10 Reasons Why Making Your First Wine is Like Traveling to an Unfamiliar Country

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Misty jungle, Guanacaste, Costa Rica

Over time, I’ve become familiar with certain steps in the winemaking process by working with my employer–sampling grapes, doing punchdowns, or cleaning tanks. Yet I had never experienced it in such detail until last week, when I harvested my own fruit and began my own winemaking project.

In my mind, I’m on a journey. I’ve landed in a thick jungle and I’ve gotta make my own path out. In the spirit of adventure, then, I give you:

10 Reasons Why Making Your First Wine is Like Traveling to an Unfamiliar Country

  1. You are excited! Now scared. Now excited! Now scared. Now …
  2. You are spending waaaay too much money. And it’s worth every penny.
  3. Friends who’ve been where you are going wanna tell you exactly how to get there and what to do. Now, should you take their advice?
  4. Once you set off on the trip, you realize you really should’ve packed some nutrients—like trail mix, or maybe some Ferm-Aid.
  5. You knew in your gut you were taking a wrong turn, and you did it anyway. Now you are lost and it’s a little scary. Always trust your gut!
  6. Where you least expect it, you find a like-minded friend to help you on your way.
  7. You speak the language, and blend in pretty well—but you’re not a local. And there’s always someone reminding you of that.
  8. As an outsider, you discover things even the locals don’t know.
  9. When the day is over, you’re gonna kick off your boots and have a cold beer.
  10. You don’t know what’s next on the itinerary, but you can’t wait to find out…

To Hell With It. Let’s Do This.

20150826_103915Following instinct leads to joy: I’d nearly forgotten.

On Labor Day, I rose at 4 a.m. to drive to the Sierra Foothills and harvest a half-ton of Grenache fruit. Yep, I set out to make wine. Was this a wild hair, a last-minute venture—or, was it my plan all along? Both.

During my six years in the biz, I’d begun scheming up a business plan for my own little wine brand. Would this be the year I launched the project? I wondered, but had decided to wait. My fussy, perfectionistic streak told me that if every little detail wasn’t in place, I shouldn’t even try. (Pfffft. )

Thankfully, when my friend called with a lead on some grapes, I ignored that demon and went with my instinct, diving headlong into the project.

One nagging worry had been: What if I’m not a great winemaker? What if I f*ck up? I’ve assisted my boss in the creation of wines, including this one, of which I’m proud. I’ve also done plenty of supplemental studies in wine. Yet I’ve not followed any traditional path toward winemaking as a profession. Mine has been a zig-zag route. Continue reading

Feast it Forward

katieairstreamMentors, teachers, inspirations: they make my world go ’round.

It’s not everyday you find a person chasing their dreams fully and unabashedly.  Katie Hamilton Shaffer is a social entrepreneur operating a philanthropic lifestyle brand in Napa called Feast it Forward. I was lucky enough to sit down over breakfast with her recently for an interview. Afterward, I shared her story in this piece for Grape Collective.

Cavalier Career has been my work-life manifesto that’s evolved over many years (and several different blogs). Yet its basic principle has remained the same: that I have the power to create my dream job. Katie’s uncommon determination and heart makes her a guiding light for me–and surely many other professionals. Thanks, Katie!

 

Beginner’s Mind and Me

The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts. ― Bertrand Russell

This summer,  I wrote a trade article that was widely aggregated. It was my first piece for the wine industry, proper. (Most of my wine-related essays have been more personal.) It’s gratifying to share my professional experience this way. But here’s the thing: After six years in the industry, what took me so long?

I’ve always been hesitant to declare myself an expert. Not only do I find a huge advantage to being a generalist, but I deeply value learning on the job. So I’ve pursued work that challenges me in new ways. If I’ve inadvertently become an expert on anything, it’s uncertainty. I relish the concept of beginner’s mind.

Those close to me are probably snickering, because they’re surely familiar with my “know-it-all” voice.  Know-it-all doesn’t get a person very far, though. We learn more when we surrender to the expertise of others.

At the same time, a person who doesn’t assert some authority over their subject matter will wind up with less control. Where’s the balance? And at what point does a lifelong student claim mastery?

Maybe there are some martial arts students out there waving their hands with those answers. Alas, I didn’t study martial arts, but was more of a jazz dance kind of girl, complete with tacky recital costumes. So, I’m left wondering.

Not incidentally, the topic of my trade article was professional development. While researching it, I spoke with plenty of wine pros about how they help turn rookies on their staff into masters. I also sat down with highly trained sommeliers from around the world for an intensive tasting. Inevitably, these experiences gave me a good chance to noodle the concept of mastery.

I’m doing that, still.

Voice in the Vineyard

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“When people don’t express themselves, they die one piece at a time.” 

~Laurie Halse Anderson, Speak

“The gift turned inward, unable to be given, becomes a heavy burden, even sometimes a kind of poison. It is as though the flow of life were backed up.”      ~ May Sarton

Dark shit, no? When I read that tidbit from Ms. Sarton, I always imagine some kind of nasty infection one might contract in a hospital. I think of words multiplying in my system, thickening like sludge in my veins and eventually shutting me down altogether.

Silence: what a way to go. Surely there’s a way to avoid such a tragic fate.

It took years for me to understand that my need to write has something to do with a need to be heard. That my drive to do good work—which has veered toward workaholism—stems from a half-innocent, half-deranged desire to make a difference. And that all of it is partly traceable to some kind of anxious, middle-child complex. Hey! listen! I have something important to say!  Continue reading

Things I *Don’t* Know For Sure

“Out of your vulnerabilities will come your strength.” ~Sigmund Freud

I was recently in a business seminar when a student shyly revealed that she had a certain health issue. The instructor squinted like she was taking aim, then informed us that this was an example of excessive transparency. “Too much transparency,” she said, “reveals your vulnerability and makes others feel they can take you down. Beware.”

I wanted to take her down, just because she’d been such a stone cold bitch to this poor woman. I wanted to grip the lapels of her ill-fitting poly-blend blazer and turn her toward a widescreen viewing of Brene Brown’sThe Power of Vulnerability”. I wanted to prove that she had it backwards, that vulnerability actually helps us connect with others in a big, brave way. Instead, I just marveled at how I’d never seen a woman who looked so much like Ronald Reagan. (Seriously, she was a dead ringer.)

This is a blog about embracing uncertainty–in career and in life in general. People, there is going to be some transparency. Cozy up.

Let’s start here: Several years ago, the economy tanked. Obviously.

Where were you when it happened? I sometimes want to ask people–from cousins at my family reunion to strangers in the street–as if it was the Kennedy assassination or the Challenger explosion. It has not been so instantaneous an disaster, but a disaster nonetheless.

I think of my friends who took a work sabbatical to travel around the world from 2008 to 2009. I think of how jealous I was of the guy who bought both a small house and a fuel-efficient hybrid that year. Still others planned lavish weddings, but now surely wonder: Um, sweetie, should we have skipped those thousand-dollar monogrammed petit fours? Within six to twelve months, most of  these people would have their proverbial shuttle explode too, slammed by the economy in one way or another.

I was lucky, sort of.  I caught the brunt of it early, just as Obama took office. On the one hand, this was utterly isolating, since being broke was not even remotely socially acceptable. No one rallied as the 99% or whatever, and no one cared that I couldn’t afford my car registration. Yet soon everyone would care, while I’d have bounced back.

This was the thin but sparkly silver lining: By the time my peers were pink slipped or foreclosed or [fill in the blank with standard Recession horror story], I could offer empathy that I’d not widely received. It was as though I’d explored some kind of dark, forgotten socioeconomic territory and returned with shreds of a map. Are you lost? Maybe I can show you the way.

So: Where was I when it happened? In 2008, I was a freelance writer Continue reading