Today marks a very auspicious day for Charles Communications Associates , it is our 11th anniversary. On this day, 11 years ago I finally took the plunge and became an entrepreneur embracing a character that had been latent and apparently patiently awaiting its debut in the business world. Growing up in a hierarchical military family, I originally thought I’d be working for organizations all my life, following a script, achieving goals, responding to someone else’s direction. Like many wonderful things in life, you learn a great deal about yourself when life leads you down a path you only imagined. I learned that my creativity was eager to bust out of its confines, that my inner resources were strong, that there were no limits when trying out a new concept or approach and that humility and confidence combined were a powerful alchemy in life and in business.
Marking this anniversary, from the early solo days at the dining room table to now a beautiful downtown San Francisco office with a group of smart, creative and hard-working colleagues and extended family, is even sweeter given that this is also the 30th anniversary of my being in the wine business. In 1984, while attending Georgetown University, I covered my living and study expenses while working as a sommelier for the Marriott Corporation and the Sheraton Carlton Wine Bar respectively. I sold wine by the glass carrying a basket around of Mouton Cadet Blanc, Lancer’s Rose, Wente Pinot Chardonnay and Soave Bolla, selling glasses to business people who were enjoying dinner. Those were the early days of wine being enjoyed at the dinner table being the cosmopolitan city Washington DC was. It was fun to read up on producers and regions in order to help sell wine more effectively and it was then that the passion for wine education was ignited. I graduated quickly from the family style to the gourmet restaurant upstairs with a stunning view of the Washington DC skyline. There, my interest and epiphany with fine wine was sparked by the effusive and zany sommelier Michael Mir who could outdo Julia Child with his impression of her. Many a night we would close out the books, tasting from the unfinished wines that had been served. He would patiently teach me the history and relevance of each producer and then let the wines reveal their nuance and charm on their own, allowing me to shape my impressions and sharpen my sensory perception.
I’ve always loved the intertwined worlds of science and artistry that are the essence of the wine business. Empirical thought runs the chemistry, the business, the foundation of winemaking and growing and creative inspiration fuels innovation, daring, memory and emotion ---each and every component being equally important. Many people have joined the wine business from other walks of life be they pilots, mechanics, academics, CEOs, engineers, artists…many have grown up as winegrowers or winemakers for generations, all, however share that “Pinch me, am I dreaming?” notion that we can’t quite believe our luck, what an incredible way to make a living. Travel the world, savor smell and taste, find more in common than what differentiates us from each other, watch nature be cruel and kind…I love it all.
When I first started in the wine business in 1984, it was a bit of a brave new world for the U.S. in terms of knowledge, enthusiasm and integration of wine within our lives here. At the time, it was a smaller audience of connoisseurs and enthusiasts learning from a handful of reviewers what to buy and enjoy. The classic regions of the Old World reigned, California was coming off a decade of triumph post Judgement of Paris tasting and what followed was an incredible evolution in very short order over the next 30 years whereby wine now with the baby boomer, Gen X and Millennial generations is having an incredible ride. Want an Albarino from Spain or from Lodi, California with your trout in St. Louis? Very likely to happen. New grape varieties are introduced by sommeliers and beverage directors at bars, restaurants, parties, private homes…there is so much enthusiasm and interest abounding, it’s a brave new world for wine. Raised a classicist in terms of appreciation of continental Europe as the benchmark for all other wines, after 16 years in California, I’m thrilled to see a new paradigm being created. No longer attached to the apron strings of European models, California, Washington and Oregon along with many other exciting emerging U.S. wine regions are defining their own unique style. Exciting times indeed.
Despite the 30 year passage of time, I will say some fundamental truths still hold no matter what trends might dictate. Here are ten I hold near and dear:
· A good story always delights, be sure to tell it.
· Sustainability serves one well, practice it at every level of business and life and you will be rewarded.
· Be disruptive, take a chance, it’s good for you
· Listen more than you talk. You’d be amazed.
· Deductive reasoning is a great tool use it but when in doubt trust your intuition. P.S. especially good with blind wine tasting
· Create space for others ideas, opinions, insights…otherwise you miss the good stuff.
· When in trouble, doubt or if you’re down, champagne cures all ills.
· Be mindful, in thought, action and deed.
· Tell the truth.
· The glass is half full, really.
Here’s to the next decade and beyond! Looking forward to what the future holds.
Cin cin! Slainte! A Votre Sante! Nostrovia!
Old Vine Photo by Randy Caparoso