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

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

Just Don’t Call it “Glamping”

“I can, with one eye squinted, take it all as a blessing.”

~Flannery O’Connor

“But the world, in its present state, is no place for princesses.”

~Muriel Barbery, The Elegance of the Hedgehog

I’m here to explore what kind of work and lifestyle choices can help me to wrestle this beast of an economy to the ground. It ain’t always pretty.

For the past six months, I have been living in a borrowed  RV trailer on a two-acre plot of Old Vine Zinfandel vines in Sonoma. It’s not the first trailer that I’ve lived in, and who knows? It might not be the last. This is a means to an end–a strategy intended to buck the heinous Recession Era rental system, and help me squirrel away cash in hopes of someday owning my own place.

Until that happens, I am living in a gypsy wagon–and if you call it “glamping”, I might sock you.

    

Glen Ellen, California. Site of my fabled gypsy wagon.

I am familiar with the term, however: Five years ago, I moved into in a sleek little silver bullet of a trailer on several scenic, manicured acres  in West Sonoma County. With a marriage on the rocks and struggling freelance business Continue reading

Self-Employees of the Month: Andrea Enright & Michael Boudreaux

Andrea Enright and Michael Boudreaux

A man may have lived all of his life in the gray, and the land and trees of him dark and somber. The events, even the important ones, may have trooped by faceless and pale. And then … the glory … a man pours outward, a torrent of him, and yet he is not diminished. And I guess a man’s importance in the world can be measured by the quality and number of his glories.”

–John Steinbeck

In 2005, Andrea Enright was living a golden, idyllic freelancer’s lifestyle, her communications portfolio fattening ever with contracts from well-known clients that ranged from Boston Market to Planned Parenthood. She had already successfully escaped the proverbial grind … but something was still missing. Her husband, Michael Boudreaux, a tech maestro for DIRECTV, thought so too. After a bit of soul-searching, they blew out of Denver and joined the Peace Corps.

When their two years of service in Bulgaria came to a close, Andrea and Michael kept going. On a mission they call “Wanderlust or Bust” they continued across the globe, including Syria, Lebanon, and Kurdistan (yeah, that’s Northern Iraq), couchsurfing, blogging, videoing and volunteering as they went. Continue reading