Nobody knew if the market—mostly Portlanders driving down for weekend wine tastings—would support both the winery and the food. ’That’s where the thing began to call apart,’ Cuneo says.
Barrett began to drive down to Carlton from his home in Burien every week and stay for three or four days at a time. The winery’s small service kitchen, which had been built for catering the wine pickup events, was built out, and Lisa Lanxon, who had cooked with Caprial and John Pence in Portland, was hired to be Cuneo Cellars’ executive chef. The idea to focus on hospitality “was a complete change in the emphasis of the winery,” Cuneo tells me. “That’s where the thing began to fall apart.”
The spare, simple tasting room was transformed into a restaurant space with tables and chairs; the long wooden table was shunted into a corner, to use for large parties. Tastings were moved to a smaller room. Barrett hired kitchen staff and waiters. The other partners went along with the changes—Barrett was, after all, the principal investor—but Cuneo was exasperated. “It was always a winery,” he says. “We wanted to make the best wine in the world. But that’s not the point of hospitality.”
Budget dollars were shifted from winemaking to the restaurant/hospitality endeavor. Cuneo felt the business losing focus; he and Barrett began to argue about the direction of the winery.
Cuneo wasn’t the only person exasperated by Barrett. Barrett’s operating style quickly clashed with the Cuneo Cellars culture that had been cultivated over several years. “Martin has great vision, but he operates at thirty thousand feet,” says Christensen. “Let’s build a pizza oven in the middle of the piazza. Let’s spend three hours brainstorming what kind of tent to buy. Let’s spend all day driving around Portland sampling coffees. Let’s bring in a grand piano. Let’s talk to an artist about painting a fresco on the wall. We spent a lot of time debunking ideas and satisfying one-offs.” Cuneo puts it another way: “Every country needs a prophet. But they also need priests. Someone they can go to every day and who makes sure the doors open on time. That’s essential; it’s not a luxury.”
Cuneo says Barrett also wanted to incorporate his spiritual beliefs more prominently into the way the business was run, and that Barrett brought in people he knew from Young Life as staff, reminding them of the Biblical underpinnings of Cana’s Feast, the winery’s prestige label. Barrett refutes this. “Our thinking, going back to my dad, is, you live it,” he explains. “You … don’t hide your faith, but don’t go … shoving it down [people’s] throats. But it’s pretty obvious when it’s Cana’s Feast and you have the story of Jesus turning water into wine. We [told the staff], ‘You don’t have to believe this, but you have to explain to customers when they ask, Why’s it called Cana’s Feast?’”
In the middle of 2005, the partners realized they had a potentially large problem: they didn’t own the trademark to the Cuneo brand. Cuneo had never registered it, because he couldn’t.
In California, the huge Sebastiani Vineyards & Winery was run by Richard Cuneo (no relation), who years before had trademarked the name Richard Cuneo for a small amount of sparkling wine that he made from grapes grown in his front yard. Gino Cuneo had visited Richard during his own early years of winemaking, and the two made a handshake agreement that allowed Gino to use the name Cuneo Cellars on his wine. “As far as I was concerned, he was entitled to use the name Cuneo, since that was his name,” Richard told me. “It was never a trademark conflict with us. I shook his hand and said, ‘Go ahead, use your name.’”
That wasn’t good enough, according to John Hall. The legal risks were too great, especially when the Cuneo Cellars partners were trying to raise more capital from new investors. “If you’re building a brand, you’d better own the trademark to your name,” he says. “We could not have ten thousand cases of wine, labeled and in inventory, and get hit by a cease-and-desist order. We had to address any potential risk in advance, and eliminate it.”