In the 1980s, as the popularity of vintage wines soared in the USA, I tracked the best wines, and the best values. Focusing on red wines, but also enjoying great white wines, I began carrying a list of interesting, sought-after wines when I traveled for work. I found incredible values all over the USA, and in many other countries I visited.
I subscribed to popular publications, including trade journals and food mags that promoted wines. Soon, I had too many wines on my list, so I needed a more efficient solution.
We entered my list into a database. The personal computer movement was just starting to grow in the mid-1980s, but as an experienced database manager, I found a PC relational database tool called R:Base.
We used R:Base for our wine database; by 1985 I was carrying my printed database booklet into stores, for quick reference for the wines I encountered. The booklet was so handy, we gave copies of it to customers and friends. It was a hit, and everyone wanted a copy!
I had worked with my business partner, Dan Myers, to produce a methodology for project management, project estimating, and systems engineering. We named them The Project Guide, The Estimating Guide, and The Systems Engineering Guide. We began to call our wine booklet The Wine Guide.
We found several useful sort sequences for The Wine Guide. First, top-rated wines should be easy to spot. We didn’t need more than a page of those, keeping the list short.
At left, we see top-rated wines, listing vintner, variety, vintage or year, the wine’s rating, and a ‘value score’ (more later), and its price.
When visiting a store, the wines are often organized by Vintner. So we needed a way to find ratings by the vintner, or winery. See below.
At its peak, in 1991, The Wine Guide listed over 1200 wines, from over 350 wineries.
A dilemma: Which is a better value, a $7.99 wine with a rating of 91 points (by a reliable reviewer), or a $79 wine with a rating of 96 points?
We experimented with algorithms to balance price and ratings, the factors of our Value score.
In our end result, anything with a Value rating over 5 is a ‘killer deal.’ Wines with low Value scores are not bad; they may be great, but expensive.
Demise of The Wine Guide
In late 1991, The Wine Guide became famous. A radio announcer in Boston had gotten a copy from one of our friends, and raved about it over the air. We had hundreds of requests for the Wine Guide, from Boston, and throughout the NorthEast.
And then we received a letter, from one of the wine magazines, claiming that we were illegally using their ratings information. Of course, we had identified the issue for each rating, in our booklet. But they were not satisfied. So we gave up on this useful tool. Interestingly, less than six months later, that magazine came out with a new publication for sale. They named it … The Wine Guide!
On this 30th Anniversary of The Wine Guide, we share this story with you!