Karma Chameleon

We hospitality workers subtly shift roles to seek the same beauty guests do.

Most people—you and me and that woman making your latte and that man turning down your bed—we want the same thing. We want to taste beauty so potent it transforms us. “She wants to hear wine pouring,” writes the poet Rita Dove,“… taste change.” We pursue that beauty relentlessly, if in different ways.

Those of us working in hospitality, however, lead double lives.

I am one of you; I am not one of you. Here I am behind the bar; there I am slipping from my post to mingle with the crowd. First I pour your wine; later I sip from my own glass. We are alike, you and me—although when I pull on my work boots, tie back my hair, and roll up my sleeves, the resemblance might be hard to see.

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It wasn’t purely aesthetics that first drew me to wine—I can’t make such a romantic claim. Necessity factored heavily. At the height of the Recession, I arrived in Sonoma County with a lagging freelance business and no safety net. I felt wildly lucky, then, to find a gig working with a boutique winery. I’d soon become their first full-time employee. Seven years later, I still help run the place.

No, I didn’t come to wine just for the beauty—but I stayed for it. Continue reading

Raising the Bar

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Vincent Van Gogh, Sower at Sunset

Much of my career, I’ve used my enthusiasm and communication skills to champion products or causes. Naturally, I gravitate toward gigs that allow me to promote matters I genuinely support. So, I’ve had some fulfilling jobs.

Along the way, I’ve witnessed some colleagues working without much gusto. From my vantage point, this seems to happen when there is a lack of authenticity in the company or cause. Does this happen in the wine world? You betcha.

My latest article for Nomacorc calls for greater accountability and truth in winery marketing. Here’s that piece. Thanks for reading.

 

“It’s important to find your lens.” In conversation with writer Cathy Huyghe

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Cathy Huyghe is an author with an appetite.

In Cavalier Career, we explore the will to do good work. So what kind of work does it take–really–to bring wine to the table?  Consider:.

  • A harvest crew skilled not only at picking fruit, but hunting rabbits.
  • Courage enough to traverse war-torn Syria in a taxicab full of ripening grapes.
  • Nerve to skirt the law, particularly in Turkey, where it is illegal to market wine and the consequences may be harsh.
  • Patience as long as the life cycle of a koala bear: If eight years pass before you bottle your wine, then so be it.
  • Hunger. Voracious hunger.

That last bit, according to writer Cathy Huyghe, is key. Whether the ache of passion or of physical appetite, hunger drives the wine business. It also drives our own private pursuits. 

RedCoverHFW-1In Hungry for Wine: Seeing the World through the Lens of a Wine Glass, Huyghe uncorks bottles
and stories from around the world. With uncommon curiosity, she looks past the luxe labels and technical tasting notes to global socioeconomics. The resulting twelve “conversations about wine” (as she calls them) reveal the humanity behind one of the world’s most celebrated beverages–and the drive it takes to pursue one’s hunger. 
Continue reading

Mind the Gap

In previous posts, I’ve conveyed that the wine business, while deeply satisfying, remains hard work. Admittedly, it might sometimes be work with idyllic vineyard walks and glitzy parties–but hey! It’s a grind, in its own way.

Over the last year and a half, I’ve enjoyed writing about the wine business for various outlets. My latest piece tackles the topic of interdepartmental rifts (specifically, between winery production and marketing) and offers tips for communication that heals. Company “tribalism” can arise can happen in any industry, so it may be relevant to all. Thanks for reading!

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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…

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