Cultivating a noble wine is like conducting a symphony

By “lunch” Jack means “wine.” I walk into the barrel room to see a tasting table set up with six bottles of wine and six glasses … times three. I had just read it this morning in a news feed from a Charleston paper: Sommeliers are getting smarter at bridging the gap for consumers, opening palates up to the excitement and possibilities of California winemaking. I’m revved up to pursue this angle in our PR and excited to learn first-hand how to tell the difference between premium and noble wines.

“This is where we move from theory to practice,” Jack motioned toward the table, turning his head toward the door. “Thanks Juanita, for getting this ready. Hold off on the food for another 15 minutes, will you?”

“Text the boss when you’re ready,” Juanita threw over her shoulder on the way out. By the boss everyone knew she meant Syrah, who considers herself in charge of the kitchen staff.

It was clear from the tasting display that Jack and Don were serious about my education on the difference between production wines bottled in the central valley and noble wines produced here.

“Cultivating a noble wine is like conducting a symphony,” Don started off as we sat. “We don’t just pick the grapes and hope for the best. The winemaker directs a wine, molding its structure, flavors, nuances and character with very deliberate decisions.” He poured my first tasting part way…just up to the widest part of the glass.

“Being estate-bottled means there are no gaps in accountability,” Jack said.

“That means we take credit for all the right moves…and all our mistakes.” Don added.

“Your first mistake,” I joked, “was giving my so little wine.” Jack laughed. “You’re one of those who likes a generous pour, aren’t you?”

Don looked at me, incredulous. “You know, don’t you, that if you pour any higher than the widest point, you are choking off the oxygen for most of the wine in your glass.” He could tell by my expression that I had a lot to learn about pouring wine. He launched into his lesson and I took rapt notes.

We compared the structure, nuance and character of each of the six wines Don poured. They showed me the proper way to swirl and sniff and asked me to rate the noble character of each wine. As we went through the exercise, a realization hit me in my gnarled solar plexus. It doesn’t matter what I intend to do, my leadership success is a factor of what my teams sees and smells. It occurred to me that if I didn’t take action to bring Bryson Keller’s leadership to light, this behavior will happen again. Chances are it already has.

“Don, Jack, this has been very impactful and I’d like a bit of time to think,” I lied. Do you mind if I take lunch in my room and join you this afternoon?

Both seemed surprised, but what are they going to say? “Of course,” Jack gestured as Juanita walked in with lunch, followed by Syrah with a plate of the most delicious homemade chocolate chunk cookies I’d ever seen. Help yourself and we’ll see you back here at two.”

“I’m going to start with one of these,” I said with a mischievous smile aimed at Syrah. Her innocent grin hit me like a gut punch. I missed it. I missed all of that. I grabbed one of the boxed lunches on Juanita’s tray and dashed. “Thanks ladies.” And I nearly ran to my room. It was time to make a few calls.

I’d walked away from the computer to unpack my lunch box after having eaten my cookie first. 120 messages. One thing I will change as Managing Director is email etiquette. This is out of hand. I sorted the messages according to which ones were directed to me and got 20. Most of the messages were about budgets and pitch reviews. I trusted my account supervisors to run these through in my absence. There was only one that stood out:

Nora, are you coming back for the all-staff meeting on Wednesday or should we provide our account reviews on your behalf?

There’s a staff meeting that’s been called this week while I’m out of town. It’s not like Matt to overlook something like that in scheduling a staff meeting. I picked up my phone and dialed his direct number. You’ve reached the voicemail of Matt…” Not strange. He never answers the phone. I left a message asking if I should phone into the staff meeting, even though there is no invitation on my calendar.

Vintner’s intent.

The vintner is not the only one with intentions. There are some who would destroy the vineyard to have their way. There is no more time to waste. I picked up the phone again and dialed our HR department in Chicago.



Don says, “Cultivating a noble wine is like conducting a symphony.” How does that translate to the people you lead?

What does it look like, sound like for your team to be play in harmony? Nora realized, It doesn’t matter what I intend to do, my leadership success is a factor of what my teams sees and smells.

What do the people around you see, hear and smell? In other words, how does your leadership affect the environment?