sense while bringing a new and different business synergy. Maybe you and your new found partner have sketched out a few ideas of what role each of you intends to play in your newly planned business venture.

Conceptually, you may have wisely given consideration to formally executing a written Partnership Agreement. But before proceeding too quickly, you may want to consider another option. Ask yourself, is a Partnership Agreement really what you need?

Maintaining your own business autonomy while still collaborating with your new business partner can be achieved with a different choice. You may want to consider creating a different kind of business marriage by executing a Consulting Agreement.

Let’s say for example, that you’re a wine sommelier. You offer wine knowledge and expertise to a wide range of hospitality and wine business clients for a fee. Your new potential business partner wants to open a new food and wine bar, but lacks your knowledge and expertise of the wine industry. Combined the two of you decide your backgrounds are complimentary and together you can maximize your business opportunities.

However, you may not want to create a business relationship wherein together you share in the profits and losses of the newly conceived food and wine bar. Yet, you want to lend your expertise to the business, get compensated for those efforts, but still maintain your own separate autonomy for your own existing business. In this instance, executing a Consulting Agreement may be the right choice for this kind of business relationship.

Executing a Consulting Agreement allows you to define your terms in advance while assuring the other person that you will provide services to them in a professional manner. In these type of agreements, the responsibilities of the Consultant are defined in writing, identifying the expected work to be performed, anticipated compensation and payment schedules, start and end dates of the work, termination and dispute resolutions for the planned business arrangement.

The Consulting Agreement can set forth whether the Consultant will work exclusively for a single client and in what markets or territories. The Consulting Agreement is also a good vehicle to use to determine whether you and the other party can have a happy business marriage without the financial investment risks that often comes with forming a partnership.

So, when that next proposal for a business marriage with another presents itself, consider whether your winery, wine, event planning or hospitality based business really needs a Partner or a Consultant.

Can A Rose By Any Other Name Still Be A Rose?

You’ve likely heard the saying “a rose by any other name is still a rose”. Well in a way that can be true in thewine and roses2 business world as well. Especially if you are considering giving your business a “fictitious” name.

Before establishing your winery, wine or hospitality based business, you will want to consider what name to use when forming your new Corporation or Limited Liability Company. While many business owners choose to operate their business under the name they put in their state filed Articles of Incorporation, you may choose for marketing purposes to operate your corporate entity under a name that’s different from the formal name listed in your Articles of Incorporation. Perhaps you have a catchy name in mind for marketing purposes. Or your own name is too long or not savvy enough for purposes of building your brand. If so, consider a “fictitious business name”.

For example, your may be planning to operate a wine event planning business under the name “John Rose Wine Events, LLC and subsequently plan to do business under that name. Alternatively, some business owners like to operate their corporations under a name that’s different from their individual name or formal legal entity name identified in their Articles of Incorporation. This is what is known as a “fictitious business name” or “dba” doing business as name.

For marketing purposes you may prefer to identify your business as “My Wine Sommelier”. Thus, you might alternatively establish your business name as “John Rose Wine Events, LLC, dba My Wine Sommelier.” You could then market your business as “My Wine Sommelier”.

In order to do so, most states require your corporate entity to file a “fictitious” or “assumed” business name and pay a fee. This legal filing allows creditors, customers, and vendors to know that your business operates under a “fictitious name” yet they are still able to identify you as the business owner. In order to protect your chosen name and establish exclusivity, you may consider registering your chosen name as a trademark.

So now, can a rose by any other name still be a rose? Well yes it can. Consider a “fictitious business” or “dba” name and you too could be the next “My Wine Sommelier”.

What’s Your Plan For Starting A Winery, Wine Or Hospitality Business?

grand-business-planEvery business should have a plan. Too often, new business owners fail to commit their business goals and objectives to writing.   Whether your dream is to start a winery, open a restaurant, buy a bed and breakfast, or to create your own wine based or hospitality business, you need a plan.   A well thought out business plan helps you to determine where you see your business headed in the future.

Do you have a business strategy? Do you know who your customers are and where to find them? How will you try to raise money? What do you want your business to look like five years from now? A good business plan sets out your goals and tactics in a measurable way to guide you in achieving your dreams.

A good business plan at a minimum will address key elements:

Business strategy – What is the nature of your business? How will you describe your products and services? What are the elements that make your business a success? What is your geographical location? How consolidated or fragmented is your customer base geographically? Why and how will your business have a competitive advantage?

Marketing and Sales Planning – What’s your commercialization strategy? Who’s your target market? How do you plan to reach your customers? How will you gain market share? What trends and changes impact your target market?

Financial Information – How much income will you need? What are your sources of financing? Do you turn your inventory quickly or slowly? What are your sales projections? Do you have audited financial statements, profit and loss reports, balance sheets?

Management – What is the legal structure of your business? Are you incorporated? Are you a partnership? How will your business be managed? What is the biographical information for your directors/officers?  What are the details of the ownership or your company? Will your family members work in your business?

Operations – What is your company’s organizational structure? How much personnel will be required to reach your goals? What functions will your business require and how will they relate to the generation of revenue for your business? What facilities, equipment and supplies will you need? How will your operations change as your business grows? How will your business operate day to day?

Milestones – What factors will determine when you’ve reached and achieved your goals and objectives?  Are your milestones measurable? What are your short and long term goals? How will you overcome challenges and gage your accomplishments? How will you determine if you are on track?

As you can see, there are many factors to consider.  A well written business plan is your blueprint for success.  It will serve as your guide for your business vision months and even years later. A solid business plan can be critical to ascertaining funding and investors for your business.  A banker or loan officer will require you to produce a business plan.  Your business plan is your calling card.

Are you ready to start a winery or vineyard?  Are you ready to open your restaurant or wine tasting business? Do you have an existing business you want to grow?    If so, commit to writing your thoughts in a logical, organized way. The U.S. Small Business Administration has a useful guide to writing your business plan and a tutorial to guide your through the process.

Plan for the success of your business.  Create your business plan.


What Winemaker Do You Have Your Eye On?

Do you have your eye on a particular winemaker, executive chef or marketing guru for your winery or13_private_detective_looking_through_magnifying_glass_for_clues_-_sherlock_holmes hospitality based business? Are you looking for ways to attract key talent to your business? If so, your may want to consider an employment agreement as an option for retaining that “must have” person for your business.

Employment agreements are valuable tools to have in your business toolbox. They can be beneficial to both the employer and the employee. The parties enter into these written agreements in order to define their expectations around the employment relationship. These agreements can be very useful for recruiting, attracting, and retaining key employees.

For example, as an employer you may not want your competitors to hire that valuable employee you’ve managed to land, or to lose the intellectual property information about your business that he or she possesses. Thus, the employment agreement can offer you a level of protection that you may not have had otherwise. The employment agreement can be an insurance policy of sorts, protecting against an employee’s failure to act in accordance with the prior agreed upon terms.

Alternatively, your future employee  may want certain assurances in the event of discharge. If the employment relationship begins to crumble, there are typically termination and severance provisions in the agreement that address what are to be the financial payments to the employee in the event of termination.

While these agreements may include provisions that obligate the employer, they can also restrict the employees in areas of key interest to the employer. There are various clauses that may be included in the employment agreement to protect an employer’s interest. A few important provisions to consider in a well drafted employment agreement are as follows:

Compensation Clause: This provision details monetary expectations including salary, bonuses, benefits, relocation and other compensatory items the employer and employee may negotiate.

Non Compete Clause: This provision protects the employer from employees accepting employment with a competitor, starting their own competing venture, or working for the competition while they are still employed with you.

Non-Disclosure Clause: A non disclosure or confidentiality clause prohibits an employee from unauthorized disclosure of confidential or proprietary information, trade secrets, inventions created or known as a result of their employment.

Ownership of Intellectual Property Clause: This provision details who owns the intellectual property created by the employee during the duration of the employment period.

Non-Solicitation Clause: This provision is designed to prevent your employees from soliciting your valuable assets such as other employees, customers, suppliers or clients away from your business when they leave.

Arbitration Clause: This provision provides for the arbitration of employment disputes versus court litigation.

So, the next time you have your eye on hiring that very special winemaker, executive chef, marketing guru or …better yet…your own idea of that “must have” talent for your business, carefully consider an employment agreement.

Wine Law, Wineries and the Yellow Rose of Texas

Last week, I had the very good fortune of traveling to San Antonio Texas to attend Law Seminaryellow-rose-of-texas International’s Winery and Wine Law Distribution Conference. (You should know right off that I previously resided in Texas for 13 years but have long since moved from the state). While things had very much changed, the best of my memories of Texas still remain the same. I soon realized upon my arrival why it was that of all the places I’ve ever lived (KS, Mo., Oh, TX, NY, PA) I always enjoyed my time in Texas the most. There’s much to be said about “southern hospitality”. I was barely off the tarmac when I took note of how everyone in the airport was more than helpful to assist me in getting to my right destination.

Upon my arrival to the hotel, I quickly discovered that my hotel was conveniently located two blocks away from San Antonio’s famous River Walk and the Alamo.   Unable to resist grabbing some real authentic Texas Mex (hint hint Taco Bell), I quickly tossed my heels aside, donned my nikes and headed straight for the River Walk. There I found a quaint restaurant called The Original Mexican Restaurant.  I ordered my very favorite Tex Mex meal–cheese enchiladas, refried beans, spanish rice and guacamole.   Despite the fact I found myself over dressed and melting from the heat, my momentary discomfort was offset by an extremely attentive wait staff who were eager to please. The congenial waitstaff waited on me hand and foot while a trio of Mariachi singers enticed me to chip in for a song.   A tough negotiation later, we settled on the $5 dollar rendition of a serenade of the “Yellow Rose of Texas”. With a big smile on my face watching the passerby’s and tourists pausing to listen, I quickly emailed a 30 second iphone video of my personal serenade back home to my kids.  Predictably my children responded with giggles and text messages to each other saying “Mom’s down in Texas on a roll”. (Meanwhile I was momentarily kicking myself for at least not extending my visit another day longer). I enjoyed the rest of my evening and planned for my highly anticipated conference the next day.

Day 1 of the conference was everything I hoped it would be and more. I started my day putting a name with a face with conference planner Bonnie Clark of Law Seminars International. Bonnie and I had previously spoken on numerous occasions from different coasts (she’s in Seattle) with her assisting me with useful information about the conference and the industry players.  Arriving at the registration desk and formally identifying myself, there was Bonnie.   We were like two kids in a candy store. Bonnie and I smiled, hugged each other and delighted in the fact we were able to finally personally meet after many coast to coast emails and phone conversations.

Two hours into the morning session, I was convinced that  Day 1’s agenda was well worth the investment of time, resources and money. Program event co-chairs were Lou Bright, General Counsel of the Texas Alcoholic Commission, and Kimberly Frost, a very able regulation attorney at Jack Martin & Associates.    Attendees at the conference included not only attorneys with interest in wine law, but winery owners and operators as well. Lou proved to be the voice of authority as most everyone in the room seemed to know him. I found him to be very colorful, knowledgeable, and warm.   Lou Bright’s passion about the wine industry and his eagerness to help his regulatory clients through a very complex process was obvious.  The morning’s agenda included modules on Setting Up Business Partnerships, Employment Issues for the Wine Industry, Water Rights, Brands, Trademarks, Labels, Selling Wines Online, and Legislative Updates. Speakers arrived from Texas, California, Illinois and other parts of the country to educate the attendees on the latest hot topics and emerging trends in the industry.   It was great to actively participate in the back and forth exchange between regulatory leaders, winery owners and legal community participants with different points of view and perspectives.

By meal-time, things got even more rewarding as I was invited to join attendees, Ken Feagins, Esq. founder of Gaucho Wines, LLC and Haile do Valle Peixoto Director of Gaucho Wines. The three of us hit the road and ended up on a BBQ mission finding ourselves at the infamous County Line BBQ. (Again, now I know why I missed Texas). Ken, a resident of Oklahoma and Haile a resident from Montevideo-Uruguay were launching an import/export business specializing in wines from Uruguay. We engaged in a lively conversation about the permitting process in the context of the import export process. After our meal, we all agreed to stay in touch. Ken suggested we take pictures of ourselves on our iphones so that when we call, we’d have a face to put with the name. (I’ll remember that tech savvy tip for future reference).   By the end of Day 1, most all the attendees were commenting on how great the conference was going. (Kudos to LSI).

But the best was yet to come. A blind tasting was planned for the evening. Attendees were invited to bring a Texas wine to the tasting. While running out to buy a Texas wine (I bought a Peregrine Hill 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon), I wondered how much fun it would have been if a Pennsylvania wine could have been included in the tasting. Ken Feagins commented on how much he would have liked to have seen a Uruguay or Oklahoma wine in competition as well.   We were just a few of the attendees crossing interstate lines and therefore could not bring our state’s wines.

The Wine Tasting was great fun. Many of the winery owner attendees brought wines from their estates. We each were given a questionnaire to fill out quick facts and points of interest in the Texas Wine Industry. The winner would be announced the following day. Tables were set up across the room with various red and white varietals tucked nicely in brown bags next to plenty of food choices to clear our palettes and spit buckets nearby.  This proved to be a great opportunity to get acquainted with other attendees.  There were awesome stories and great tales being told by some of the attendees on how they made their entree into the winery business.   My favorite story came from Ronald F. Yates, owner of Yates Law Firm. He was a lawyer/winery owner and told his personal story of how he happened into a purchase of a seller -financed winery two years ago.

But the day would not be complete without my having met winery owners Alphonse A. Dotson and his wife Martha Dotson.  Mr. and Ms. Dotson are owners of the AVA Hill Country’s Certenberg Vineyards. To my surprise Mr. Dotson, a 6 foot 4 former professional football player and I soon discovered we had “Kansas City” in common.   I being born in Kansas City and he having signed with the Kansas City Chiefs, we chatted about our love for the infamous Ollie Gate’s famous Gates and Son BBQ chain restaurant.   Of course we got a good laugh out of the fact that he spent time with Mr. Gates, while I was tooling around in high school with Mr. Gate’s kids.

As a Day 2 speaker, Mr. Dotson spoke on the challenges of  Texas Agriculture, mother nature’s climate curve balls and how both impact the viability of Texas wineries and the wine industry.  Mr. Dotson shared  a very compelling story of a three days and three nights toil one easter weekend utilizing his entire water reserves to protect his vineyard from an unexpected freeze.  By late afternoon, our guest speakers were covering topics ranging from how to survive a TTB compliance Audit to Finding Money to Finance Your Winery. The day was not complete without Chicago Illinois Director Steve Gross of the Wine Institute covering the hot topics of Shipping Compliance and the State of the Nation.  Director Steve Gross and I later spent some time discussing the fact that Pennsylvania was still one of 18 states in the nation with no direct to consumer shipment laws and where he thought litigation and legislative actions on the issue currently stand.

Finally the day ended with the annoucement of the winners of the Wine Tasting.  That ended up being a tie between the only two attendees who took the time to write about the wines as opposed to drinking them.  Their prize of course was a bottle of Texas wine!

All in all, it was an action packed conference that fulfilled its every promise of providing up to date information from recognized experts in the field of wine law.  It was a vibrant and stimulating exchange of information that left me wanting more.   I met a lot of wonderful folks with whom I hope to forge long lasting business relationships in the future.

As I boarded my plane back to Philadelphia International, I reflected yet again on how happy I was to be in a position to have married my passions for wine and law.   It was hard to think of my experience as work.   And while I was happy to be returning home, I couldn’t help but noticed that I was still humming “The Yellow Rose of Texas” in my head.   So I turned on my iphone and watched those mariachi players once again, taking my Texas memories with me.

As for Pennsylvania winery and hospitality owners, I’m back in the saddle, locked and loaded with new information and emerging trends of interest to post that you may find useful to your winery, wine and hospitality based businesses.  Do stay tuned.

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The intersection of the winemaking business and law

winemaking.gif 451X352 pixelsOne day while reading Carlo De Vito’s East Coast Wineries blogspot, I came across his post reviewing nine films about wine. Curiously, I made it a point one Friday night to trek over to my local Blockbuster to rent one of his recommended movies—Bottle Shock. As an aficionado of all things wine, I was excited about pausing a moment to kick my feet up for a spell and enjoy a movie that I expected would momentarily take me away via images of beautiful wine country, themes, and storytelling about wine.

I found Bottle Shock to be a delightfully cute and charming movie. It was about the “Judgment of Paris”, a 1976 blind wine tasting wherein French judges shockingly awarded the highest honors to wines made in California, dispelling the notion that only the French could make great wines. A sub-theme of the movie was the hurdles it took to get the wines to be judged, across the transatlantic to France without experiencing “bottle shock” that often comes with transport. The multitude of efforts and passion reinforced the fact that one can’t really watch this movie without being mindful of the winemaker’s love affair with the vine!

As I stopped to reminisce about my own past experiences and enjoyment of what I believed to be was a great bottle of wine, I recalled how I paired the wine with a great meal I prepared or shared in a memorable dining experience. My mind glimpsed back to that special sentimental evening I spent with Mr. Charming who whispered sweet nothings in my ear as we listened to soft sounds of the jazz quartet in the background. Each of us can likely look back on that special anniversary, graduation or new birth of a child wherein that favorite wine helped to make the moment du jour.

But in our reminiscing, what is often forgotten are the long hours of frustration, toil, and painstaking efforts the winemaker must have gone through in order for us to get lost in our magical momentary state of emotional bliss experiencing the end result of the winemaker’s good works. Surely by design, the winemaker nurtured his wine and perfected his craft in such a way so as to entice our taste buds into that very emotion causing us to appreciate those unforgettable moments wherein we look back in our pasts and say to our friends and loved ones, “do you remember the time”.

But, let us not forget, that someone made it their business to get that great wine from the vineyard, to the winery, to our table. And what a business it is indeed! This intersection of the winemaking business and law historically dates back over 100 years. As a lover of wine and law, this appreciation distills my reasons for marrying my profession of law and my passion for wine together. When I contemplate the merger, I think about the value, the pride and the amount of people who had a shared passion to bring their dreams to reality.

But despite the artistic factors, sweat, and love that go into the winemaking process, one must not forget that it is a business. It’s a business that if not done properly, can be filled with numerous landmines for failure. Immersed in acting on one’s creative juices can often overtake one’s good wisdom for protecting one’s winery, wine-producing, or hospitality business.

In Pennsylvania, many of these multi-generational businesses are family owned. New generations are joining the industry following in the footsteps of the founding winemaker. At the end of the day, lots of decision-making and responsibility comes with financially and legally protecting the fruits of the winemaker’s labor. Getting past the hard work and sweat that went into the dirt, the chemistry, energy and efforts necessary to bring the winemakers vision to reality, a new chapter begins. You must turn the page, and consider how to protect the fruits of your labor? If you’re that vintner there are protections to be had all long the continuum of getting your wine to our dining room tables responsibly.

Whether these legal protections takes the form of a well though out succession planning, grape or employment contracts for that “gold medal” winning enologist, or establishing requisite safeguards for that upcoming wine event staged on your premises, —-at the end of the day you must legally protect your dreams and your brand.

Subsequently when you as winemaker have your own quiet moment to kick back and enjoy your own tasting, you can do so with ultimate peace of mind. You’ll rest easy knowing that neither “Bottle Shock” nor “Business Shock” prevailed for the day. Instead you created a shockingly great wine the business of which is legally well protected!