Sunday, November 25, 2018

Who do we think we are?

After almost thirteen years writing this blog, observing the wine trade, from within and without, and folding those impressions into the culture-at-large, I have to say I have begun to wonder, who are we? What follows are composite, fictionalized characters, who have components of people I’ve encountered of late, as I explore mastery and the paths to it.

Glenda worked at a local bistro, got bit by the wine bug and started taking classes. She made certified sommelier pretty easily, and, living in a vibrant urban setting, was encouraged to go “all the way.” After six years, she made it to master sommelier. She quit the restaurant, her labor of love for seven years, and went to work for a local distributor as an education specialist. Missing the floor action, she moved into a sales management position. She traveled extensively. The corporate job allowed her to keep one foot in the business and the other foot in the society of sommeliers that she’d beelined to. She was nearing forty. She made good money, but not as good as the male ms in the company. He had two children and was there first.

Still, she endured. She was smart, rose in the company and in the sommelier community, but wasn’t really happy. She had a hole in her middle.

“That was when I realized that I missed the thing I got this damn pin for, to be a sommelier, not a check on a box of some corporate H.R.’s promo- piece on how progressive their mega-large corporation is! And the club I was in, fewer and fewer, at the top, were on the floor. Yeah, there was Robby, always hitting it. But more and more were shedding the apron and donning the three-piece. I just didn’t feel it. I needed to get back to where I was, before I was certified as a master. I wanted the path back, I want to be masterful at something, not because a bunch of men in suits and ties told me I have ‘passed,’ into their world.”

And there we leave her, at an outpost, somewhere, selling wine, one bottle at a time, to her guests. Happy as a clam. On her way, ever so slowly, to mastery.

Zeke is a brilliant writer. And teacher. One of the most intelligent and sensitive souls in the wine trade. And a really nice person. How did he get here? And how will he remain sensitive and kind, while climbing the ladder of wine?

“I live in the city. It’s noisy and impersonal. I dislike riding the subway, but it’s quicker and I can get work done, down there. Above ground, there are too many distractions. I can actually fast-track my career down below.” Well, alright. When I was young and living in that city, I’d sooner freeze my ass off walking to work, from Chelsea to the Lower East Side. And I often did. But I’m a Westerner, not a city guy.

“They way I see it, I love words. And I love teaching. And I am young and healthy. I figure I can do this for ten years and see what comes of it. It’s not a bad gig. And I have plenty of free time in the summer and during holidays for ‘research.’ But I really don’t know what tribe I belong to. Am I a teacher, a writer, a wine guy, a pet lover? Look at my Instagram feed and you see all that. But what does it really tell me, about me? Who am I doing this for? Master of what?” I ask myself that a lot, buddy. I do not know.

Cathy is an expat. Has herself a man, and land, and proximity to a great city, but not inside it. She left her native land, some of the sweetest beaches in the world. Sweet meat. Wine, to her, is a part of a larger assemblage.

“Look, don’t get me wrong. I love a lot of folks in the world of wine. And there is an almost equal amount now, who think they need to be in that game. They are transplants and it takes time for their grafting to complete.”

Fully committed to western ranch life, where one must pay attention to the soil, the wind, the light, the rain, and the many other elements at play. “I love nothing more than a rich, fat juicy chicken sausage on the fire, that we raised and butchered (humanely). That, along with a crisp fresh glass of Altesse. Especially if the sausage is on a hard roll.”

Yeah, my kind of wine description. Food, farm, family. Not enough points to reward. A masterful lunge within her domain. And envy-worthy by many of us.

The wine business is changing. Everything before now has been built on the goal of global distribution. And those old models are in major disruption, not just in the US, but all over the world. It isn’t something a new and groovy web-site can fix, nor can a following of 20K on Instagram. That can’t hurt - but do we really need another pocket sized backpack? But econ-world is clenching down, cutting costs, predatory regs, you name it. They aren’t coming to get you. The gates have been raised. Hope you have a good home base of clients. And hope your world domination plan still allows you to travel there, regularly and relatively cost-effectively. The name of the game is “skin in the game.” Good luck!

And for the rest of us schlubs. Again, this is from the eddy. If you are going after something because you need a club, or a tribe, or a place to belong, and you want to be a leader, a maker, and you aren’t afraid to risk a lot, you know the magic combination. As for who is a master and who tells who can be a master, well that is a whole ‘nother box o’apples. Mastery is a tricky scenario.

I think the bigger questions are, who are you and how do you frame mastery?

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