Business Management

Conversation with Paul Michael - Proprietor, Peter Michael Winery

Produced by

EHL Alliance

The EHL Alliance has created an innovative series of insightful podcasts with Communications Consultant Michael McKay that examine and explore the best of new ideas – giving voice to acknowledged leaders, practitioners and original thinkers - originating from inside the hospitality industry and business sectors close to it.



Paul Michael

Proprietor, Peter Michael Winery


A part of this series is an interview with Paul Michael, a British-born entrepreneur. His business in California, Peter Michael Winery, follows the classic, artisanal traditions of Bordeaux and Burgundy to make great wine. The enterprise has thrived for decades, with a history of fine wine since the early '80s. Paul shares insights into building a successful and sustainable business that lasts for years.


    Establishing and running a successful business 

    Paul Michael has been in a thriving wine business in California for decades. What started as a cattle ranch in 1982 has blossomed into a successful, resilient winery. His father was the founder. Paul officially joined the family business after completing his MBA. 

    Admittedly, he says that starting and running a successful business requires undivided commitment.  Since planting the first vineyard, Paul and the family worked together to take the winery to the next level. He refers to the enterprise as "100 by 100." This means 100% commitment and a hundred percent ownership for 100 years. Commitment enables hospitality entrepreneurs to tap into new potential by boosting courage to go through unknowns and use what's learned to scale their businesses. 

    Another key to building a business that stands the test of time is long-term decision-making. Paul says that their family-owned winery is a "multi-generational" commitment that involves making decisions for the long term. Forward-thinking businesses are competitive. The owners minimize long-term risks, which is key for an enterprise to last for decades or longer. 

    Paul, who has been in a thriving family business for nearly forty years and throughout his adult life, shares why the enterprise is such a tremendous success. 

    Taking advantage of golden opportunities

    "In terms of timing, you know, purchasing a 600 or 300 hectare estate in 1982 was affordable. Today it would be much, much higher, [and] far more competitive [to get because] it's [a] world-renowned place and a very beautiful place."

    Successful entrepreneurship means taking advantage of opportunities when they come. Note that they may come disguised as problems to be solved. When Paul's father bought the estate where their vineyards currently lie, it was just a cattle ranch in a valley. 

    With the 630-acre property elevated up 2000 feet, grapes were on the steep hillsides. This idea seemed crazy to most people in the '80s but not to Paul's family. Forty years later, since its launch, the winery has run successfully and sustainably. 

    Buying the valley estate was a golden opportunity for him and his father. Paul says purchasing the estate in 1982 was affordable and that it would be much more expensive and competitive if they were to buy the same area today. That's especially true, considering the place is world-renowned (Knights Valley) and eye-catching. 

    The problem with opportunities is that they never announce when they will arrive. If you don't seize them, you will realize later when they are soon gone. So whenever you face business challenges, know they may be opportunities in disguise. Once you leverage them, you will need a clear vision to guide your business planning and strategy. 

    Setting a clear vision and mission is key 

    Paul acknowledges that the family business had a vision and mission right from the beginning. The family wanted to be known for world-class wine. Their commitment and passion for creating terroir-driven wine meant protecting the land's integrity, selecting the vines meticulously, and nurturing them on the mountainside. Additionally, a classical winemaking philosophy has enabled Paul's business to produce quality that is sought-after locally and internationally. 

    A business's mission communicates who you are and what you value.  A vision, on the other hand, explains the company's reason for being and how it wants to serve key stakeholders. Your mission and vision will communicate your business's purpose, inform your strategies, and help develop measurable goals. Next, a business needs to be resilient to abrupt setbacks like COVID-19. 

    Resilient business = surviving tough times

    When COVID-19 took the world by surprise, it disrupted business activities. Enterprises that lacked flexible backup plans were forced to close their doors or implement ways to adapt to the situation. Peter Michael Winery was among the affected businesses, but fortunately, they had a solid plan to navigate the situation. 

    Paul says that the pandemic locked them out of the US, so they couldn't physically access their business for 22 months. Adding salt to an injury, restaurants weren't ordering wine anymore. Luckily, 30 years before COVID, they had developed a mailing list with about 10,000 members to whom they sold directly during the pandemic. 

    Disease outbreaks aren't the only threat to business resilience. Paul recalls in 2019 how natural, fierce fire consumed nearly 300 acres of their vineyard due to increased climate change. The winery had previously escaped several spells of natural fires, but it was a direct victim this time.

    While they were lucky the disaster hit just after the harvesting period, they took action to prevent the disaster from recurring. They cleared bushes near the firm. This is a proactive plan to prevent fire from spreading, which gives the emergency team enough time to respond before massive destruction. 

    What can businesses in the hospitality industry learn from this? They need a proactive contingency plan to handle risks and enhance continuity. As a result, it ensures returning to normal operations as quickly as possible in case of a negative event. 

    With ever-changing economic and geopolitical landscapes, it's difficult for entrepreneurs in the hospitality industry to predict the future. Nonetheless, every business should determine how to stay resilient and survive tough times. That is the only way to stand up to harsh economic conditions, remain competitive, and promote business continuity. 

    Personal engagement with customers is a top priority

    Paul acknowledges that personal customer engagement is critical in business. "We always emphasize the importance of personal engagement with our customers." "[It has] always been very important."  

    In fact, it helped them boost sales during the pandemic. The family business called their mailing list members, who were very happy to hear from the winery. Eventually, the personal engagement boosted sales in Paul's business. 

    "These [mailing list] members so appreciated hearing from us—giving [them] three to four minutes of our time. We enjoyed making contact with them. It actually increased our sales and was a very positive outcome."

    Paul revealed how their winery serves and engages with customers. The business identifies what wine lovers want by considering their wish lists and serves them exactly that. A business in the hospitality industry that listens to customers is in a better position to improve customer experience, satisfaction, and loyalty. Achieving this means serving them better than everybody else in the industry. 

    Building strong personal relationships with customers is a no-brainer for businesses that want to thrive, but how can they balance efficiency and sustainability? Paul explains how his winery has operated efficiently and sustainably for four decades. Hospitality businesses can use his tricks, too, to achieve such longevity. 

    Achieving efficiency and sustainability in business

    "If you are in the wine business, you have to think in terms of decades. And if you don't farm and run the business with that in mind, then you're not going to be efficient." " Right from the start, you have to take a sustainable approach, and that's what we've done."

    The Peter Michael Winery creates terroir-driven wines based on low-input sustainable agriculture, biodynamic practices, and hand-farming techniques. The business does so to protect the natural environment of California, including soil, water, and wildlife. 

    Sustainability is key to any business considering its major significance in the emergence of climate change. Customers in all industries overwhelmingly care about buying environmentally and ethically sustainable products. 

    Paul says that sustainability is not just about protecting the land. It also covers the entire ecosystem, including the community, people, and social responsibility. Other ways to practice sustainability include stream habitat improvement and restoration. Erosion control, water conservation, and recyclable materials are additional ways to operate sustainably. 

    Brand Signature Can Make a Business Stand Out

    Brand signature is a product's original, distinctive feature or design based on a business's identity and personality. The wine from Peter Michael Winery has a brand signature that makes it unique. Paul says their wine's signature expresses California, where it's made. More importantly, it represents the "elegance and refinement of the European-style of wine-making." He adds that their wine business is arguably renowned for this brand signature.

    The key thing to learn from this? Customers are not just drawn to a hotel or restaurant because of tasty meals. Increasingly, sharing the origin of the signature dish can help a business stand out from the competition. "The DNA of our wine Express California—the place where they come from—and the elegance & refinement of the European style of wine making. That's what Peter Michael Winery is famous for."

    Redefining Hospitality Leadership  Learn more about all programs and courses at EHL Hospitality Business School Discover

    Got a story to share? Become an EHL Insights contributor